Navigating Hollywood, Episode 3: Harry Yoon, Editor of Minari and Shi-Chang and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Transcript
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Allen Wolf: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us for this interview sponsored by Navigating Hollywood. My name is Allen Wolf and I’m a filmmaker, an author, and a game creator. Today I’m talking with Harry Yoon, the editor of Minari. We’re going to be talking about his experience with this exceptional film – hopefully, you’ve seen it by now – his love for editing, and we’ll get to know Harry a little bit as well here. He is also one of the editors of the upcoming Marvel film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Sounds exciting can’t wait, but first of all, huge, huge, huge congratulation for Minari and the Oscar nominations.
Harry Yoon: Thank you so much, Allen. Yeah, it’s like a dream come true. We’re so excited just to get that kind of acknowledgment from colleagues and peers. It’s what you dream about. I think when you’re starting off in this industry, and so yeah, it’s been a dream come true. Thank you.
Allen Wolf: Incredible. I mean, a year ago, did you ever think that this is where your life would be today?
Harry Yoon: Absolutely not. I mean we were just dealing with the beginnings of shut down and the pandemic and everything and just grappling with that and those issues loom so large and so it’s been kind of surreal to have the film come out in this environment, but just the fact that audiences are seeing it, you know in a variety of ways. I mean that’s just making us also so grateful.
Allen Wolf: Amazing film, so touching and you know, I’m curious when you first realized that you were working on a story that you thought, you know, this might really resonate with people.
Harry Yoon: You know, it’s so interesting because the film felt so personal from the first time that I read the script I could so identify with the experiences of this family because I grew up in the 80s and my parents are immigrants. I’m an immigrant. And so this idea of being strangers in a strange land and having to think not only sort of adapt but also the dynamics that happen within the family, you know where things that I could really identify with all the details resonated with me. And so I think it was so close to home. When we were making it and what I was focused on initially was like, wow, this is really going to bless the Korean-American community, particularly the immigrant community, but it wasn’t until we premiered at Sundance that I started to realize no, the specificity of this story seems to remind people of family relationships no matter what their background is and this idea of being a stranger or out of place in a particular in a new place is something that everyone can identify with. I think that that specificity is what made audiences lean in and maybe two to evoke in them specific memories of their own experience as a family member as someone who’s struggling with new experiences grappling with the complex relationships within a family. And so yeah, seeing it with an audience that was predominantly not Korean-American was a revelation to me.
Allen Wolf: Interesting. Well, you know my wife, after we saw it, she pointed out that she felt like the story could also serve as a metaphor for our times. That all of us, because of the pandemic, were put into a new experience that we weren’t prepared for. We’re dealing with family and community that might be new and unexpected and there’s an unfamiliarity about it. And so she pointed out that that it seems like a film that seems so current in that way because I think as you said people can connect with it on the levels you mentioned but I think you know even deeper just as what we’ve been going through as a country as a world. It seems to really connect on that level as well.
Harry Yoon: Absolutely. I think when you are faced with a crisis, whatever it might be, you know, and it might be like, oh my gosh, we’re going to live in this trailer and the middle of nowhere and like uproot our lives. Lives or a pandemic I think it makes you start asking some really important questions about what’s important to me, you know what relationships are important to me. Who am I in this new role or in this new situation that I find myself in? So I think that the experience of the Yi family in being uprooted and in this huge challenging new experience is something that I think resonates for all of us who’ve gone through what we’ve gone through or are still in the middle of.
Allen Wolf: I heard that you were instrumental in getting the writer/director Lee Isaac Chung to change the ending of the story. Is that true?
Harry Yoon: Yeah. I think that’s what gave me a sense of how incredibly open and collaborative Isaac is as an artist. The original ending was originally more of an epilogue where we followed the Yi family up to the story of the fire. And then we would jump to
Allen Wolf: We may want to give a spoiling warning here.
Harry Yoon: There’s a fire in the trailer.
Allen Wolf: Okay, great. So we’re not spoiling anything. So yeah, you don’t have to fast forward.
Harry Yoon: So, we followed them up to the story of the fire, and then we jumped forward in time where the kids are older and everyone is looking back on this experience. I understood that that would give you a moment of reflection on what you’ve seen and on some of what the family may have learned, but the concern was that we’ve had this kind of cinematic identification, particularly with the kids. Hopefully, we’ve fallen in love with them, and then to see them abstractly older creates distance from where we are emotionally at that point. We talked about it back and forth and one night, he said “yeah.” We definitely were still grappling with casting and all of that and because we were actually in the middle of pre-production at that point and the next morning he came back and he had the pages which are the ending now – this beautiful moment between father and son at the minari patch the grandmother had planted and I was just like, “Oh my God, this is breathtaking.” It’s beautiful and simple.
It’s reflective in the way that the ending was but we’re still with this family in this particular moment, and I was both really amazed that he would take this collaboration and be open to doing something about it. But also the incredible talent that it takes to come up with new pages that feel so perfect and organic, you know, within the space of hours. And so, I was already excited to work with Isaac and it just made me that much more excited. The producer was not too happy with me at that point. She really didn’t want to talk to me for a little while.
Allen Wolf: Because they were headed in a particular direction.
Harry Yoon: And also that ending was one of the things that you fall in love with in the script. But I think after she saw it, ultimately she was just like, “Okay. Well this way totally works, and it’s beautiful.”
