Here’s music video director Hong Won Ki of ZANYBROS who produced music videos of the biggest K-Pop artists such as Seo Taiji, Nell, Girls’ Generation, Super Junior, Beast, 4minute. He used to dream of being a rocker and he became the busiest music video director in Korea as he started by making videos for various indie bands. With looks that make it hard to believe he was born in 1975 and his carefree laugh, he told stories of his dreams. Let’s hear our honest discussion with him who puts the emphasis on communicating with artists and who loves music more than anyone else.
ZANYBROS Hong Won Ki, an artist who loves music
Please introduce yourself.
I’m music video director Hong Won Ki of ZANYBROS.
I heard you were a guitarist in a band. You even released 2 albums. Is there a reason for you to become a music video director?
I made this decision because of the IMF. My family was in a difficult situation, so after I was discharged from the army, I got hired in an ads editing company and I learned how to edit videos. However, my interest in music only got bigger. I had a mutual understanding with Kim Joon Hong who was my soulmate as well as a director. We promised ourselves to shoot all the music videos of the Korean rock bands and this was how we created ZANYBROS. The start was based on an innocent intention like that.
What’s the meaning of ZANYBROS?
It’s the combination between English words “zany” and “bros”. It’s about being excentric and being brothers. Like two freaks who are like family. (laugh)
Starting with “Do It Yourself” by Lazy Bone in 2002, you shot music videos for countless indie rock bands in Korea. What was your ultimate goal?
As we were shooting Lazy Bone’s video, we thought “let’s shoot all the music videos of every rock band in Korea”. At that time, our ultimate goal was to shoot a Seo Taiji’s music video. I really thought I’d shoot all music videos of every band in the country. So, the ultimate goal after shooting all these videos was the big boss Seo Taiji.
I think there must have been some special emotion about shooting the music video for Seo Taiji’s 8th album “Moai” in 2009.
I thought it was a lie at first. I thought the manager was lying to me and I finally realized it was true when I met him personally. It was really an honor for people of our generation. I was very surprised. And then, I actually shot all of the 7 music videos for this album.
I heard Seo Taiji personally gave his opinion about the music video filming and make some adjustements.
Seo Taiji has a great sense of how video making works. He’s very good at editing videos. Being able to communicate with him and the fact that he’s a composer and a producer brought even more quality to the outcome and we went in a good direction. I think it was even more interesting because we were able to try many genres that hadn’t been done yet since there were so many interesting and unusual themes.
I heard you nearly crossed the globe and went to Easter Island in Chile to shoot “Moai” music video.
The song title was “Moai”, so we had to go to Easter Island. At first, we thought about building stone statues on a close Korean island. (laugh) We even had this crazy idea, but we thought it wouldn’t work. Since the Moai’s stone statues exist, we had to go to them directly. It was a 36-hour long flight and we changed planes three times. It was really exhausting.
I heard the production cost only was 800,000,000 wons. It must have been a lot of pressure.
First of all, I didn’t think about the pressure. I think us coming all the way there was because I was a bit ignorant. Back then, I didn’t think too much of it. It just started because I thought “we should definitely go”. I think the production cost for “Moai” must have been the highest in the history of Korean music videos.
I heard you worked with your stuff but also with some important international staff.
The staff was international with people from 5 different countries such as Korea, Chile, Japan, United States. From the staff in Chile that filmed “007 Quantum of Solace”, to the best international helicopter filming team Flying cam that worked on countless Hollywood movies such as “Harry Potter”, “Mission Impossible 2”. Finding the right adjustements were even harder, but it was worth it and I enjoyed it because I was lucky enough to work with the best staff in the world.
It is said that “when/if you work with Seo Taiji, it means you’re at the top of the game”. I think you must have had some expectations.
To be honest, thoughts like this never crossed my mind. And even today, I’m still amazed that we got to work together. I only tried to create something valuable one video after the other. And it’s the same today. Meeting Seo Taiji brought value to our name.
