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Music video director Lee talks pressure, artistry behind scenes

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By Kwak Yeon-soo

Inspired by the films that dominated her childhood, Lee Rae-kyung had the ambition to become a movie director. As things turned out, however, Lee ended up not close to cinema but with a prime position in making music videos for some of the most popular K-pop stars including IU, Girls' Generation's Yoona, Lee Moon-sae, Bolbbalgan4 and many others.

Following her path with determination has led her to dominant position behind the camera. But Lee recalls that breaking into the industry was tougher than she had imagined.

After graduating from high school, Lee attended three universities in eight years. One year into her first college, she struggled to see how she could turn media studies into a career. So instead of going to classes, Lee spent most of her time at the student-operated radio station. There she taught herself how to mash videos and images together and edit them.

Luckily, her perspective changed once she entered into Kaywon University of Arts & Design the following year, majoring in Moving Image Design. Lee developed a strong passion for cinema and media production and found more room to grow. All of the sources she uses in the process of making music videos are derived from the things she learned at Kaywon, according to Lee.

"There were times when I juggled four part-time jobs with my studies because I was short of money. It felt like I would need a real job. I thought: it's got to be close to cinema and so I chose to make commercials at first," Lee said in a recent interview with The Korea Times.

But in her first paying gigs as a production assistant her experience of the rampant sexism in the industry proved demotivating. As a result, she transferred to Hongik University as an escape from work. There she established long-lasting relationships with alumni in her career field.

With an aim to work as a director, Lee switched gears to work at a music video production company. But it turned out to be a fraudulent company. "I worked as hard as I could. But I didn't get paid and the executive director took all the money from winning bids for music video projects," Lee said.

During these years, Lee also started directing videos for no-name artists for free. "I begged them to let me make their videos," she said. One of her videos was for the solo performer Zitten's song "Sunflower."

A paid music video request came a year later from Magic Strawberry Sound, a recording label. Lee got her first break making a video for Okdal, also known as Rooftop Moonlight, and since then she has directed videos for artists like 10cm and Sunwoo JungA.

And 2017 was the year Lee booked crucial videos, IU's videos for "Through the Night" and "Palette." It was the first time she had worked with an artist everyone had heard of.

"I once asked IU's label how they discovered me. They told me they liked my name. They then looked me up online, watched my previous videos and offered me the job," Lee said.

Working with IU was an absolute dream, according to her. On set, there was a lot of interaction with the performer to define the concept and the story. "The first image that came to my mind after listening to the song Palette was IU wearing mannish attire while standing still on a runway, staring cynically at the camera. I also added images that match well the lyrics to every part of the music video," she said.

The female director also explained that a big part of her job is to put herself in the mindsets of both the artist and the fan. "I have to consider, where they are in their career and how I would like to see them in this video. But first and foremost, I have to be inspired by the song," she said.

To execute the work process, Lee considers three things as priorities: budget, schedule and the song. "After I listen to the song, I usually write a concept and pitch it to the label and the artist. Sometimes they will have an idea already. Some changes are made to scale down and fit the budget," Lee explained.

"Once everyone is on board, we set a date, book a space, have rehearsals, and we shoot the video. Then I edit the video, and get everyone to sign off on it. From the creation of a concept to the final edit, production can take from a couple of days to a month."

When asked where she gets story ideas, Lee answered "Even when I'm not working, I'll find cool photos, movies, magazines and anything that inspires me visually. I collect them and sort them according to mood, style or color. So when I choose the concepts, I can pull from a visual bank of ideas and references. For example, I used mise en scene from the movie Oldboy for Lee Moon-sae's Blur music video."

Lee shared that with over a decade directing videos, she realized there is always somebody looking over her shoulder who needs to approve her work. "It took me a while to understand that the music video is not mine. It's the artist's video and the record label's video. My job is to make sure everyone is happy with the outcome," she said.

Source: The Korea Times
Tags: behind the scenes / making of, iu, music video
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