Allen Wolf: What’s interesting about Isaac too is, from what I understand, he was at a turning point himself where he was about to go to Korea to teach. I mean it all kind of happened very quickly, didn’t it?
Harry Yoon: It’s pretty miraculous. I mean anybody in your audience knows how long it takes to raise money and then do pre-production on a feature film. I mean this story is breathtaking. I think Isaac finished the script in 2018, and he was actually in Korea teaching for the University of Utah. He was an adjunct professor in a campus near Seoul and it’s such a moving story because he’s like, “I’ll do one last screenplay almost as a kind of like a capstone, a kind of marker of where I am creatively and, I wanted to be a story of where I was in my life for my family when I was my daughter’s age because he looked at his beautiful daughter and he’s just like what can I tell her, what legacy can I leave to her, from a filmmaking standpoint that she’ll understand and so he decided to write the screenplay.
So he finished it, I think, in the fall of 2018, you know, nobody really wanted to read it. Nobody was interested in the project and then he gave it to the woman who became his agent, Christina. And she loved it. She signed on to be his agent. She showed it to Steven Yeun’s team. Steven loved it. He came on board by the spring of 2019. We were in pre-production because Plan B came on board through the brilliance of Christina Oh, who’s one of the producers there. She brought together a team somehow through providence. She had met all of these department heads and people who are Korean-American who had gotten to a certain place where they could be considered for a Plan B movie, including me, thank God, because you know, she and I had worked together on “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” the year before and so she brought together the team really quickly. Miraculously, we were able to find these incredible actors including Youn Yuh-Jung, who’s a legend in Korea. Our child actors like Noel and David and Alan who everybody has seen how talented they are.
Allen Wolf: And a great name.
Harry Yoon: Yeah. Exactly. We love Alans. But we were shooting by that summer, locked in the fall, and in winter we premiered at Sundance the following January. So I mean, less than a year from when we started shooting is when it premiered and you know it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize there and it was just breathtaking. It was like a miracle.
Allen Wolf: Incredible. I was at that Sundance, standing in line to see the film but we were 10 people away from seeing it. So close. I saw the billboard on Hollywood Boulevard and, knowing the story, I thought about what Isaac went through to see that billboard. I thought, wow, back then if you had shown that to anyone on your team and said this is where you going to be at this period of time, no one would have believed it.
Harry Yoon: I would have said that’s a really good Photoshop job. Very well done.
Allen Wolf: Right? Yes, but so inspiring now and as you said, you were dealing with a tight production timeline, how many days did you have to shoot the film?
Harry Yoon: We shot it in a short amount of time. 25 days to shoot the feature. As an example, you know, all of those scenes that are in the chicken factory. There’re maybe eight scenes. All of those were shot in one day. Wow. It was like close to I think like 15 pages, you know, it’s just it’s a crazy kind of schedule.
Allen Wolf: And then for the actors, their emotional journey is all condensed into one day.
Harry Yoon: All the scenes for that location, except for the trailer home where they live, everything was one day here, one day there, one day here. So again, I think it’s a testament to providence, acting and the talent that Isaac has, our DP Lachlan Milne has, that they were able to get such beautiful material. It’s like perfect performances and things like that, you know within the space of just 25 days. It’s incredible.
Allen Wolf: There is one moment I’d love to ask you about. When you talked about this scene for the chickens where they’re taking the males apart from the females and then they would actually incinerate the male chickens, right? And there’s a scene where the…
Harry Yoon: That’s not shown in the movie.
Allen Wolf: Right. Yes. No, but you see the smokestack That’s what’s going to be happening. But there’s a scene where the main male character, he’s completely defeated. The next shot is of the smokestack and the smoke going up. Was that purposeful? Did you purposely think, I’m going to juxtapose these two together to communicate what’s happening.
Harry Yoon: Oh my gosh Allen. You’re the first person to actually mention that and that’s one of my favorite juxtapositions. Yeah, definitely. We thought we had to call back to that, but we didn’t want to do it in an overt way. Because it’s at that location that Steven Yeun, who’s the character who’s defeated at that point. Jacob says to his son, “You know males are discarded because they’re not that useful. So we have to be useful.” It’s really at that time that he’s reached this place where, however hard he’s tried, circumstances have defeated him. And so we wanted that to be a cinematic resonance with that moment of where he is. So yeah, thanks for pointing that out.
Allen Wolf: Even though I might be the first person that mentioned it to you, I think subconsciously this is why the movie really connects with people. Because I’m sure subconsciously it’s registering with people even though consciously, they don’t might not be realizing these moments. I think that’s why so much of the nuance and beauty of the film really connects with people because whether consciously realizing or not, I think you’ve built in so many wonderful moments and interactions and so many unsaid interactions that you’re getting one story here and another story back here and I think that’s part of that makes the story really moving to people.
Harry Yoon: I think that’s what makes me love the process of editing so much because you’re the first audience to notice the combining and the recombining of not just images like that of, you know, the defeated hero and then the incinerator, but also noticing the combining and recombining of scenes reordering of things and like in as an editor. You’re the first person to react to that to say like, oh, wow. I’m so surprised by this because it has meaning beyond our original intention. And so the process itself feels like a process of constant discovery and as an audience, as someone who loves movies, as an audience member, that kind of freshness and that kind of excitement is what makes me love the craft.
Allen Wolf: That’s great. So does it feel like when you’re getting into the editing room that this is a process of remaking it and some level and finding those moments and creating them?
