Interview with Filmmaker Jaehee Cheong (STILL ALIVE)

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I personally think I’ve been to funerals more often as a kid, compared to my friends. The funerals I’ve experienced were either with heavy silence or full of wailing. Of course, I did not like it.

Those emotions of the people at the funerals were highly contagious, which made me scared and cry when I was too young to understand what death is and also did not know the deceased well. I would.

With my Korean background, I’ve also experienced this Korean tradition called “Jae-Sa” which is an ancestral rite or memorial service for ancestors or deceased family members on Korean Thanksgiving Day or Lunar New Year. Then, whenever we had “Jae-Sa,” I was remembering all those ancestors and my grandfather who passed away before I was born, the people who are practically strangers to me. Then I got to this idea that the act of remembering someone can be the continuation of their life even after they die.

I assume these experiences have made me interested in concept of life and death since as a kid and question what is “being alive.” I thought of proof of death and life; if the ashes are the proof of death, what’s the proof of life? I got to my own conclusion that the proof of life could be a breath.

That was the start, I suppose.

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

I’ve had the idea or concept of the company Still Alive since my freshman year at college if I start from the very beginning. But I’ve got to make it into film in my Senior year, so I’ve had the idea for about four years including my gap year.

My college, Rhode Island School of Design, has a pretty structured curriculum for Senior year in Film/Animation/Video. So students get to work on their thesis for the whole year. Fall semester focuses on pre-production in general. I worked on script, casting, gathering crew members, location hunting, etc. in Fall semester. Then, I got to film for about four to five days in January. After that, in Spring semester, I focused on post-production — editing, meetings with the composer, etc.

I had to reshoot some shots since I figured I needed some extra insert shots and other shots as I edited. This is pretty much the overall process for making of my film Still Alive.

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

Memory, Remain

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

It could be a very boring answer since everyone had to go through and is still going. It’s
Covid-19.

Originally, I wanted to make it as a sequel.

In my school, we make one short film in Junior year and then thesis film in Senior year.

As I mentioned in a previous question, I’ve had the idea or concept of the company Still Alive since my freshman year, and I already knew about the curriculum of my major department. Then, I started drawing some big ideas for the last two years of my college life.

I wanted to make my Junior year film about a person who visits the company Still Alive and makes the balloon product, The Present. Then, I wanted to make my Senior film about a person who gets that balloon. I started writing the script for my Junior film and casting the actors; but then, Covid-19 came. The campus shut down, and everyone had to leave campus and go back home as soon as possible. Of course, I had to cancel all the plans for my Junior film, which had affected my plan for Senior film, too. I had to change the whole plan for both films; then, I had to decide one for my Senior film since I couldn’t make both anymore, and I ended up making one about the person who got the balloon.

Even though I couldn’t make both as I planned, I still want to make the other one or even make it into a longer series in the future.

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

So far I’ve heard reviews or feedback mostly from my friends and family, and most of them already knew some information about the film before they watched my film. It was very interesting to hear from the people who had zero information about the film and also very surprising to hear how they understood and interpreted in their own ways.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

I’ve always liked watching any type of moving images and something narrative.

I can’t really tell exactly when, but my college freshman year could be when I decided to give it a try. I’ve always had some type of desire for films, but I couldn’t tell if I just like watching films or making ones.

Now that I think of it, my very first film could be the one I made in my 5th grade for class assignment. It was about the chair prank that had been going on around school by then. And it was sort of a thriller or horror. I can’t believe I was going for that genre when I’m not even good at watching horror films.

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

Probably About time (2013) directed by Richard Curtis. It’s a very sweet film, and I just watch whenever I want to feel good.

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

I can’t really think of one at the moment. But I really appreciate the feedback video. As an
ntrovert, I find it hard to talk to people and socialize in a big group of people sometimes. So, this feedback video really helped me learning other people’s thoughts and reviews.

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

Very good.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Homemade pasta because I just put everything I like into my pasta. Linguine with shrimps, cherry tomatoes, mushroom, garlic, and black olives. Sometimes I add spinach or cod roe sauce.

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

I’ve been mostly enjoying a break over the summer since I graduated. And I’m planning to move to New York in September.

I have many little ideas that haven’t been developed yet for both live action and stopmotion animation. Hopefully, I can make them soon.

By matthewtoffolo

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

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