One late spring afternoon in 2013, I hopped in a yellow cab in front of Columbus Cirlce in New York City, something I rarely do, in order to cross town quickly enough to catch a talk about a guy who helped bring Gangnam Style to America. It turned out to be a great speech, but what fascinated me most was his rather compelling story on how he snagged a job in Hollywood by sneaking into the Oscars. Fast forward 4 years, and in that time that same guy, Kyu Lee, has continued to break new ground. From casting a big name Hollywood star for the first time in a Korean movie, to now helping produce the biggest budget movie in Korean cinema, “Along With The Gods: Two Worlds.”
 
In anticipation of the movie release, “Along With The Gods“, the first part of which comes out today, December 20, 2017 in Korea, and on December 22nd in the United States and worldwide, we spoke with Kyu Lee who is a producer of the movie, about it and other related topics.

GMM:On a personal level you had a non-traditional entry (if there exists a traditional, at all) into the movie industry; the stuff of folklore. How have you been able to progress through the ranks from being a cog in the machine, to now being listed as one of the main producers for big budget blockbuster movies?
 
Kyu: I believe it’s all about how inspired and determined you are, and how you choose and marinate your relationships over a seasoned genuine process.

Since I was an assistant at Sony, moving up the ranks, graduating from the studio and going independent, I really focused on building solid friendships and taking with me key points and experiences from monitoring my collegues and bosses as they did there thing on a professional and personal level. Gaining respect and notoriety through my choices and actions from my peers was also a major factor.
 
GMM: What exactly is a movie producer? What’s their role in the movie making process?
 
Kyu: A producer’s role is very diverse. There are various titles of a producer, as well. You have your Executive Producer, Co-Producer, Associate Producer, Consulting Producer in the TV world, Line-Producer, etc.
 
A producer’s role ranges from finding a script, packaging a project, from scouting a director, casting the talent, partnering with a marketing and distribution arm to raising funds. In short, a producer can be the nervous system of an entire production; doing it all really.
 
GMM: How does a producer differ from a director? Is the director in charge of the creative process, and the producer the managerial and logistics?
 
Kyu: the producer can set the stage and tone of a project and create a creative playground for the director and the talent. The director brings his sensibility and point of view which brings the film to life thru his camera lens. And, sometimes even directs the actors in a way to bring the best of them.
 
GMM: And, who chooses who? Does the producer choose the director or vice-versa?
 
Kyu: Normally, the producer and studios seek directors. Unless, the director has his own project he wants to produce and direct. In the case of independent films, many directors seek for producers or studios to get their film made.

 

 

GMM: Is there a creative aspect to being a movie producer?
 
Kyu: Absolutely! Most producers have a genre of film they like to produce. So, they all have their own niche.
 
GMM: What advice would you give a younger person who aspires to also produce movies? What skills should they acquire along the way, for success?
 
Kyu: Start building relationships from all different professions and walks of life. Almost every profession or professional indirectly, and be involved in a film.
 
GMM: What unique skills have you acquired along the way that has been beneficial to your success?
 
Kyu: People skills, team work, common sense from experiences, patience…
 
GMM: How do you keep abreast with the industry and make sure you stay professionally on top of your game?
 
Kyu: Reading lots to feed my brain, watching lots to stimulate my imagination, traveling lots to understand the world and building relationships.
 
GMM: What do you usually look for in a movie script that convinces you to jump on board its production?
 
Kyu: I normally look for content that can speak universally, and to all cultures. And, try to cross collaborate with talent from several nations to add value and pride to a film or TV series.

 

 

GMM: Since you returned to Korea, after your stint at Sony you founded Kino33. Can you tell us about the company?
 
Kyu: Kino33 is company I founded in 2012, after our success with Gangnam Style. I felt that rather than my name always being at the center of attention, it would be more valuable to have a brand to create and build – being inside an organization rather being just an individual.
 
Kyu: Kino holds the meaning of Cinema, whereas 33 is the number of revolutions a record spins per minute – Film and Music Entertainment. Case by case I will assist in managing talent, if needed and concert productions, but mostly producing film, TV and music.
 
GMM: Do you have other entrepreneurial endeavors? If I recall correctly, you had/have a restaurant?
 
Kyu: I did have a restaurant in Seoul, which eventually I sold my shares. It is still running, though and doing well. But, sometimes you just gotta let go of things to put more effort into other priorities.
 