Harry Yoon: Without question. I think what you’re doing ideally as an editor is serving as an ombudsman for the audience because the director, he or she has a very clear idea of what they want to say. They have a very clear idea of what they want the audience to feel about these characters or about this story or about this location. What I think is your primary role is as you craft the scenes, as you cut things out, as you move things around, as you determine the order of information or emotions that the audience should go through linearly as they experience a film is to be that first reaction to it is to say, “You know what? I know.” We want the audience to love this person by this point by minute 15 here for that to solidify. I’m not quite there yet. What can we do to do that through a look or gesture or a scene? Or a line of dialogue to help cement that relationship or, you know, or to create a sense of mystery or what-have-you. Like I think you’re advocating for the audience to say it’s coming through or it’s not coming through and that’s the dialogue that you’re having with the director or with a showrunner or what have you.
Allen Wolf: During the actual shooting where were you located? Were you here in LA?
Harry Yoon: Editing? Yeah, our cutting room was in Los Angeles. Atwater Village in an old exterminator building which was hilarious – with big pictures, drawings of different beetles and bugs that they had kept with their permission. This is a little spooky but kind of weirdly beautiful too. But yeah, so we were there while they were shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Actually, they were shooting Tulsa for Arkansas basically.
Allen Wolf: Oh, I see. Okay and were there moments where you talk to Isaac and you said, “Listen, I think we really need this shot or that shot, like you were seeing holes. What are those conversations?”
Harry Yoon: I think it’s partly you’re a good therapist. Right? So you’re showing them scenes to say, “Hey, look it’s working. I know you’re exhausted at the end of your week but look at the beauty you’re creating.” And so I’m sending him scenes at the end of every week. Giving him a sense of how the family dynamics and how the performances are shaping up. But also, as you are pointing out, very practical things like we’re about to wrap out on the trailer. What do we need? And you know, I would do things, beg for things like, please give me an exterior establishing shot so that I have a tool to create space in time. It’s like you can’t go you can’t cut to black to create emotional space in time most of the time. So, give me that or two if I need to move a scene around from day to night or from or split up nights. I need a way to establish that so I would beg for stuff like that.
Probably the most consequential conversation we had was again referring to the fire there too because our budget was so limited, you know, they were thinking about maybe not burning the barn down and using CG fire in order to do those shots. And so we went back and forth and you know, I also have a visual effects background as a visual effects editor was able to show them examples of this is what it would look like and it doesn’t quite hang together if that’s a marquee moment. This is such a cathartic moment for the family, it has to be important and I think conversations like that both from a narrative coming from a narrative perspective to answer a question are some of the things that we can do as editors while they’re shooting.
Allen Wolf: Yeah. It sounds like you really were an advocate for the director, you were helping his vision come to life because I can see from the producer side, they’re thinking dollar signs, you know, but you’re thinking about story authenticity and asking, “How can this connect with people in a meaningful way?”
Harry Yoon: Yeah, I mean, everything is a negotiation, right? And so I think it’s not like the producers are not advocating for the story. It’s that then they’re like, “well, then we can allocate it for this other thing.” So it became, “How critical is it? How important is it?” And that becomes a kind of a matter of artistic opinion and taste, I guess, right? And so and so that was the kind of negotiation that was happening. Thankfully, everybody involved with the project did it out of love and for the story because on a project of this modest budget, we all weren’t being paid our rates or anything like that. It was very much because we believed in the story that Isaac was telling and for a lot of us who’s so personally meaningful to us.
Allen Wolf: Now were there scenes that were painful to edit out of the story?
Harry Yoon: Oh my gosh. Yeah, it’s almost like you have this prophetic way of asking great questions. Yes, absolutely. Basically, the last scene that we cut out of the movie was this hilarious scene. Probably the funniest scene in the movie. The beginning of when David goes on to the sleepover with his friend. So yeah this friend who initially said, “Wait, why is your face so flat,” and then they become best friends, right?” So it was the beginning of that sleepover and his friend is showing David how to ride a bike. But at the end of the bike ride, he’s also showing how to flip the bird for the first time.
Allen Wolf: So funny.
Harry Yoon: And of course, David doesn’t know what he’s doing. He gets it wrong. He does he doesn’t like this. It’s like this curly way. It’s so funny. Alan is so cute. It’s hilarious Emil wrote this incredible score for it and it’s light but it was one of those things were now at that point. We had crafted the film to know exactly where we should be emotionally at that point and there are times where you can provide counterpoint emotionally and it stays just as effective but that scene, in particular, took us a little bit out of where we should be and focused on in terms of where the family’s fortunes were at that point is you know. This is soon after the grandma had a stroke and things like that. And so we wanted to be very careful about calibrating, you know, the story of the family at that point. Unfortunately, that was definitely one of the darlings that we needed to kill. But it will definitely hopefully be on the deleted scenes. You know are there DVDs anymore? I don’t know the Blu-ray whatever.
Allen Wolf: Yeah, even if you get a movie online you can get those extras.
Harry Yoon: Okay. Yeah, so hopefully it’ll be in the extras.
