Korean Indie has a historic focus on musicians. It introduces their music to audiences around the world. In 2020, I saw two music videos directed by Eileen Yoon. One was for Caro Juna‘s “Raspberry Tea” and the other for Hunjiya‘s and indigoworld‘s “hourglass.”
These two videos have very different styles and Eileen’s career as a Director of Photography, Director, and Colorist was interesting. I thought it would be great to get a different artist perspective from behind the lense and how she works across these different roles.
Can you introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Eileen and I’m a director of photography and director based in Brooklyn. I grew up as a third culture kid in Seoul and came to New York later in my life.
According to your website, you’ve worked as a Director of Photography, Director, and Colorist. What’s the difference between these roles? Which is the most challenging?
A director of photography is in charge of the camera and lighting – essentially the look of the film whereas a director has their hands in everything. The directors are also the ones who work closely with the actors, placing them on the screen and exploring their character dynamics, to try to evoke an emotion in the audience. A colorist ideally works with both the DP and director to bring back color into footage and emphasize a specific look.
I would say they’re all challenging in their own ways, but because I’ve had the most experience being a DP, I can speak more to that. Being a DP is a very technical role where you have to know your cameras and lights, but there is also so much more to the job than that.
It’s managing the crew you have and being able to communicate what setups you want. You also have to work closely with the director to make sure you’re doing what serves the story. It’s more than just producing a pretty image, it requires the ability to work with the scope of the director’s vision.
What’s the biggest misconception between the different roles from your experience?
I think that most people don’t realize how collaborative filmmaking is. Every role is truly to make a dream come to life. Additionally, each role is catered towards a specific skill set and I think it’s a beautiful celebration of collaborators who get to use their strength to make a film. A film is only as strong as its crew, and it takes more than just one person to tell the story.
As you grow as a creative, what role are you working towards establishing? Is becoming a recognized director over the DP more important?
I have a tough time answering this whenever it’s asked. I have such a drive for both roles and it’s hard to pick one over the other. As a director, I really want to push my story of being a Korean-American born and raised in Korea. I think it’s a perspective that needs to be explored more.
Additionally, I love meeting new people, working with them, and hearing their stories. And as a director, I hope that I can share those stories with others. I also wish to expand more in my narrative directorial work and I feel as though I’m just beginning.
As a DP, I have a lot of fun lighting and creating a look that is explained to me. I like to experiment with new looks and face challenges that directors throw at me. I enjoy having control over how the image looks. Every process of it is so enjoyable and I compare it a lot to cooking and dancing. It’s choreographed and planned out, yet so beautiful in how everything seems to flow.
Two music videos came across my desk in 2020 that you directed, Caro Juna’s “Raspberry Tea” and indigoworld and Hunjiya’s “hourglass.” “Raspberry Tea is a standard music video while “hourglass” is a more digital-focused presentation. How did you get connected to each artist and where did the ideas for each music video come from?
I saw Caroline’s music being shared by a coworker and I was in awe of her voice. With sweaty hands I messaged Caro (Caro Juna) on Instagram asking her if she wanted to collaborate. It’s funny now Caroline has become one of my closest friends and someone I can call family!
We were going between “Hanami” (the song that I fell in love with initially) and “Raspberry Tea.” We went with “Raspberry Tea” because I wanted to dye a pool pink. We loved the idea and everything grew from there. We bonded over our love for color so each scene had its own color palette: pink, blue, and yellow.
We wanted to show the feeling of being in love and also celebrate the Asian American artists in our community and we wanted to acknowledge our Korean roots by having small nods. Caro Juna waves a a perilla leaf (갯잎) fan in the video surrounded by our entirely Korean female cast. We also had clothing provided by Sundae School and MSG! Caro Juna and I showed our love for our friends involved, and a new friendship blossomed from the video.
I met Alice (Hunjiya) because I saw her music on Asian Creative Network on Facebook. I emailed her and asked if we could get coffee. This was way back in 2019 and we reconnected during the pandemic when she reached out to me to help create a video for her new album coming out, FOLD.
Alice and I got really close during quarantine after the numerous FaceTime calls we had to plan and create her music video. The idea for the video came from stating “ok, we’re in a pandemic. What can we do?” Back then I was in Vermont for the summer and Alice was in upstate NY.
We were discussing having VHS footage, and other found footage we all can source and got to the topic of computer recordings. This is truly the most socially distanced safe way of filming and we thought it was a fun idea to explore. I am no editor or VFX artist, but both Alice and I had a clear vision of what this could be.
