"Be loyal to the script. Be loyal to the director. Learn simplicity." Cinematographer Woo-Hyung Kim

Best known for his work on Assassination, The Front Line and most recently the thriller TV series The Little Drummer Girl, the award winning cinematographer Woo-Hyung Kim talks to Mandy News about how he got involved with the camera, his favourite camera equipment and shares his advice to aspiring cinematographers. 

3rd January 2019
/ By James Collins

The Little Drummer Girl AMCJONATHANOLLEY

How did you get involved with the Camera, and how did this take you to the film and TV world?

I had a chance to play with my elder brother's super 8 film camera for the first time when I was a primary school student. Since then, we have shot quite many footages together, trying all the simple in-camera tricks. We had to send the cartridge to Japan to get developed. Later, my brother upgraded his camera to Sony's Beta movie, the first portable home video camera, and my experience was also upgraded. Soon I started shooting primitive short films with my friends. It was mostly about cheap violence and action that were probably influenced by Hong Kong films.

How did you become involved with The Little Drummer Girl?

Director Park and I were once in Canada preparing for a feature film in 2009. We have scouted all the locations there and finished the storyboards but in the end the film did not happen. Through those months, I became to know how director Park works and what he likes and what he does not. Last year, when I was grading my previous film, I got a call from the producer in London and had a meeting with director Park in Seoul. Perfect timing with a great director. That's how I got on board.

What decisions and choices did you make for the look and visual aesthetic of the series?

There were countless great references on the cold war period spy thing. However, Director Park didn't want to repeat any of the existing look. So I've explored and tested various colours and contrasts with the colourist at Goldcrest. It was not easy and took longer than I'd expected. Until the night before we started our shooting, I was working in the DI room, trying to get a LUT that we could use on set. To make a long story short, it was all about putting the overall blue tint in the picture without twisting the skin tone too much.

What did you use to shoot the show, do you have favoured camera and lenses?

I've tested many different lenses at Panavision London and found one very interesting sets of anamorphic. It's called Cooke Crystal Express. It had those almost weird level of bokeh, which I fell in love with. I’ve fell in love because my camera operator Iain guided me to accept it as a character of the lenses not a drawback. Director Park liked that too because it helped in the end to reduce the sharp video feel of the digital image. We extracted 16:9 image from the original that was wider than 2.39:1. Not necessarily from the center but sometimes from the left and sometimes from the right. That's how I kept the anamorphic characteristics in 16:9 TV. I tried to use the full image area that we were capturing.  

Alexa SXT was our main camera, with which I have shot most of my previous works. I am especially happy with how it reacts to our skin. 

What advice do you have for up and coming Cinematographers?

Let me hand over the words from a legendary cinematographer I admire, Sven Nykvist. 

"Be loyal to the script. Be loyal to the director. Learn simplicity.