Wasn’t there something difficult when you received offers to work seriously on idol music videos?
Before Seo Taiji, I was already working with singers with a strong low-key style, with teams with a strong musical direction such as Epik High, Nell, Pia, so it was hard for me to find the way to match the idol music video style with a choreography or a performance. The very first idol music video I shot was SS501’s “Deja Vu”. That’s why my work had this rock feeling at the beginning.
Seems there was a big change in your filming style?
I strengthened the art work in order to put the highlight more on the visual performance than focusing on the lyrics or the music. And the set importance increased. For instance, if we shoot a 4minute music video, we must throw our style because it is about 4minute at the end of the day. We must create a music video that will bring attention to 4minute for their music and their visual more than the background or the contents. This was when we started removing our style a little bit every time.
Where do you put the focus for indie rock music videos and for idol music videos?
First of all, for idol music videos, the focus must make them stand out. The focus must be on the performance itself to show them at their best in a charismatic and beautiful way. For bands music videos, I put the focus on showing them performing their music and allow them to communicate with their lyrics to approach the public with sincerity.
You received the award for best music video director at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2009. Your emotion back then must have been something.
I had been getting three out of the five nominees for the music video award since 2007, but I was falling behind when it came to idol music videos. However, I never clung onto stuff like this. To be honest, I didn’t know I’d receive the award that day. I was in a daze. That day, I had been shooting a video until the morning. It was the picture that had been there the longest, but they said they wouldn’t give me the award if I didn’t attend the ceremony. That’s why I wore director Jo’s clothes and I ran out. Haha. There are more live footage than a music video highlight. Because they want to avoid this video editing and for stuff like this, so I was curious about the high-risk elements. First of all, when I look at it, they really tried to make the shootage look real. That’s because, and I don’t know if it’s because I worked previously in video editing for another agency, but I know right away when the editing looks forced. So we filmed it the footage to make it real like they wanted. If you’re going to make it artificial, you go all the way with it, or you can go for a realistic vibe, it’s one of these two. I don’t like lame stuff. I always like things with a spontaneous/innocent aspect.
What was the most dangerous video you went ahead with?
Even when I think about it today, Epik High’s “Wannabe” music video makes me dizzy. It was a music video parodying the movie “Host”. We filmed in a sewage treatment plant. Suddenly, a tsunami happened. The equipment got carried away by the water and if the lighting director hadn’t pulled out the power cord, everybody would have died from electrocution. The video itself was comic and wasn’t dangerous, but filming was very hard. Epik High’s “Don’t Hate Me” music video that I worked on recently was awesome. The kids in the music video knocked everything down and just didn’t care while the adults were having a hard time. I mean, they were kids, so I couldn’t scold them. (laugh)
Is there something that specifically inspire you when you plan a music video?
Music is the first 1-dimensional thing to take into consideration. The answer is in the music. I love music too. I think for the rest, it’s either the manhwas I readd or UFC I watch.
With the Hallyu fever spreading on youtube, the Korean music videos’ market got wider and the qualityr increased a lot. What’s your take on that and what are the increasing problems?
Before, video producers used foreign videos for reference, it’s the opposite now. Because Korean videos have a high level of completion, the Korean style is settled now because it was developed in a context very different from pop videos. That’s why the quality is better and there are more thoughts put into the outcome. I’m also someone who belongs to the TV generation. Right now, it changed and it’s the internet era. Even if you don’t want to, this is the era that had never been seen before, so I think it brought exciting changes to video making itself. If it’s not hot, people don’t watch it. This is something regretful.
The success of Hyuna’s “Bubble Pop” was very exciting.
I’ve known her since she was a teenage girl and I thought it’d be nice to work with a cute vibe. I didn’t know the reactions would be so explosive. It even reached 27,000,000 views on youtube. Anyway, I think the video was a success because it captured Hyuna’s charm in a unique way.
