Q&A: with Busan Film Commission's Phil Choy

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Busan, home to the prestigious Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), has big plans to become the new film capital of Asia. In this Q&A, Busan Film Commission head of production support Phil Choy talks up the city's new media future.   

Q. You’ve been with the Busan Film Commission (BFC) for 11 years. How has the city become more user- friendly to the film industry?

A. BFC launched in 1999, three years after the film festival started. It was a time when finding locations to shoot in Busan was nearly impossible. The city had no film infrastructure but what it did have was a fantastic harbour, a city filled with old factories, and amazing potential.

Q. Well, in fact, the potential has played out very well, if last year is anything to go by.

A. Indeed. Last year we had 61 productions shooting on location in Busan. That added up to 698 hours of shooting for both feature film and TV. We shot at all the city’s hot spots-- the harbour, Hyundae Marine City, Seomyeon Central Market, Eel Alley, famed Gwangan Bridge, as well as ordinary Busan neighbourhoods—and a few hidden never-before-filmed locations.

busandancingqueen2Q. Geographically, there is nothing dull about Busan, whether you are looking to shoot there or not.

A. That’s right. It is Korea’s largest port city and the six largest seaport in the world when it comes to cargo tonnage. It has Korea’s largest beach and its longest river, it’s only 43 kilometres from Japan as the crow flies and has several mountains and narrow valleys plunked down right in the middle of the city.

Q. I’ve heard that Korean directors and producers often prefer to shoot in Busan, even though 90% of the infrastructure is in Seoul. I know it’s warmer in Busan but what else brings filmmakers there?

A. Busan has a very friendly shooting climate that trickles down from regional and local council authorities to police, fire and other city services. And being where film and TV is made gives the city a certain cachet that people who live here are proud of.

Q. And from what I hear, they are going to be even prouder. There are plans afoot to make Busan into a sort of Asian Hollywood.

A. Well, it’s true we want to transform Busan into a major force in filmmaking in Asia. It makes sense.  BIFF is successful because it introduces new films and first time directors, especially from Asian territories. The Asian Project Market, a sidebar to the festival, is aimed at connecting new directors to funding sources. And we have other programmes aimed at profiling Asian talent. BIFF’s Asian Cinema Fund supports young and talented Asian filmmakers and BFC’s FLY is a training programme for Asian filmmakers that involves the participation of 10 Asian countries. So Busan has consistently from the beginning aimed at highlighting Asian talent and Asian works.

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Q. And now you are ready to do more. I see that the Korean Film Council and the Korean Media Rating Board are also relocating from Seoul to Busan.

A. This is good news for us. The Korean Film Council now offers a cash rebate for expenditures of up to $30 million but that is for shooting in Seoul. Regionally and locally, for the film city we are thinking about, we are envisioning a much bigger and more targeted cash rebate. We’d like to see Busan as the launch pad for new projects and that means more sound stages, training courses, workshops, and accommodations for filmmakers and scriptwriters who chose to come here to develop their film projects. The aim, again, is not just shooting in Busan but making Busan a real film city, a matrix for film projects that are coming out of Asia.

Q. Your office is a one stop-service? Everyone says that these days but what does it mean for you?

A. It means one stop. We organize all film permits, liaise for production companies when it comes to shooting locations, arrange traffic controls, hire talent and extras, and any other assistance that might be needed to get the film, TV or commercial project shoot completed, and done as easily as possible.

Q. How is the infrastructure now? Where are you at with sound stage, equipment rentals, studios and post-production facilities?

A. We have 24,000 square meters of sound stage in total, with green screens to boot.  Equipment rental is easy and our postproduction companies are cutting edge, skilled in the latest computer graphics 3D and more.

Q. You also have the Digital Bay?

A. Yes that allows for cutting edge pre-vis or rendering. It’s par for the course in Hollywood but relatively new in Asia. The fact that directors and producers can visualize the more complex shots, including music, stunts, and other creatively tricky shoots has been a real hit with the Korean directors. And we believe it will attract more talent here, especially Asian talent.

Q. Some years ago there were hold-ups at customs and problems with foreign directors and producers not paying bills.  Are the details of providing international shoots getting better?

A. Over the years we’ve acquired experience and savvy to handle these kinds of issues so I'd say we've pretty much ironed out all of those issues.

Q. So if you projected yourself into the future five years from now, in your mind’s eye, what could Busan as a film city really be like? 

A. Our plans are in motion and clearly, from our history, this is a city that digs in and makes things happen. We already have a considerable reputation on several film fronts. So I’d say in five years we could be looking at a thriving Cinema City that will attract talent and filmmakers from all over the world who want to hook up with Asian talent. We’ll have the talent and we can provide the means to hook up, not just once a year at the BIFF festival but all year round.

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 Photo captions:All photos copyright by and courtesy of BFC.

Top right, Shooting Dancing Queen in Busan. 

Middle Left: Thieves on location in Busan.

Bottom left: Busan's Marine City.

Bottom right: Busan's Gwangan Bridge.