Allen Wolf: In talking about that scene in the church where the boy asks Alan’s character, Why do you have a flat face?” I think it really reminds me of another reason I think the movie is connecting to people because in that same scene you see the son deal with that comment, there’s a little girl who talks to his sister and says, “I’m going to say a bunch of words. Tell me when I say something in your language.” Then she says a bunch of gibberish, but then next, one of the words is actually a Korean word. She says, “Oh, that’s a word.” I just think about the fact that the boys became friends. I think of the grace and redemption that just flows through the movie because we’re currently in such a toxic culture where if someone said that to someone they would immediately say, “whoa,” and it would be like a really big thing but instead they become friends and they grow and they become closer they can understand and care for each other better. So there’s just so much of that in the film that I think people are really connecting with.
Harry Yoon: I think that’s reflective of Isaac’s faith and also reflective of how Isaac wanted to portray the people with dignity in this film to show that people are not one thing. They’re not one thing that they say, and I don’t think that comes from a kind of Pollyanna-style naivete as far as thinking racism doesn’t exist or classes and doesn’t exist in this world. Of course, I mean, I think if you’re a believer you understand and you anticipate that brokenness is going to exist in the world. But it’s how do you look ultimately at the person behind the behavior? And is it possible to see their complexity and to see them as full human beings outside of anything that they say or they do and I think that that’s definitely how Isaac views the world, and I think the way he wanted to portray his characters. I think the most poignant example is Paul who when you first meet him, looks so off-putting. He’s wearing these big bottle glasses and a dirty shirt and, for a lot of people, the fact that he’s praying in tongues and this weird way the first time you meet him it can be a kind of caricature of an evangelical believer in this way. But I think what you come to do is you come to see the fullness of who he is how complex he is and there’s real dignity that I think is afforded to his faith as well. So I think in the same way that the film encourages us to look again at our parents, to look again at our children, to look again at our grandmas, and to see their fullness in their complexity, I think it does that to every character ideally and that was one of the priorities that we had in determining how do we craft a particular performance and how what scenes do we include or what moments do we include or exclude from particular characters?
Allen Wolf: That’s great. Well, was there a time in your life where you realized that you had a talent for editing, a moment you thought, Oh, this is something that I could do for a living?”
Harry Yoon: you know, it’s funny because I think there was a real pivotal moment in my late 20s. I had an ambivalent relationship to fully committing to a career in film because my parents are first-generation immigrants and I saw how hard they sacrificed for my education.
Allen Wolf: Did they have certain expectations? They wanted you to be this, this or this?
Harry Yoon: Unspoken and largely in the community because, you know, everybody talks about, “You know this person’s son got into Stanford or this person’s son got into Berkeley, or that person’s daughter is going to be a doctor.” There is this kind of reverence always in which these certain milestones are celebrated. So it gives you a very clear sense of what’s valued. And I think, how do I take such a risky move career-wise when they’ve sacrificed so much for my future. I think I think around that time when I was making the decision, I was taking a class, a night class, at a non-profit Arts organization and I was doing a video, a little documentary about a 75-year-old Chinese man who moved pianos for a living and he claimed to have move 7,000 pianos in his lifetime. And the process of re-engaging with this subject and putting together this video and determining when music should start and when you know when to cut here and when to cut there it just made me fall in love with the process and you know, I think the end result I thought, okay, this is something that I can do. This is something that I can really dive into and hopefully will be endless fast endlessly fascinating for me as a craft.
And so that was one of the ways that I determined that okay, if I am going to take this risk, which I decided when I turn thirty-one I’m going to do it through editing because I love the craft and very practically I was like, I’m could probably get a paying job doing this. This faster than I could as a writer, director, or producer and that was a little bit of the kind of practical approach to making it an impractical decision that I made and credit to my parents. They ultimately blessed me and supported me and said, you know more than anything when we came to the states, we wanted you to have the freedom to choose more than financial stability. We feel like that’s important because you have choices as much when we were growing up in Korea. And so especially my father that was a priority for him. And because I made the choice a little bit later in life, they could already see that I had made good solid practical decisions. I had supported myself and was financially smart enough to not be starving. So I think that those two things kind of help them to bless my career choice, ultimately,
Allen Wolf: That’s great and I imagine now they just must be especially happy and proud of you.
Harry Yoon: Oh my gosh. Yeah. My mom is over the moon because she’s hearing from like her college Alumni network. She says, well Mrs. Parks called and said that she watched the film and you know, this is Lisa said she saw an interview with you in this paper and so she’s just the belle of the ball because she’s having so much fun. Yeah.
Allen Wolf: That’s awesome. Yes, a decision that has paid off nicely. As an editor you are looking at scenes, you’re looking at the footage, or looking at scenes over and over. How do you keep yourself from numbing out and figuring out if something is effective or not? How do you keep yourself fresh as you look at things over and over?
Harry Yoon: I think there’s nothing better than time. I think sometimes if you’re hitting a wall on a particular scene, it’s good to put it away and then come back to it so that you can approach it with fresh eyes and or even if you’re in the middle of something, to just stop and go take a walk or just stop and have lunch or something like that to walk away and then to come back because I feel like there that’s the best way to get your subconscious to come up with good ideas, but also to see something new.
The other thing that I do habitually is to have other people in the room. So when I finish a cut of even the first cut of a scene which is always, you know, grossly imperfect, I always invite my assistant or PA or somebody in the room and to just be naked and just be like, hey, what do you think. And then as soon as I start playing I see things differently. There’s something about being next to an audience member that transforms your relationship to your work and you get much more objectivity to it. And so I think I learned that kind of like you have to be fearless early in that process from many of the editors that I worked alongside and were mentored by particularly folks like Billy Goldenberg who is a five-time Oscar nominee and winner. Don’t be afraid to show imperfection early on because you have to be secure in the process and knowing that ultimately it’s going to get to a better place.
