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Interview

Film and Web Drama OMOK GIRL’s Director, BAEK Seung-hwa

May 29, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
  • View1094
“I included in my film the diversity I wanted to see”



Following its autobiographical independent documentary series entitled Turn It Up To 11 (2010), and Queen of Walking (2016), starring SHIM Eun-kyoung, director BAEK Seung-hwa decided to challenge himself with a new project, Omok Girl, that is both a film and a web drama. The format was developed with the help of INDIESTORY Inc., with whom he already made Queen of Walking. In Omok Girl, LEE Ba-duk (PARK Se-wan), a ‘go’ prodigy undergoes a painful defeat. Traumatized by this failure, afraid of losing again and while working at a go house, she meets KIM An-gyeong (AHN Woo-yeon) and gets into ‘omok’, a game she has always looked down on before. Omok Girl is currently being released on SK Broadband’s OTT platform, Oksusu (www.oksusu.com), as a web drama series. It was also released in art house theaters on May 24th. We met with director BAEK Seung-hwa to talk about his work.

Omok Girl is unique since it was released as web drama series as well as in theaters.

At first, it was just a web drama series. After all this hard work made with INDIESTORY to finish the shooting, we considered our options regarding what would be the best platform to release this project on. We noticed that most of the web dramas were first introduced on Naver and then would just disappear. That’s why we decided to find a new way. Also, after the screening at the Jeonju International Film Festival, I thought it would be great to have a theatrical release even if it was small and as INDIESTORY is a film production company, we decided to give the project a theatrical release. On another side, I was hoping that the release of the web drama on an online platform would be able to help us with the post-production and the distribution budget. Luckily, the discussion went well with Okususu and in exchange for the rights to release Omok Girl exclusively on Oksusu, they gave us support for the post-production and the theatrical release. Most web dramas evaporate after they are put online, but thanks to the theatrical release, the actors, the production company and I were able to add this title to our filmography and avoid a financial loss situation. I think it turned out for the best. 

Independent films and web dramas start to cross-pollinate. Were you always interested in web dramas?

The thing with an indie film is that when you get to release it, it’s more likely that you’ll lose money. That’s why people are always concerned about the profit structure. These days, there have been many changes in platforms. I was already thinking about which new platforms indie films could work with at that time and that’s why I wanted to try web dramas. Similarly, INDIESTORY was watching the progress of the web drama industry, so when I suggested Omok Girl, they were happy to produce it.

Is there any difference between the web drama version and the theatrical version?

The final editing is not very different between the two. In the planning stage, we focused on the web drama so we took mobiles and computer settings into consideration. The biggest strength of web dramas is that you can pause it anytime and watch it again later. When you think about it, the format has a lot of other strengths but it was difficult for me to take the most of it while shooting since I also had to make it work for the theatrical release. One thing I was able to do was to include a segment called “Today’s Omok” at the end of each web drama episode, the ellipse that gives you information on the omok game (t is introduced just once in the film). I think it’s something entertaining you can only have in a series.

Queen of Walking was the first film to organize a sexual harassment prevention training. You also participated in a discussion regarding sexual harassment in the film industry. Would you think about how to practice a gender-equal culture on the set of Omok Girl.

The sexual harassment prevention training we organized for Queen of Walking received a lot of attention at the time of our release but this does not mean we didn’t see any hierarchical harassment on the set and that everyone was happy. That’s why with Omok Girl, I thought a lot about what the next step should be and decided that we should make an environment where there is no hierarchical harassment. As producers, directors, and head staff give directions during a film shoot, it’s easy to fall into creating an abusive environment. Some people think that yelling or swearing will make the staff work better, and people got used to these working conditions. This isn’t just limited to film sets as many companies and organizations are in similar situations. In order to avoid this during the shooting of Omok Girl, I tried during the pre-production stage to hire people who shared the same thoughts as mine. Next time, I want to work on the problem of working hours since even if I tried my best to avoid an abusive environment with Omok Girl, I wasn’t able to control the working hours. We didn’t have any overnight shoots or end up with additional schedules, but many of our shooting hours were too long. It was partly due to a lack of budget but I’ll have to think about how to fix this problem. 

Your previous film, Queen of Walking, cost 500,000 dollars in net productions costs. With Omok Girl, you worked with an even smaller budget. You’re also an animator and a musician and I’m sure you wanted to try many things based on your experience. Was there anything you wanted to do but wasn’t able to pull off?

The net production cost for Omok Girl was 150,000 dollars. We only had about half the number of shooting days compared to Queen of Walking. As we aimed to screen it on mobiles and computers, we worked with smaller equipment and minimized our crew. We reduced everything in every department, and we worked hard to make it work since anything we tried to do would cost us money. Hopefully, it was easy to create a cartoon-like set-up like the “Leftie”. Since Queen of Walking received some investment, I had to be more careful. Just because there’s more budget doesn’t mean a director has more freedom with what he or she does. If we spend money, we have to earn money too, so that’s why, sometimes, we can’t do certain things. On the other hand, I can do more of what I want in independent films although the budget is smaller but it requires more efforts to figure out how to make things happen. Also, Omok Girl is about 60 minutes long because I started to question why indie films must always be 120 minutes long. If we make 60-minute films, wouldn't it be possible to produce them with smaller budgets? If I shoot another low-budget film again, I’ll make it 70 minutes long and if it seems too short, I’ll attach a short film to it and release them together. As you know, even if you make a short film, it’s very rare to be able to see it on the big screen. I’d also be happy to release a short film not directed by me if it was made in the same context as my work

Then, do you have any desire to shoot a big budget commercial film?

I’m not avoiding commercial films. There is a screenplay I’m working on that would be suitable for a commercial film. I was offered the helm of a few commercial titles after Queen of Walking and Omok Girl but they weren’t something that spoke to me so I declined. If I make commercial films, I want to talk about stories that are hard to express in smaller films.
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