Interview with Filmmaker Dae Ryun Chang (WE CAN DREAM)

WE CAN DREAM was the winner of BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT at the March 2022 LA Feedback Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I had visited the We Can Center several times when I became interested in social enterprises. As a Catholic I naturally was curious how the laudable social agenda of hiring the disabled could be pursued while sustaining commercial goals with nuns acting as the managers –hardly a common situation. My first few visits culminated with the publication of a business case that I teach as a Professor of Marketing (my day job ha ha). As useful as the case was, I always felt that the students did not fully grasp the human side of what the company was about. I regretted as the case writer having depicted the disabled workers in a collective way and that led to a generalized sense of how they were. What was lacking the most therefore was a personal identification to the many individuals with disabilities who worked there. As a filmmaker I decided to redress this mistake by using the storytelling power of film to have the viewer not only see but also “feel” the warmth and the dedication of the bakers to their work at the company. I also decided to focus the film on just one baker so that we could relate to him on a specific personal level and thereby avoid simple categorizations of disabled workers.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

From the inception of the idea to the post-production, it took myself and my co-producer Daniel Smukulla about 3 years. The filming itself did not take that long but the company is located on the outskirts of Seoul and so in the pre-production stage, getting out there was not easy especially since matching my schedule with Daniel’s was sometimes difficult. To add to the delay, I was also on a sabbatical leave for a year in Vienna and St. Andrews (Scotland). Thus, the filming had to be done in a brisk manner when I briefly came back to Seoul from Vienna, and the editing was completed by Daniel in Seoul with remote feedback and subtitling by me in Scotland. The interesting backstory thus is that this Korean film was actually produced in three countries. LOL. Daniel acted as not only the cinematographer but also the editor and we agreed that the “B-Rolls” would come in handy at some point. So we asked and were granted permission to film the entire baking process to show how clean, efficient and collaborative the making of cookies need to be. The B-Rolls indeed eventually provided a great deal of wiggle room in supporting the narrative of what the interviewees were saying.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Embracing diversity

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

This passion project was perhaps the least obstacle-ridden film that I have made. My co-producer and I were always on the same page for most of the decisions regarding the narrative, filming, and post-production. My composer Henry Ross Bloomfield was a marvelous collaborator who responded to my ideas about the score invariably in a positive and prompt manner. It was an absolute joy working with both Daniel and Henry as well as the illustrator Eunji Kim on the poster. The sound engineering by Jouni Elo who I have worked with on all my films was also a breeze. It may sound trite but our collective commitment to promoting this worthy enterprise played no doubt a big part in smoothing over even the tiniest of disagreements we may have had at any stage of the making of the film. It was almost a spiritual experience.

From a filmmaker’s standpoint, the hardest task was striking the right tonal balance in representing Jihoon, the baker interviewed in the film. Our goal was neither to make him someone to sympathize nor one to put on a pedestal. I remember getting asked by the chief nun at We Can, Sister Agatha why I wanted to make the film and I responded, “I want people to see how normal the workers here are. The more I come here, the more I realize they are just like you and me.” This evoked a glowing smile from the nun who then gave me the green light to make the film. But wanting to show Jihoon as being just like one of us, and then actually realizing that on film is what makes movie-making a big challenge.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

The audience’s reactions affirmed to me that our film succeeded in communicating what We Can stands for and that a humble movie that is under 10 minutes can help in changing people’s attitudes about marginalized groups in our society. The words that the viewers used such as “inspirational,” “heart-warming,” “enriching,” and “touching” were the emotions that we strove to evoke since that is what we felt during the making of the movie. Most importantly, the desire among some of the viewers that this prosocial agenda should be adopted by more companies was exactly the response that we sought. It was meant to be an uplifting documentary and we are happy that the feedback indicates that it is.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

As a Marketing Professor, for a long time I have shown my students in my classes short films that I shot and edited. Nowadays of course you could do that with your smartphone. I could easily tell that even a roughly shot film was a great way to communicate visually my various observations about life. It was only within the last ten years that I met professional indie filmmakers like Aurelien Laine and Daniel Smukalla who helped me to hone my craft. Our first collaboration was a short fictional narrative, “I, Profess” which is about a professor who has stage fright. Once I got my feet wet in the technical side of filmmaking, e.g. the scriptwriting, storyboarding, camera blocking, shooting, editing, color grading, sound engineering etc. I realized why people make films. It is the painstaking attention needed to details in any of those aspects on how to service the story that makes filmmaking extremely difficult but worthwhile. As a Marketing Professor who became an academic straight out of a doctoral program and without any business experience, my filmmaking has allowed me to get my hands “dirty” by working in the trenches in a big or small way on all that goes into the making of a film. That is what appeals to me the most about the process, i.e. the constant grinding to make the film tell people what you want to say.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

If we are talking about watching from the start to the finish, it is “Tucker: The man and his dreams” by Francis Ford Coppola, one of his least known works. Tucker was an Elon Musk type of innovator in the late 1940s. I have shown it to my students since the movie entails how businessmen can fail in realizing their dreams and yet stand tall. I may have seen it perhaps 50 times. One of the key messages is how important it is to have a conviction about your values and how to help society. I think my filmmaking has benefitted from me adhering to that mantra. Tucker proclaims at the end that despite his failure, “it’s the dream that counts.” In fact, the word “dream” is mentioned at least half a dozen times in the film and I have no doubt that is why I use it in “We Can Dream.” Tucker’s spirit is reflected both in me the director and also the disabled baker Jihoon in our film who wants to lead by his example and have the cookie company grow.

If we are talking about watching a movie sequence when surfing channels on TV, for some reason I always end up catching Morgan Freeman’s character Red getting released from prison in “The Shawshank Redemption” and then going to the farm to uncover the hidden letter and money left for him by his friend Andy (Tim Robbins). I get a big laugh from Morgan Freeman’s expression when he unexpectedly sees that there is a sizable wad of cash and then cautiously looks around to make sure he’s not being watched. It is ironic that despite the movie being famous for all the narration done by Morgan Freeman, in my favorite scene he doesn’t say anything.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

My film “We Can Dream” is about 10 minutes and that can be too short to attract the interest of streaming sites that may minimum running time rules on their offerings. Festivals may package some of the films together in creative blocs to overcome these hurdles and not just according to traditional categories like short or long documentaries or country of origin. For example, a short film may possibly be added to a longer piece as long as they deal with a similar subject matter, a documentary with a fictional narrative, etc. Maybe they already do that so I may not be aware of which festivals offer that service to their selected films. Also promotion of the movies on social media with trailers and links to the streaming sites could facilitate viewer access.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How have your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

FilmFreeway is just great in how easy they make it for filmmakers to search festivals and to submit films, in some cases within a matter of a few minutes. My experience has been nothing but good.

10. What is your favorite meal?

This question is a toughie! That’s because I have several “favorite” meals and so in no particular order, (1) Vongole fettucini with white wine sauce, (2) A thick and spicy Dofu stew (Jjiage as we call it in Korean), a recipe that my mother passed on to my wife that my son can also make quite well, (3) Cajun ribeye steak and fries, and (4) Hot Blueberry Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream (if I can add in a dessert).

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I am working on a Metaverse project to see how the new interactive environment can allow storytelling to become more personalized. Films need to always embrace new technology and I hope I can learn how storytelling can be enhanced in this new domain.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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