Allen Wolf: That’s great. Well, this interview is sponsored by Navigating Hollywood which encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives. Navigating Hollywood offers marriage courses, pre-marriage courses, and the Alpha Course where people in entertainment can talk through some of life’s biggest questions. If you’re interested in signing up or learning more about these courses go to NavigatingHollywood.org. Harry, you had mentioned earlier about faith and that being something that informed the film, how do you work at living a relationally and spiritually holistic life?
Harry Yoon: Well, I think there are two ways because I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of what is the intersection of faith and work for me. And one of the real benefits of being in the film industry is you’re in an industry where it’s hard to know where you stand a lot of the time. Especially in the middle as you’re developing your career. There aren’t the traditional milestones to say like, “oh I’m making progress, or oh I’m like secure it at this level.” So for example, the year that I got the biggest break of my career, which was co-editing Detroit with Billy Goldenberg and for Kathryn Bigelow. I started that year editing a web series, which is a little much more humble, you know, level to be at. I had a lot of other stuff but that’s where I happened to find myself at the beginning of that year. It was a quality web series, but then that went well, but then later on I was recommended to cut a pilot for the CW and that is a big step up in terms of perceived stature and pay and all of those things. And that went really well, but then later that year I ended up working in a room surrounded by Oscar winners, at the pinnacle of where a lot of editors want to be.
And getting that kind of opportunity and that taking on something really important. But I’m still the same person like nothing has changed, you know from the person who is editing the web series to that person and so it just feels so arbitrary. And if I like to invest so much of my identity in what I happened to be doing or for a lot of us what I happen to not be doing, you know where I happen to not be, then it’s that kind of emotional whiplash can really be debilitating and I think that that’s something that I definitely experienced coming up, having started later in life. I saw a lot of the people that I went to college with, they were buying homes or getting married or achieving some level of success in their careers and here I was doing coffee runs, and getting lunches for people and I was just like man, it’s just it’s so hard to negotiate that and I really feel like having a firm footing of whatever I happened to be doing right now. My identity has inherent value because, in my faith tradition, which is Christianity, I’m told that I have incredible worth just because of who I am, no matter what I do or no matter what I have accomplished or don’t accomplish, that I’m incredibly worthy. And I think that that can be a very stabilizing viewpoint to navigate the kind of ups and downs the inevitable ups and downs of this career.
And I think that that’s something that, even now I really pay attention to because one of my longest mentors, is a different editor who’s also an Oscar winner. He told me like years back, “Yeah. I’m just waiting for the interview that I go into and I talk to the director and I mention the film that I won the Oscar for, and then he says, oh, yeah my dad loves that movie.” You can be anxious about, will I stay relevant? I realized like that’s just a staple of what we have to grapple with and that becomes a skill set you have to develop. I say that to a lot of young people that are coming in, your ability to deal with uncertainty is one of the disciplines you have to develop and whatever you can do to stabilize yourself to be able to withstand that, I think is going to be a credit to your longevity in this in this industry and so that’s definitely I probably the most important and fruitful ways is establishing an identity outside of whatever I’m doing at the time.
Allen Wolf: It’s interesting you say that because I’ve heard that one of the most miserable days in Hollywood is the day after the Oscars because either people who thought this is going to give me significance getting this award haven’t gotten the award so they don’t have that sense of significance or the people who did get the award are looking to the award for significance and suddenly realize, “Oh shoot. I still don’t feel that sense of significance that I thought I would feel from that.” So it does seem very powerful to find your sense of grounding and your significance outside of what others say of you.
Harry Yoon: I think that that has resonance. It’s not just title to title but I think challenge to challenge. Going into an interview can be very nerve-wracking, especially if you want a particular job. Just to know that you’ll be okay no matter what happens, that your life isn’t going to end or you know, radically change necessarily as a result of whatever happens if you get this gig or not. To be centered in that way I think makes you ultimately more relaxed ultimately more versatile and nimble, in an experience like that because not everything is kind of hanging on that one thing that you have to do and ultimately it’s very practically a good a great way to be centered.
Allen Wolf: Did your spiritual journey impact your experience with Minari?
Harry Yoon: Absolutely, because Isaac’s a believer and I think it was the first time where I could talk about the kind of gratitude that I was feeling, the kind of desire to honor this material that I was feeling in explicit terms and so it was the first time that before screening with an audience we could just pray, you know, and just sort of go into it.
Allen Wolf: That’s very common, by the way.
Harry Yoon: Okay, oh then I must be in the wrong,
Allen Wolf: But that is incredible to hear that you all prayed before a screening. I mean, so that’s what happened before you showed at Sundance.
Harry Yoon: But also before friends-and-family screenings so, you know when we’re looking for feedback, we prayed for just peace and discernment and things like that. And I think what it is like, you know, of course, everybody’s asking for a kind of divine intervention, but more than anything it’s letting go of the burden of complete responsibility and you get that’s so liberating is to say like this is you know, whatever happens, whatever we do isn’t completely up to me. I actually have an alarm that I set that goes off at 3 p.m. every day called the Holy Spirit alarm. I hear the alarm and whatever I’m doing, I stop and I say, thank you so much for partnering with me on this, in these decisions. Thank you so much for making me think about not just the work that I’m doing but how relational I need to be with the people that I’m doing it and help remind me that it’s not just this deadline but also how people are doing emotionally in the cutting room. That should be my priority. So it just sort of resets me and says that it’s not about me, that I’m not alone in doing this. It’s about community and that it’s about that kind of partnership.
