An Interview with the Director of ‘Snowpiercer’
I had a chance to sit down with award-winning filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, the director of acclaimed movies Mother, The Host (no, not that awful Stephenie Meyer movie) and the new sci-fi action-thriller Snowpiercer, in theaters this Friday.
Joon-ho spoke through a translator—though you could tell he spoke better English than he let on—to share his thoughts on filmmaking, movies and filmmakers that inspire him and, of course, Snowpiercer, which stars Chris Evans as a dude who leads a revolt on a train that serves as the last refuge of humanity in an icy post-apocalyptic world.
When you write, how much do you write for the sake of writing versus viewing everything from the director’s seat?
The writing process is the process of figuring out how to shoot. That is the plan. The whole movie takes place on a train, so it’s a journey from the back of the train to the front. So the division of the cars, which car comes after the other, the structure of the train becomes the narrative. All of that had to be carefully choreographed and planned ahead of time, of course, because each time you change the train car it affects the budget so it was a very precise and thoughtful process.
How did you manage shooting on a train?
It was all over the place. We had four different sound stages, so we’d build a two-car, or three-car, or four-car set, so when we were filming our production design time would be on another stage building something else, and then we’d move on and they’d break down the previous set and build a new one. The basic frame structure of these train cars, we recycled them and designed on top of them. The production designer schedule dominated the whole schedule, me and the actors. [laughs]
What was the most challenging part?
It’s a train movie. It made me very excited but also very terrifying. Even though each train car is decorated differently, the structure of the train car—the narrow and the long—is the same, so just having the variety of the camera angles and figuring out the style of shooting with the cinematographer was daunting at first.
Movement and motion were the key words and that’s what we focused on to avoid repetitiveness in the movie. The camera is always moving, the people are always moving. And also we have a lot of great actors who inject variety and colors into the story. When you focus on the face you forget about the place for a while.
How was it directing an English-language movie for the first time?
Even in Korea I find myself in a situation where I’m with actors and I can’t connect with them—they don’t see things in the same way—so it’s more about your point of view and how you feel about the material. So language really is secondary. I shot a movie in Japan and it’s really about the connection, the chemistry with the actors. Language isn’t really an issue. I have translators for that.
What was your favorite movie growing up?
The Wages of Fear. I saw it when I was young and I was just tense the whole time. I remember watching a very heavily censored Sam Peckinpah film where all the really violent parts were cut out, so it was really about figuring out what was cut out. The editing was very awkward after they censored so I could feel that something had disappeared.
And just American movies from the 1970’s. Marathon Man for instance.
Which current filmmakers do you pay attention to?
In New York I had the opportunity to show Snowpiercer to Joel Coen. He’s a master, he and his brother; I was quite nervous. David Fincher is another. He continues to make new types of movies. Zodiac, he managed to maintain this slow and long rhythm in the movie. I’m also a fan of The Social Network and am excited for Gone Girl.