Everything was actually screen recorded and timed perfectly so that I would receive text messages from her during these recordings. We also wanted to feature the work of our friends in various art mediums and thought this would be a perfect way to do so. I leaned on Angie to assist me with the special effects. She did all of the glitches that are shown, and I remember telling her, “go crazy with it.” I’m happy with how everything came out.
Hunjiya has a very defined style that’s presented in her other music videos. Were there discussions on the visual style of “hourglass?”
For “hourglass” it was really about evoking the feeling of what the song was about. It’s about being in the midst of a toxic relationship and we wanted to show that through her emotions and what the video made you feel. We were following the steps of Hunjiya looking through old photos, randomly searching the internet to distract herself, and Googling solutions to a toxic relationship.
“While creating the video itself was definitely a challenge considering the COVID conditions, working with a visionary like Eileen made it exciting and worthwhile. There were only a few people working on this video and Eileen did most of the editing and filming herself.
It made me realize that you don’t need a huge team or budget to make something good – you just need open-minded and talented people who understand your vision and want to build something together.”Hunjiya
I think Hunjiya’s music is very honest and though this wasn’t her usual style of video, it still portrayed who she is as a singer-songwriter and it told her story.
What was the most difficult aspect of developing the music video? I imagine that COVID played a role in how to create a video when live filming wasn’t really possible.
The hardest part was definitely having all the notifications cued at the right time. I was on the phone with her telling her when to cue in. Some parts would feel so bare, and gauging time was difficult in the beginning. There were beats in the song that were longer or shorter and we were unsure how it would all fit with the screen recordings. It was really a trial and error process and it took many versions of this video to become what it is now.
Hunjiya, Angie, and I never met in person, and everything was done virtually and I am so proud that we were able to create this video! Funny enough, Hunjiya and I are both in Seoul now and are finally going to meet in person.
Angie Nicholas is credited with the visual effects on “hourglass.” It looks like some of the music video could have been done with screen recording or is the entire video animated? Was the style of the music video a concern during planning? How long did the music take to complete?
We really made the most of our resources. Instead of sourcing a VFX artist who would usually do something like this all on After Effects, I screen recorded every message that came to me, every cue for notifications, and every page that was scrolled through on my laptop screen.
The only part that has heavy VFX is where the glitching begins at the drop. The animation was done by Hunjiya, and I told Angie to have fun with the VFX and to just make it glitch. Angie is a very talented video collage artist and I knew she would be perfect for this video where she had to layer a bunch of videos together.
You’ve directed two music videos and a short film as a director. What do you find most enjoyable in creating music videos as opposed to film? With music videos, are you more the storyteller for the artist while film is more your own perspective in storytelling?
They’re different. In music videos, I get to be visually experimental and work with the artist. I get to have a lot of freedom when it comes to style and movement because unlike most narrative films, we don’t have to worry about dialogue. When conceptualizing the video, I usually have discussions with the artist and popcorn ideas of what the video will be.
Yes. Music videos are essentially the artist’s stories and what they want to visually tell with their music. It is the image that the artist wishes to show with their music and how they portray themselves. I’m helping make their world come to life. Each artist has their own way of wanting to share their personality and musical identities, and in the end, it is
a collaborative piece that we make together.
When it comes to filmmaking, I am solely the person shaping the world as a director. Though I discuss heavily with my crew, it is my piece of work and how I decide to let the story unfold.
Any upcoming projects to look out for? What’s your moonshot project that you would jump to make?
I’m in the process of submitting my short film, Chimera (키메라) to film festivals and hopefully I’ll be able to share this incredibly personal film to the public soon. Shot in both New York and Seoul, the film follows Ayeon during her present day in New York and her childhood in Seoul.
As Ayeon runs errands to prepare for a Christmas dinner for her friend, her memories from her childhood Christmas in Seoul are brought up. After a broken relationship with her father, Ayeon finds her new family with her friends and claims her home where she feels most comfortable.
The film explores my relationship to my homes: with both my family and the places I have lived in. As a third culture kid, you struggle to grasp where you come from or who you identify with. And both the people in front and behind the camera are those that I have been able to call my home.
You can see the trailer here: www.eileeny.com/chimera.
My future moonshot project would be shooting a TV show or feature film and successfully writing and directing a feature film I’ve been developing about a family member. I love being able to use light to tell a story and collaborating with a director to do so!
I’ve also recently realized that a lot of the films that are getting traction are ones that glamorize trauma. Though I understand there is an importance in telling that trauma, (and I, too, want to tell my stories) I want to be able to tell a story that really is just fun and entertaining.
A film I write and direct for fun may be my immediate moonshot project. I think we should start asking ourselves, why are the Asian-American films that the industry love about immigrants struggling, and how many other genres are explored by Asian-American filmmakers?