Allen Wolf: Yeah, that’s amazing. And if you’re watching and this doesn’t make sense to you, I definitely suggest checking out the Alpha Course which I mentioned earlier because that’s a place you get to talk about all these big spiritual questions with other people in entertainment. Well, your next project is the Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Tell us the ending.
Harry Yoon: Okay, right.
Allen Wolf: This video would become very viral. I know you can’t tell me anything about the story, but for those of you who are not familiar at all with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This is what I found at Marvel.com so we can talk about this, and it basically says Shang-Chi is a master of numerous unarmed and weaponry base styles, which when I read that, I thought, are there any other possibilities? Basically, he’s good at fighting. This story is about him confronting the past he thought he left behind following an encounter with a Ten Rings organization the same terror group who was behind Tony Stark’s kidnapping an Iron Man.
Harry Yoon: Part of the MCU.
Allen Wolf: Part of Marvel. Yes, amazing. I mean I’m a big fan of the MCU movies. I just feel like they announce a title and I feel like I should just send them money because I’m going to go to it and I’m going to enjoy it.
Harry Yoon: That’s great.
Allen Wolf: I mean, sure, some of them maybe I haven’t enjoyed as much as others, but I’m a huge fan of MCU’s work. Now I assume you must be a fan on some level.
Harry Yoon: I’ve watched every single one of the movies before I started to re-watch a lot of them to remind myself of what’s happened so that when references come up and things like that and story decisions happen that you know, I’m not new to it.
Allen Wolf: Was it a pinching moment when you found out you got this job? I mean just looking at what’s been happening in your career where you get this very personal kind of movie that’s very Indie and then this kind of film that is going to be seen by a gazillion people.
Harry Yoon: I feel so incredibly blessed and I feel inoculated to not take this the wrong way. It makes me different in any way. I’m still the same person and I’m just in incredibly fortunate circumstances. So every day I feel grateful and my hard work when I go in is to try to honor that, you know, try to honor the opportunity. But for me, I think what really excited me was to get the chance to work with the sort of producers at Marvel who have created a universe where I think there’s a consistently strong story and characters and you know to be working with those folks but also with our amazing director Destin Daniel Cretton who did <em>Short Term 12</em> and <em>Just Mercy</em> which are these beautiful, you know, very humanistic films and my co-editors <a href=”https://pro.imdb.com/name/nm0739894/?ref_=tt_fm_name”>Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir</a> and Nat Sanders who are at the top of their craft and along with everybody else on the crew. Just getting a chance to work with people like that within a place where you have the resources to tell incredible stories like that was a dream come true. Oh, and the cherry on top was that I’m very committed to diverse storytelling and to be a part of the first Asian American superhero is just that’s really a dream. Amazing.
Allen Wolf: It makes me think of when <em>Black Panther</em> came out and how that was how this similarly could have that kind of impact. I remember when, not so long ago, when<em> </em><em>Crazy Rich Asians</em><em> </em>came out and suddenly the studios were saying, Asians go see movies. I couldn’t believe it was like. What were your thoughts during that process because that was one of those moments when they said, Oh, maybe we should have more Asian leads and movies, maybe the audience will go see them. Here was an audience they had been neglecting for such a long but I’m curious what went through your mind.
Harry Yoon: Well, one of the things that I found so brilliant and gratifying was that there were organizations that were saying we have to vote with our dollars. That’s how Hollywood is going to listen to us when we actually show up on opening weekend. It’s the right thing to do socially or culturally but it’s also the right thing to do financially. I think that that’s a lesson. I think we have to keep reminding producers and studios is that we will show up that we will stream, we’ll go to the premieres, and things like that. And what I loved was that there are organizations and people that are willing to organize people along those lines and I think there’s a critical mass.
Now the diversity is not only in front of the camera but behind the camera as well, so people in craft positions, people in executive positions, and things like that where there’s new material. There’s exciting material. There’s a perspective that’s coming into play that’s not only artistically interesting but, you know financially potentially interesting too. I also think that it’s important to not discount the importance of the impact of China as a market where Asian themes and things like that are sympathetic or are amenable to Asian culture. That’s something that has real dollars and cents impact on the industry as well. So yeah, I have to say that that plus the fact that a lot of organizations like the Academy, every craft Guild are making it an actual priority to increase diversity in their ranks, and they’re not doing lip service. They’re actually, you know, making big efforts for it. So I think it’s a very exciting time and ultimately one that’s going to benefit everybody with new stories and new perspectives completely.
Allen Wolf: I remember the premiere of <em>Black Panther</em>. I don’t know if you saw any of the footage or pictures from that but the cast looked amazing. I remember seeing that and thinking, well, yeah, this is the first movie that has a black superhero. And mainly Black cast so of course a different expression is going to come out and it really made me think what are the other expressions that we have not seen yet. And I think this upcoming film could potentially be one of them, but I can’t wait to see the ripple effect of that and just what we can experience as an audience, and even as a culture, as a world because we’re seeing something from a perspective that we haven’t seen before.