Music video is about communicating the music, so communication with the artist is important. Who’s the singer you communicated the best with and who left you the biggest impression?
I’d choose Seo Tai Ji, Epik High’s Tablo and Nell’s Kim Jong Wan. There’s a team connection with the three of them. They’re friends I’ve been working with since I was young, so we’re comfortable with each other and I can share my vision without holding back. For idols music videos, there’s almost no right to speak. I follow the plan organized by the agency, but for artists like Seo Taiji or Epik High or Nell, they make their own music and these are the stories they want to tell. For Epik High’s “Don’t Hate Me”, Tablo just tossed in the idea at the beginning that it’d be nice if the kids were Jokers. For “Wannabe”, he said it’d be nice Tukutz’s girlfriend got eaten by the monster. (laugh) I’m a freak too and I love working with this kind of ideas.
What’s your favorite music video among those you worked on until now?
As people say “every child is dear to his parents” and I love all of them, but if I were to choose, I like my early works. Right now, I feel like my work is losing the innocence it used to have. I’ve been working on idols music videos by using the old school style. I put the highlight on the mise en scene and I reduced the importance of the choreography or the performance. I also keep working on music videos for singers with a low-key profile like Primary. People only know me as the idol music video director who shot Girls’ Generation’s music videos, but if I were to list all my works, there would be many interesting videos that you wouldn’t know I directed.
Do you have a favorite Korean director?
I really like Hong Jong Ho. He’s someone who did everything in video making and opened a new era. I met him for the first time when we filmed Mnet “Beatles Code”. My heart was beating so fast and he was so cool. So mise-en-scene-wise, it’s Park Myung Chun. I rewatched his Park Ji Yoon series and it was really awesome.
t/n: Park Myung Chun directed “Coming of Age Ceremony” by Park Ji Yoon.
People working in different fields usually get recognition from the audience and they’re sometimes get called star PD, star writer. Through “Infinity Challenge”, you joined the ranks of the star directors.
It wasn’t my intention to receive so much press. I worked a lot and it turned out this way. It puzzles me. To be honest, I’m not quite sure about this. People say that I’m good at variety when I go on a program like this. (laugh)
How did you receive the “Infinity Challenge” invitation?
At first, I got a request from “Infinity Challenge” to direct Park Myung Soo’s music video. We met and they said we had to do a hidden camera. Honestly, it was more about trying to do my job than thinking that I was doing a hidden camera. If not, Park Myung Soo wouldn’t have believed us. (laugh) They needed a director for him to believe it was true. I think they trusted me because I shot Seo Taiji’s video. That’s how it started.
How was it to work with Park Myung Soo?
It was fun. You just need to look at his face to laugh. I purposely put him into countless hard situations, but he just worked very hard. Everything was just funny. Haha.
Nell’s music video “White Night” with Im Soo Jung that was recently released became a big issue.
This was about Jong Wan. He said everything had to be frozen. For artists like Nell, they put the emphasis on the lyrics. They tell a lot of stories about memories and things that remained, right? To be honest, he wrote the music video scenario he had in mind before he actually wrote the lyrics for “White Night”. The vibe was just there. (laugh) Im Soo Jung usually doesn’t shoot music videos, so I was surprised she accepted to be a part of this. It was a nice project on many levels.
How is it to work with actors?
For short films, there’s something different from the acting they’ve done before. For instance, our most successful actor casting was for “ONE” by Epik High. Rye Won really wanted to act hysterical, and I also thought it was a good character. We gave each other good feedback.
Music videos like “Temperature of a Break-up” by Yoon Jong Shin were fun.
Yoon Jong Shin and Bae Doona are actually close. To keep the music alive, we formed an all-star super band. With people like Yoon Sang, Yoo Hee Yeol. In order to bring out the emotion with Bae Doona in the second half, I used gag codes in the first half of the video. To be honest, things like that are what I like to do the most.
Is there an artist you’d like to produce a music video for?
Mariah Carey and Namie Amuro.
