MB: I learned how to approach a story from the perspective of language. This film is almost entirely in Korean with some Chinese, so I read a lot of transcripts before I ever sat at the computer and made notes about themes and ideas.
The decision to center this film on the exhibition in China created a very clear, straight shot of a narrative. I also enjoyed being part of such a tight-knit crew. A very small number of people made this happen, and we all did a range of things—from our composer giving notes, to the animator and I flying to China to film the exhibition.
AS: One of the things I learned on the film—and something I’m always going to be honing—is when to be emotionally connected and when to detach a little bit. There are so many things that we loved, but they just couldn’t be in the film. It’s sort of like an abstract painting in that you have to feel when it’s done. You have to be unemotional about what is not in the movie. If I lined up all the missing things, it would be painful, so I had to forget about them.
MB: This is your second feature. Do you want to keep doing documentaries?
AS: I want to do scripted films as well as documentaries. There’s an intuitive growth in storytelling that happens slowly with the projects you work on. You can learn the math of first act, second act, third act, but that only does so much when you are trying to accomplish it in a film. Ultimately, I always want to tell true stories. I like the documentary format because I’ve always loved getting to know humans.
How did you find yourself making documentaries in the first place, going back to the beginning?
“I think it’s impossible to be impartial.
My entire approach is to become good friends
with whomever I’m documenting. I don’t
know how you can tell someone’s story unless
you get to know them intimately.”
— ADAM SJÖBERG
MB: I didn’t see a film in the theater until I was 14. Up until then, I was trained in computer science because my dad is a computer scientist, so I was programming and engineering even that young. When I saw my first movie in the theater, The English Patient, I was blown away by how much emotion could be bottled up in an hour and a half. I wanted to take my engineering mind to it—let’s take this apart. How did this work. How did this get put together?—so I ended up in film school. An editor’s job is really to take a story apart, put it back together and do that over and over until you find the clearest, most interesting narrative. I don’t know that I wanted to be a storyteller. I was just curious about how all these feelings work together in film.
I think it’s cool that the first movie ever shown was a train arriving at a station, and everyone just ran out of the theater. That is what I felt like that first time I saw a movie—I need to get out of here. I’m being hit by a train.
AS: We both love films for how they make us feel, but you approach it more from your analytical brain and your fascination with how you can construct things. When I’m editing it’s very touchy-feely emotive—see how it feels until it feels good. When we’re both working together on something, I tend to be more micro; you tend to be more macro. I think it’s interesting that those two are opposing, but they work.
MB: I think they’re very complimentary. How did you end up in documentary work?
AS: I made documentaries beginning at age eight. I had a giant VHS camcorder and would interview my grandma and cut it to B-roll with two VCRs. I’d do the talking-head interview of her then show the farm that she grew up on.
I saved my lawn-mowing money to buy a small digital camera and made movies with that. In college I studied photography, which I still love, but it was really natural with the advent of the Mark 2 that I would start shooting video. I connect with that story form because it’s the most imaginative, the most transportive with visuals and music. Whenever I do anything, I want to have the biggest audience possible. I feel that with film you have the biggest opportunity to reach an audience.
Images courtesy of Art Represent
* Translated by Google