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Producers KIM Ji-hye, JAE Jung-joo and KIM Soon-mo of ATO

Jun 12, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
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“We want our name to inspire trust”

Recently, the Korean film industry started keeping an eye on a newly established production studio called ATO. The company was created by four Korea National University of Arts (K’ARTS) graduates from the School of Film, TV & Multimedia program, KIM Ji-hye, JE Jeong-ju, LEE Jin-hee and KIM Soon-mo, who also have experience working for Myung Films, Bom Film Productions Co., Ltd. and a KIM KI-DUK film production companies among others. From The World of Us (2016) by director YOON Ga-eun, which was invited to the Berlin International Film Festival and nabbed the Korean Association of Film Critics Award as well as the Best New Director award from the Blue Dragon Film Awards, through the coming-of-age story Yongsoon (2017) by SHIN Joon and HOME by KIM Jong-woo, ATO has been introducing a unique style of family films. We met with producers KIM Ji-hye, JE Jeong-ju and KIM Soon-mo, who shared their dream of preserving their company's unique color, but also their hope to make ATO a trustworthy name in the industry. 

Your first title, The World of Us, sold over 50,000 tickets and was a success. Could you please share with us how ATO was created?

KIM Ji-hye: Actually, the company was created quite accidentally. We all majored in producing at K’ARTS and we’re about the same age, but we were in different grades in University. In February of 2013, we met at a gathering of students from our major and we started discussing and sharing our concerns. A year later, in February 2014 and during our student film festival, LEE Jin-hee asked if I might be interested in working on the distribution of a short film with her. The four of us got together to discuss this, and while we were working on it, we decided to try producing feature films as well. In May of that year, we registered as a business and started the company. Actually, we didn’t have a big picture plan and were not really thinking about what our company could become, that’s why we didn’t require any initial funds. Since we needed an office space to register as a business, we rented a small office in Yeonnam-dong, which we used to this day. Our first title, The World of Us, is CJ and K’ARTS’ second investment collaboration project. (Their first investment project was KWON Oh-kwang’s Collective Invention, 2015). For this collaboration project, they have an open call at K’ARTS and select 4 to 5 people who develop their stories for about a year with the director and professor LEE Chang-dong. Then, they look for a production company to go through the production process. The scenario editing phase took about a year or so and the production was pushed back. We started the preproduction in January 2015.

The World of Us is about the friendship and troubles of elementary girls, Yongsoon relates the story of a teenage girl’s first love, her desperation, and her conquest, while HOME is about a boy who looks for a way after losing his mother. They’re all very special coming-of-age films. Are there a specific criteria ATO looks at when selecting a project?

JE Jeong-ju: All four of us have to agree on it before producing it. We never went into detail about what kind of film we’ll make or set any criteria. However, for some reason, we have an unwritten agreement to make films that have a similar tone. If I could compare our films to a color tone, it would be a pastel color. Also, we don’t go through this “packaging” process where companies select an item, develop it and produce it. While working on auteur films like those of LEE Chang-dong, IM Sang-soo and Hong Sangsoo, I personally started to like art films and movies that encompass the concerns of the present day. ATO's three features also share that characteristic. A coming-of-age film or a family film is not new genres, but we wanted to produce films that would look deeper into the world of children.

KIM Soon-mo: I tend to select films that have an interesting characteristic in the screenplay. For The World of Us, I was curious about the protagonist Sun (CHOI Soo-in), and for HOME, I was wondering about the path Jun-ho (LEE Hyo-je) would take. I tend to select titles I am instantly attracted to.

KIM Ji-hye: We get a variety of proposals from different directors and even if we never consciously decided to make films that would stand out, I subconsciously ended up picking the ones that were a little different from the ones we are used to.

What role does each of you have in the company?

JE Jeong-ju: This year marks our fifth year, and we produced four films. Each person is in charge of producing one film, while the others help with casting, staffing, meeting with investors, and location hunting. When we first founded the company, our goal was to be able to depend on each other since working alone would be too lonely. In that sense, I would say we achieved our goal, although I don’t know how long this will last. Despite all the hardships it has been through, the indie film production company INDIESTORY Inc. is still here after 20 years, so I believe we have hope as well.

In The World of Us and HOME, young boys and girls from 5 years old all performed very naturally. Does ATO have a secret to making this possible?

KIM Soon-mo: About three months before the shoot, we would meet with the kids twice a week. This was to allow the children to get over their fear of standing in front of the camera, as well as getting them familiar with the other cast and staff. We also tried to provide many breaks on set for the children. We need to shoot in a given time, but children have a very short attention span. The hardest part was coaxing Min-joon in The World of Us, and Tae-poong in HOME. I thought it was important not to give them a bad filmmaking experience.

JE Jeong-ju: During the casting stage, our goal was to select children that acted naturally, so you could say our production was mainly focused on the children. The director, the producer, the crew and other actors, we all shared this common idea that we should look after the children. In order to capture the spontaneous emotions and movements made by the children in The World of Us and despite being on a tight budget, we decided to invest in two cameras. The whole production was centered around the children.

On the other hand, Yongsoon was shot in a very short time with just $100,000.

KIM Ji-hye: Yongsoon was shot in just 34 days over 27 shots. I would say we were very lucky. First of all, the weather was on our side and we received a lot of help from the team who made As One (2012), which I also produced. For example, I met PARK Cheol-min through As One, and he appeared as a cameo in Yongsoon. Our schedule was tight and we had many supporting actors but our friends and their acquaintances who thought highly of The World of Us helped us a lot. 

What kind of films will you show us next?

JE Jeong-ju: Last Child will be released in August this year. It’s about a married couple who lost their son, and the teenage boy he rescued. Just like previous ATO films, it follows the story of an alternative family, as well as talk about crime and punishment. 

KIM Ji-hye: The fifth ATO film is director YOON Ga-eun’s Our House. Last year, this project received $310,000 in funding from the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). They’re scheduled to start shooting in July.
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