What do you think is essential to become a good director?
The most important condition is to love music as much as music video making. If you like music, you’ll be able to create a good video. However, you shouldn’t be too greedy. Most of people can’t make the difference between what they’re good at and what they like. One day, you’re eventually able to tell the difference between the two.
What are the standards to recruit new Zanybros’ members?
A portfolio isn’t important. What’s important to us is sincerity and good stamina. To be honest, this field is more about working than school study, so you must study as you work.
What makes a Zanybros music video unique?
Corners/Pushing [t/n: I’m not an expert about the video making vocabulary]. I prefer an editing style that goes fast. There’s this last-minute explosion feeling. It’s nice.
What’s Zanybros’ ultimate goal (dream)?
Our company growing bigger and for everyone in the Zanybros family to do well.
What do you usually do during your free time?
I usually listen to music or I play the guitar.
Since you must listen to different genres of music for your job, you must be picky about the music you listen to?
I like listening to Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters. I also like many songs released recently, but I’m listening more and more to old songs as time goes by. When a remastered version of songs I like are uploaded on iTunes, I buy them.
Music aside, what have you been into lately?
UFC and movies? I read a lot of manhwas too. I don’t like alcohol, so I settle for hobbies like this.
What was your most favorite recent movie?
The movie I enjoyed the most recently was “Drive” by Nicolas Winding Refn. There’s also “Hangover” and the best among the recent ones is “Prometheus”. It was really nice. I went to see it three times at the movie theater. I like strong movies.
I heard you loved zombie movies.
I like zombie movies like Peter Jackson’s second movie “Dead Alive” and “Evil Dead”. I feel like this style has been disappearing lately.
You also produced iPhone movies. Aside from the music videos to come, do you plan to take on others challenges?
I haven’t really thought about it because I like doing music videos. I’m also writing scenarios. They’re all zombie movies. (laugh)
As you’re doing a job that requires to spend a lot of energy, staying in shape is essential, how do you usually do that?
I do absolutely nothing. Is it because my body is already used to it? It’s something you know when you get used to someone. Here, we need familiarity. However, people usually have more mental stress than physical problems. If you’re not good in this aspect, you can’t become a family. This is how it is for the lighting team, the art directing team or the staff I’ve been working with for ten years. I will never change that.
Are there a lot of people who majored in acting?
It’s the basics here. Everyone must be good at acting because they never know when they’ll get recruited. (laugh)
You worked with countless idols. If you were to choose the prettiest idol, who would it be?
Beauty-wise, f(x) will be number one? (laugh) Especially Soo Jung (Krystal), she’s really beautiful. Charm-wise, Hyuna is number one!
If you were not “Zanybros”, what kind of job would you be doing today?
Maybe I would have been in a band or maybe I would have been working in a guitar shop?
Who is Kim Joon Hong to you?
Without him, there would be no Zanybros. We built this together starting from he scratch. He’s my soulmate.
Do you have personal dreams unrelated to your job as a music video director?
To be honest, I think that my personal dreams disappeared. I think my personal dreams turned into Zanybros’ dreams. Like I said before, I just hope that Zanybros does even better?
Please tell us about your future plans.
I think we’ll end 2012 with Girls’ Generation. And I’ll prepare the Nell concert DVD. I’m determined to make it as good as Cold Play’s or Muse’s. (laugh)
Do you have something to say to those who wish to become directors like you?
If you can picture something in your head, then there’s a reality to it. The most important thing is how to close the gap between your imagination and reality. You have to find a common ground with reality at some extent, right? I think this is what video making is about. Well, any form of art is, though.
Please say a few words to the Cuvism readers.
Cuvism readers, hello. Whatever you do, I think the most important thing is to have tenacity. If you try and give up, everything will come to nothing. If you don’t look away from your goal and stick to one thing, stay determined and work hard because you’ll reach it one day. Thank you.
Original article: Cuvism
Translation: @onesunnylady – thesunnytown.wordpress.com