Harry Yoon: Yeah, you and me both. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to hear. So yeah, definitely.
Allen Wolf: Now, what was it like going from an indie film to a major studio film?
Harry Yoon: It’s funny because I think the heart of the process is still very much the same but the resources of this level of storytelling are breathtaking. In the same way that Pixar has a process where they anticipate changes, they anticipate having to do the hard work of making room for changes even like big changes late-breaking in order to get it right. It’s very similar to what I’m seeing at Marvel. They make movies that they anticipate won’t be perfect the first time and there’s real wisdom in that. They’re willing to commit the dollars and the resources to make sure that that happens which is why I think the audience notices. There’s this kind of consistent quality that comes out from that studio. And so I think that’s been really interesting because in notes meetings and in reviews, we’ll talk about something and then it’ll actually get done instead of, oh we can’t do that and I was just like well, they’re actually doing that. They’re actually changing that animation. Yeah, we’re actually going to try this out or we’re going to reshoot this. That kind of openness to understanding the process is really breathtaking to be a part of but I think because I came up as an assistant editor and a visual effects that bigger films like for example, I was the VFX editor on the Revenant and…
Allen Wolf: …and for people who don’t know what a VFX editor is.
Harry Yoon: A VFX editor is somebody who is the interface between all of the visual effects entities, like visual effects houses and you know coordinators and producers and stuff, and what happens in the cutting room because the cut is always changing and shots are being replaced and scenes are being changed and stuff. So it’s much more of an organizational technical position that talks to all of the vendors, Oh by the way that shot that you’ve been working on, that’s no longer in the movie or oh by the way, like here’s three other shots that are there in their place. And so it’s this constant that that communication has to happen quickly efficiently. And that’s what a visual effects editor is.
Allen Wolf: I’m sure just to imagine how much of that is that experience prepared you for taking on this role.
Harry Yoon: I feel so grateful that everything that I’ve learned, both good and bad, is something that has equipped me to feel comfortable. You know, he’s in this in this large expanded capacity like I’m very familiar with films on this scale because you know, I came up. I was cutting rooms. And so I think there’s real value, as hard as it was, to be an assistant editor as hard as it was to sort of be waiting for that shot. I feel like every one of those jobs going to season to me for an experience like this.
Allen Wolf: And the other thing I’m sure it’s very different on this film is the fact that it has three editors. Is that because of the size? Why three editors?
Harry Yoon: So very practically it’s actually two editors. Where we had a little bit of overlap, is when I replaced one of the editors because she needed to move on to her next film. Because of Covid and they were shooting in Australia, the schedule got extended by over six months. So they were basically a hundred percent longer than they were supposed to be there. And so everything got pushed and so unfortunately it started to overlap with her next project. And so I came on to take her place. I think you have to begin with mutual respect and good communication. And I think we decided pretty early on how we wanted to divide the film. Actually I came in and was the junior editor. So I asked, what sections would you like me to work on? And since then we’ve been staying with those sections through the process, but I think I’ve been on other projects like for example when I was an additional editor on <em>First Man</em><em> </em>where, in various times, we each touched every scene in the film practically in different capacities, and so it really depends on the project but It fundamentally requires respect and great communication. Just like any kind of pivotal relationships like a marriage or you know, like being in a family or something like that.
Allen Wolf: I’m sure this film has a lot of visual effects. Does that mean the footage that you work with typically looks incomplete with green screens? Is that what the process looks like?
Harry Yoon: Absolutely. I mean, it’s pretty complicated because it begins with what’s called previz or pre-visualization where they’re almost like animated storyboards and that helps the filmmakers determine what to shoot in, which angles to get, and because you’re when you’re dealing with something with a lot of visual effects, there’s a lot of layers involved, right? So there’s the background layer which could be an entire CG landscape for example, and certainly, that’s true in Marvel films. That’s often the case, right? There’s the hero layer which is the actual performance by your actor or actress and then you know, they could be interacting with CG characters or they could be interacting, and so that that’s its own sort of requirement and then there are all sorts of additional things that need to be composited in there. And so you may have one or another of those layers in the cut at different times and you have to sort of be able to comment on that.
And also see how does as the shot changes in terms of its depth in terms of its complexity in terms of its detail. How does that change the decisions that you’ve been making in terms of its width, how long is it does it need to breathe more? Does it need to be more compact for the sake of pace or action? That type of thing so, unlike, you know, a small intimate family drama in which you don’t have to worry about the evolution of a particular shot. In this kind of film, you definitely have to sort of deal both with width and depth.
Allen Wolf: Do you ever find that later when the VFX come in that then you realize, oh, we need to actually edit this differently because it’s just not working. Once all of that is in place?
Harry Yoon: Absolutely. It’s just constant an evolving process. And so I think you know, I think you learn early on as you’re coming up as an editor, is to not be precious about anything. It’s fluid constantly, and I think I think the editors that I have been most influenced by are the people who never rest until it can be that much better, you know, they’re constantly improving, they’re constantly open to taking scenes apart. Even this really delicate construction that they’ve made, because it’s only through that breaking apart, remaking, and breaking apart, and remaking that something really great emerges.
Allen Wolf: I’m curious how you keep yourself inspired. Are there regular habits that you have or what do you do to keep yourself going?
