Following his debut Eighteen's successful run on the international festival circuit in 2009, the highlight of which was a grand prize win as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival's Tigers & Dragons section, Jang Kun-jae has proven that he is no fluke with his sophomore feature. Sleepless Night debuted in Jeonju International Film Festival where it picked a pair of prizes, including the top Korean film prize and audience award before hitting the road for what is likely to be a lengthy festival run.
ScreenAnarchywas able to catch up Jang during the Busan Film Fest.
ScreenAnarchy: How do you feel about Sleepless Night's positive reception?
Jang Kun-jae: The public's response is of course very important to me, especially as a director who did not have the opportunity to release my films in a commercial way. Therefore, the more people who enjoy my film in festivals, the better the film's chance to become available for the general public.
As with my last film, I hope that the positive response will help for my next project. Hopefully we can find more financing and have the opportunity to cast better actors and actresses.
At 65 minutes, your new film is quite short. Was this a conscious decision?
Actually, the film was originally conceived as a 30-40 minute mid-length film spread over 7 or 8 shooting days because I didn't have access to many funds nor did I have a very detailed shooting plan. The initial plan was to focus on my life, everyday worries, marriage and such, but following the discussions I had with the actors, it became more than that and I realized that the running time wouldn't be sufficient. When we were filming I didn't consider the length of the finished film but when it was finished we ended up with an enormous amount of footage. Through editing it naturally came down to 65 minutes.
Your main actors in Sleepless Night are wonderful, how did you elicit such natural performances from them?
The shots in the film are quite long but originally they were even longer. For instance a shot that appears as one minute may have originally been 3 minutes long. I wanted to contain the everyday aspect of their own live in the performances. The film was shot in my apartment and during the production all the staff lived, ate, slept and talked together. As we would finish one discussion we would decide to shoot one scene, so we more or less shot a scene per day. We shot for 22 days and coincidentally there are about that number of scenes in the film.
Could you explain the title of your film?
It was shot in the summer and during that time we were struggling with hot weather but also from our anxious thoughts as you can notice from the film. My film was shot differently from my previous works, which were all very well planned. Generally film should be well planned but this was the opposite. Pre-production occurred on top of the production, it was simultaneous. My own thoughts were reflected in the film. Having a child might be normal for most people but for me it wasn't. Originally, the title of the film was 'Starry, Starry Night' but the name 'Sleepless Night' was decided upon during the production.
Am I to understand that the 'quitting' and 'post-dinner' fight scenes were in fact dreams?
Yes, these were both dreams. You see, if you dream deeply, the quality of the sleep is typically not very good, so this also ties into the title.
Sleepless Night feels like a very personal film, how much of your own experiences informed the narrative?
When I was shooting, it was about my life but when I saw my film I realized that it was a combination of my thoughts and those of my staff and actors. The whole time there were only 6 of us, including myself and the cast. When we spoke to each other, we were all thinking about very similar things.
For example, one day, the main actress wasn't feeling well so we decided not to shoot. We all decided to drink and the two actors were talking to each other about the scene where the couple are speaking to one another as they drink. So it was actually happening during their talk, without us filming, I thought it was great so I decided to shoot it. The whole conversation with her husband came from the actress' private thoughts. After that, they talked to each other on the bed as the husband reads a comic book and the wife lies down with her legs up on the wall. She talks about their parents and everything that she said was taken from her personal life.
After that I was more convinced to have a baby so I tried to have one with my wife, also a producer of the film, and now, fortunately, she is pregnant!
How do you find working in the industry as an independent filmmaker?
Being an independent filmmaker is hard but it guarantees me freedom in my work, I don't have to compromise for commercial reasons. You still need some money, otherwise I wouldn't have made any film but I hope that I can keep taking risks and working as an independent filmmaker so that my freedom can be guaranteed.
Could you tell us a little about your next project?
I'm always thinking about my next project but I also never end up doing what I plan to. It was the same when I finished Eighteen but I'm always thinking about it. During the Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival (CinDi), I was presenting my next project, which will be an adaptation of a Korean novel. The work is about two teenagers. Another possible project will be about the life of an artist.
Finally, what are your favorite Korean films?
I love Stateless Things by Kim Kyung-mook, he is my favorite director. He's actually a friend and though his films are very different to mine, I think we influence each other.