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Filmmaker Interview with Dae Hyun Kim

Filmmaker Interview by Emily Davison

Dae Hyun Kim - Cinematographer and Camera Operator

What compelled you to study cinematography abroad? Did you find it challenging or exciting to relocate from South Korea to the US to pursue a career in film?

I actually started working in the film industry in the US first. I got to have some experience with South Korea’s film industry, but most of my experience and my career were gained in the US film industry. One of the biggest challenges I had in my early career was communication. When I started out as a foreigner in the U.S. and speaking English as a second language, it was really hard for me to understand what the director or cinematographer wanted. And hearing it through the earpiece made it even more challenging to understand.

South Korean cinema has steadily been growing in popularity and critical success with the high standards of filmmaking and storytelling. Do you have a preference for South Korean movies or American movies – or both!?

I do not have a preference for South Korean films or American films; I like both. Probably because I can understand both the culture and language of Korean and American films. Both cultures create good films and not-so-good films, but I’m a fan of the work itself, not which country a film has been made in.

Was there a particular film or director who inspired your fascination with the Steadicam and would you be able to explain why you think they had a profound impact on you?

My interest in Steadicam was sparked from an accumulation of various Steadicam shots in many films. It all started with my curiosity of how the filmmaker was able to do a particular shot and then in my research, I found out that it was done with a Steadicam. Films that I can think of off the top of my head would be: Kill Bill, Atonement, Rocky, The Shining, and Boogie Nights. Each film has legendary Steadicam shots. One of my favorite Steadicam shots that I always put on my top list is the shot in Atonement during the Dunkirk scene. The way the camera navigates through the devastation of Dunkirk with the actors, how it switches the POV, how it captures the actor’s emotions --everything about the shot was executed and captured astonishingly.

Can you think of a movie or movies which sparked your interest in cinematography and the visual language of cinema?

My interest in cinematography grew from years of being exposed to photographic images and cinema shared with me by my father when I was young.

Do you have a favourite cinematographer?

There are many cinematographers I like: Roger Deakins, Hoyte Van Hoytema, Linus Sandgren, Emmanuel Lubezki, Chung-hoon Chung, Rina Yang, Jon Chema and many more. There isn’t just one; the cinematography I gravitate toward is more about its setting in a particular film. That being said, I also appreciate the cinematography that my friends create. I have many talented friends and by working alongside them, I get to hear and understand their philosophy of cinematography. And I get to see and work on the film through their eyes. Ryan Kerr, Saulius Lukoševičius, Jiahao Zhang, and many other my friends are also on my list of favorite cinematographers.

Film Still from Guide On, currently in post-production

You have an impressive portfolio on your IMDB page and have worked on a variety of film genres, including short and indie movies. After working on numerous projects, have you got a personal favourite film from your collaborations?

I like all the films I worked on, whether they are highly acclaimed or not, because I worked on them and I have an attachment to them. I put my best effort into all of them, and I was part of the filmmaking team. Some projects have good memories and some projects have bad memories. From bad memories, I learned lessons, and from good memories, I got to enjoy what I do with the good people around me.

How do you choose which project you would like to work on?

I choose the project based on who I am working with rather than what I am working on. For me, the people I am working with are more important than size, budget, or content of the shoot. There are still jobs I take not knowing anyone on set, but then I get to meet new people and get to know them. If there’s a situation where I get offered two different jobs that are overlapping, I choose to work for the people I worked with before. I think it’s important to surround myself with good people that I am comfortable with, and enjoy working with. On set, things can get very stressful; each crew carries their own responsibilities in their position. If I am with the people who support me, I want to support them. Regardless of how hard the job is, it can still be fun and valuable.

According to your filmography, you have predominantly worked on short films. Do you have a preference for working on short movies as opposed to feature length productions? Also, do you have a favourite genre you enjoy working in?

My job is more likely to be determined by who I am working with. I don’t create the shoot, therefore I am always in the position to get hired by cinematographers, directors, and producers that know me. For my personal preference, I really don’t mind any type of project or any genre; each has its own uniqueness.

Do you find it difficult to find available work as a Cinematographer and/or Camera Operator? Have you ever faced challenges when working with others in the industry to put forward your artistic vision?

I think it depends on the season and the time. If there are many productions going on and demands for the operator are high, then chances are that I will get more job offers from the people I’ve never worked with. If there are fewer productions, then it’s more likely I’ll get hired by people I've already worked with. If they don’t have jobs, that means that I don’t have jobs.

About putting forward my artistic vision, as an operator I am an executor of the shot that the director and cinematographer desires. I believe it’s more important to fulfill the director/cinematographer’s artistic vision than mine. That doesn’t mean I work as a robot, only executing the shot that is requested. Every operator has a different background, different experiences and styles, and different visions and philosophies. And that shows through operating naturally.

Film Still from Guide On

What would you say is the hardest part of your job? On the other hand, what do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of your work?

One of the hardest parts that I feel like as an operator is that I am the one who operates the camera and captures the performance of the talents. This means that I am the first one to see and capture, and how I do that has a direct impact on the image. What I see and what I capture is what the audience sees. On set, the whole crew including the director and the cinematographer are watching what I frame and how I operate. The most rewarding aspect of being a camera operator is that I get to witness, feel, and capture talents’ performances that’s happening right in front of me. As an operator, we are one of the people who works in close range of the talent, and through the camera’s viewfinder, we are the first ones to witness their performance. Then a great performance is happening right in front of me and I am witnessing it through the viewfinder, the feeling is priceless.

Do you have any advice you would like to give to young aspiring Cinematographers and/or Camera Operators?

I am still learning and growing as an operator ,but I can share one of the pieces of advice that my mentor Colin Anderson, SOC shared with me. He said. “You make your own luck by just being who you are.” The film industry is tough and it’s hard to navigate sometimes. There are constant worries about the uncertainty of jobs, creating relationships, figuring out politics on set, socializing, and developing your skills. I’ve often felt like I needed to be someone else to be at the place where I want to be. But rather than worrying about those things so much, I think it’s important to become who you truly are and act just the way you would like to be, rather than thinking too much about how others see you. There are always going to be people who like you and your work, and who see and understand your craftsmanship and passion. It’s important not to lose yourself and just be who you are, love and enjoy the life you have; good things will naturally come to you because you are being authentic.

Do you have any upcoming projects you are currently working on and would like to share some details with us?

I cannot share full detail, but I got offered a TV series pilot and a feature, and more opportunities are in line. Many of my friends are doing really well so I am hoping that I will get a chance to work with them on their upcoming projects.

Have you ever considered working in any other country or have you settled down in the US?

If I have a chance, I would love to work in the UK film industry. UK’s industry is one of the biggest in the world along with the U.S. film industry, and it has a very similar foundation for the camera operator’s position and its role. I love the vibe of the UK and it would be awesome to have a chance to work and live there.


Finally, can you give us three of your favourite movies and briefly explain why you love them?

It’s hard for me to choose what is my favorite film cause it always changes and there are just so many. So, I will just share films I enjoyed watching recently: No Time To Die, because Daniel Craig is my 007 and I thought the director Cary Joji Fukunaga did a great job finishing Daniel’s last Bond film. Dune, Greig Fraser did an amazing job immersing the audience in Dune’s universe with his cinematography; and the Netflix series Squid Game got huge hype worldwide, so if it gets you interested in Korean Series, I think it’s worth checking out.


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