In 2012, I joined a start-up, Sonic Tier Audio (STA). Through STA’s post production and sound mixing services, we have participated in the production of over 50 films in the US and Asia markets.
 
STA develops multi-channel audio mixing software (3D audio solutions and algorithms), and provides for theater, broadcasting and mobile platforms and devices around the globe, being the first Asian and only Korean company that provides 3D sound technology to all media and VR fields.

 

 

“Liam is amazing. I already had high expectations of him since he is so loved all around the world by his fans and colleagues.”

 

GMM: Great job with the Operation Chromite movie, which came out last summer in 2016. Budgeted at 12 million, it pulled $50 million worldwide. Doing a period piece, as well as a war movie must have been challenging. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in the making of that movie?
 
Kyu: Well, we had a great director in John H. Lee and a stellar cast that included Jung Jae Lee and Beom Soo Kim. And, of course Liam Neeson.
 
So, my job wasn’t too difficult. It was the first time that a Hollywood actor played a role in a 100% Korean production. So from a logistics perspective there were a lot of guidelines we had to wrestle through which included SAG fees, international taxes, insurance, etc. Quite a few things that Korean production staff never had experience with, and didn’t quite understand. But, we got through it and made an exciting movie.
 
GMM: So, how did you sign onto the movie? And, was their any significance to choosing to make Operation Chromite?
 
Kyu: The production company that i worked with wanted to take a chance at casting a Hollywood actor, and distribute the film globally. They took a chance on me, hoping I would complete the mission impossible. And, thank goodness luck was on my side to cast some amazing American talent.
 
GMM: What was it like working with Liam Neeson, a popular American actor who played General MacArthur, alongside his Korean counterparts, on location in Korea?
 
Kyu: Liam is amazing. I already had high expectations of him since he is so loved all around the world by his fans and colleagues. As an actor we all know how wonderful he is, but as a person he is on another level. So gentle, caring and understanding. It was an honor to work with him. He makes everyone around him better.
 
GMM: Synergistically, how did it work out. And, can this become a regular thing, placing popular American actors alongside Korean actors, in a Korean movie? What are some of the challenges with this?
 
Kyu: Well, a lot of the actors on set were just in awe of him. When do you get a chance to see a Hollywood actor in Korea up close and personal better yet as a co-star? Never.
Obviously, with the way this film was packaged and with it set in the Korean War, definitely the roles worked out the way it did. The more globally packaged stories we have the more regular we can do this collaboration.

 

 

“My job was to do the sub-publishing, and master license deals so we could have authorization to use them for the film.”

 

GMM: So, following the huge success from Operation Chromite it looks like you’re about to release an even bigger movie, “Along With The Gods: Two Worlds” How did you come to be a part of it? And, what is your role?
 
Kyu: Yes! December 20. Honestly, my role in this film Is not big. i was asked to be a Music Consultant on this film. we used a quite a few tracks by foreign artists for the soundtrack of this film. My job was to do the sub-publishing, and master license deals so we could have authorization to use them for the film.
 
Not normally something I do for a film, but I had the contacts and it was an honor to be at least a small part in helping the success of this film. I hope you guys enjoy the music.
 
GMM: Set to be released on December 20 in Korea, and December 22, 2017 globally in 103 countries, and with a budget of over $35 million (according to Variety), is this your biggest movie so far? (It’s considered the largest budgeted in Korean movie history.)
 
Kyu: Well, let me get back to you after the movie is released. Fingers crossed!

 

 

GMM: As we conclude this interview, what is your favorite movie of all time?
 
Kyu: Batman
 
GMM: Fav Asian movie?
 
Kyu: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
 
GMM: Fav American movie?
 
Kyu: Pursuit of Happyness
 
GMM: Fav western and Asian director?
 
Kyu:Christopher Nolan and Je Gyu Kang
 
GMM: Spielberg or Scorcese?
 
Kyu: Scorcese
 
GMM: With a resume featuring major achievements like Operation Chromite and Along With The Gods, I am tempted to ask if are you already thinking of what’s next? But, I think that’s a bit too cliche, especially in our face-paced world. So, let me add, after these major achievements, where’s your mind at right now, and what are your hopes for the future?
 
Kyu: Stay tuned… I like to announce things when complete or be able to give people a pleasant surprise. I gotta find ways to have fun with my work whenever I can. Keeps me inspired and sane.

 
 

READ MORE: KYU LEE’S INSPIRATIONAL SPEECH ON GANGNAM STYLE AT NYU

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