Harry Yoon: Well, I think what really helps is to not just focus on the work but to focus on the people too, and that’s been a real eye-opening thing. My wife is an attorney and she has worked at her law firm for close to 20 years. It’s an immigration firm and the way she approaches her work isn’t just case by case. It’s also person by person. So not only is it about the clients that come through our doors but every one of her employees, the associates the receptionist, everybody. She realizes that she’s there in that workplace not just to do the work but to have strong and flourishing relationships with everybody, and I think seeing how she and that could have consequences that are not necessarily good for business. Like for example, there’s one attorney, a junior attorney, she hired that literally like three weeks after she started work had a really traumatic breakup with her boyfriend. And so she was very unproductive for the first month and she’s a brand new hire.
I think the right business decision might have been, Hey, I’m sorry this isn’t working out, you know, but instead, they really cared for her and nurtured that relationship and ministered to her through that process. But what that created is that cemented this really strong and loyal relationship between employee and employer where she’s so invested in the success of this firm not just because of the work that they do, but because, this is a community, this is a group, and I think she really is running her business like that and I realized like oh like this is something I need to bring to the cutting room to say I need this as busy as I am. I need to stop and have this conversation with my PA to find out how he or she is doing. I need to ask my assistant editor, what do you want to do next? What’s important for you? How do I invest in your success? That type of thing, that kind of investment in people keeps things new because people are endlessly fascinating and endlessly problematic, but I like it because it keeps things interesting and me not just fixated on the work itself.
Allen Wolf: That’s great. And what about as an editor, are there regular things that you do to keep yourself sharp and keep your eye kind of sharp as an editor?
Harry Yoon: I think probably the greatest thing is constantly inviting audiences in. I think that’s what really helps is no matter where I am in the process to invite people into the cutting room, whoever happens to be passing by, to look at something because that changes the way that I look at something and that’s one technique. Another technique just walking away and putting something away and working on something else because I know that if you just do something over and over and over again it’s like hitting your head against the wall. It’s not going to get any better because you’re not going to have fresh insights into it. In other words, you’re constantly trying to re-invoke the audience inside of you. It’s that kind of dual mindset that’s so important for an editor to have. So whatever you can do to get out of the mode of being the craftsperson, of forcing a cut to work in a particular way. And just sitting back and saying okay, I’m going to watch it now. That’s when you get your best insights.
Allen Wolf: That’s great. And I imagine that there must be a lot of work working as an editor, a lot of hours. How do you balance between your work and your family life?
Harry Yoon: I think early on it was very hard because I think if you want to edit, you often start off as an assistant. I started off as a PA, then an apprentice, then a second assistant, then a first assistant, etc. But even during that whole process, you’re usually working anywhere from 50 to 60 hour weeks, sometimes I’m busy even longer than that.
You also have to make time to actually edit because in these junior positions you’re often not editing, your organizing and you’re getting lunch orders. You are doing everything but editing, but you have to remember what you ultimately want to do in terms of your craft. And so I think early on it was so hard because I would finish the workday and on the first one of the first features I recut I’d finished my workday at like eight or nine o’clock and then the director would come in and then I would work with them until like 1:00 o’clock. Unfortunately, that’s just a little bit of what you have to do. Even in your rest times, your breaks. If you’re on a TV show as an assistant, during your rest period, you spend that time cutting a feature or cutting a pilot or cutting something else and so there isn’t much of a balance early on. But I think what I’ve found is that if you’re not afraid to share why you’re prioritizing a particular activity with producers or with key creatives, and if your relationship is strong with that person, that it’s important to make the courageous decision to ask sometimes, can I have this Wednesday night off because you know, we host this thing or can I have this weekend off or are you okay with my having this weekend off because it’s my kid’s birthday. I think you have to have the courage to ask but I think the way you develop that courage to ask is by developing credibility as somebody who is trustworthy and is a good collaborator and who cares as much about the project as they do but also yeah, but also because you’ve met invested in that relationship.
Allen Wolf: For someone who is interested in having a career as an editor. What advice would you have for them?
Harry Yoon: I would say edit so find a way to try it out. It’s really important because movies and TV shows feel so seamless as we’re reading them or as we’re watching them so it feels like it would be easy to create, right? So I think you have to try it to understand how difficult it is. How even a frame makes a difference, angles make differences. So I think you have to practice. The second thing is to watch classic movies. I think it’s very important to break yourself out of whatever is the milieu of the day because it’s the result of those conversations that we’ve been having about cinema is where we are right now.
So we’re looking at the evolution and not necessarily the building blocks and I think by going into that history that incredibly rich history, not only do we like to see how certain techniques were developed but also to see how masters told stories, what characters, what masters were investing in and things like that. I see gaps a lot in cinema literacy with young filmmakers sometimes and they’re just caught up in whatever streaming now and wanting to imitate that. But I think it’s really important to have that kind of literacy because I can guarantee you that the people you want to work with have that literacy. When you have conversations with them, in an interview, they’re looking and seeking collaborators. They want people who can speak that language, that can have that depth of understanding of where we’ve come from, and because I think ultimately that makes great editors or great filmmakers. And I think you have to have to adopt that mindset to be a true collaborator.
Allen Wolf: I love it, Harry. Thank you so much for this interview, for taking this time to talk through Minari and your future and your next film. Congrats again on your Oscar nominations. I can’t wait to see what happens, please again, check out NavigatingHollywood.org to find out more about what Navigating Hollywood has to offer and we’ll see you next time.
Harry Yoon: Thank you.