Jun. 24, 2016

ALEXA in South Korea

Cinematographer Cheon-Seok Kim's drive for higher image quality in South Korean TV series sees him turn to ALEXA for two major shows.

Jun. 24, 2016

Cinematographer Cheon-Seok Kim is changing the face of South Korean television. Traditionally, South Korean TV series focus on character and story, accompanied by bright, flat lighting and lots of medium shots. Because of fast-paced production schedules, footage is recorded in Rec 709 with little or no color correction in post. Kim wanted more; he wanted the image to be part of the storytelling and he wanted to use feature film techniques to achieve this better visual quality.

For the romantic melodrama series "That Winter, the Wind Blows" Kim opted for ALEXA Plus cameras, recording in ProRes Log C. In doing so, he has become the forerunner of higher image quality in South Korean TV production. Audiences and critics are hooked; "That Winter, the Wind Blows" has become the number one South Korean TV show, receiving multiple awards and prompting media coverage that focuses not just on the actors -- which is normal for the region -- but on the images as well.

Essentially, Kim and director Gyu Tae Kim were applying a cinema working-method and a cinema look to the series. Kim used a lot of long focal lengths and extreme close-ups, which allowed him to focus in on the emotion of the actor, catching every nuance. With twice the amount of lighting equipment, a cinematic lighting style and the extra flexibility afforded by color correcting Log C material in post, they achieved a high-end cinema look. Says Park Hwan, lighting director, "It's both my and Kim's philosophy that the actress should look beautiful even when she is wailing."

The show's producers initially fought against the increased costs of higher-end equipment, but director Gyu Tae Kim was as quality-driven as his cinematographer Kim. Once the producers saw the pilot and the image quality they had achieved, there was no more opposition and they came on-board. Now, with the show's success, Kim can do as he pleases. Producers have learned that if Kim shoots a TV series it might cost a bit more, but they will get remarkable image quality. "In the end, it's a small price to pay", says the cinematographer.

Kim also spent a lot of time explaining to the cast and crew his image and color concept. Hye-kyo Song, the female lead and South Korean star of both "That Winter, the Wind Blows" and the current Asian TV phenomenon "Descendants of the Sun," was intrigued, asking many questions. Kim shot a number of makeup tests and discussed them in detail with Song. Based on those tests he developed a specific visual style for the show, carefully combining lighting, makeup, art direction and choice of lens and camera angle. She loved the result so much that she subsequently changed her standard contract to include a clause stating that she must be captured exclusively with ALEXA.

For his next show, Cheon-Seok Kim is pushing even further. In spring 2016 he started a new TV series called SCARLET HEART, shooting with ALEXA XT cameras and recording ARRIRAW Open Gate for a further increase in image quality and even more control in post.

He is supported in this by his DIT, Hee-Dae Choi, who is also a big believer in high-end image quality. When ARRI spoke with them, they had finished the first 12 days of shooting without a hitch. In total they will shoot 20 episodes of this show and also a feature film spinoff. Everything is working well and for Kim, there is no other camera. "ALEXA gets me what I see with my naked eye," he explains. "ALEXA is like my own vision. For `Winter` I did a test with lots of cameras, but with most there was a big difference between what I see and what they show. ALEXA is the only camera that matches my vision. I understand ALEXA and she understands me."