What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear editor-in-chief of a magazine? Most people might think of a charismatic figure who wears sharp suits and leaves strict comments like Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada (2006)”. Well, one editor-in-chief strays far from this typical stereotype. He wears Star Wars sweatshirts and reminds people of “The Post (2017)”, another film starring Meryl Streep. As editor-in-chief of one of the last print movie magazines in Korea, he works passionately and responsibly. SMT reporters met Ju Sung-chul, the Editor-in-Chief of CINE21, to learn more about being a professional movie journalist and the key to CINE21’s longevity as the sole print magazine left thriving in Korea.
Among the multitude of magazines in diverse areas, what made you want to specialize in film?
There are two kinds of journalists. Some reporters are commonly found working at daily newspapers, and they focus on current news and issues. The other type of journalists is similar to storytellers. They love to write and have dreamed more of writing than investigating. Does it sound odd? Well, there are two types of film journalists: the reporter style and the storywriter style. The film industry needs both types due to the unique part films played in mass media. I stared my career as a storywriter style, but as time passed, I found working as an investigative reporter meaningful, too. There are a lot of issues in society that need to be brought to the public’s eye, like the MeToo movement in films. In other words, I combine both types, and it has helped me become a better film journalist.
Have you encountered any prejudices or difficulties while working as a movie journalist? If you have faced hardship, how were you able to overcome it?
Because of our work nature as film journalists, we are not able to join a journalist association and cannot be nominated for prizes such as ‘Journalist of the Year’ even though our articles are worthy. On the other hand, we are part of the film industry and we have the unique opportunity of coming in close contact with persons of interest in the film world. However, we were not allowed to participate in ‘movie industry’. In other words, working as a film journalist places use in an ambiguous position. Movie reporters often face identity crisis and prejudice from others. For instance, there exists a negative stereotypical thought that a film journalist is the one who wants to make contact with celebrities when they need something. I, too, faced this and went through an identity crisis due to the nature of my job. I suppose the only way to overcome it is to leave the movie reporting field. For instance, many former editor-in-chiefs now work as film festival program developers. Kim Youngjin, Executive Programmer of Jeonju International Film Festival and Nam Dong-chul, Korean Cinema Programmer of Busan International Film Festival, are examples of people who have moved on after working as Editor-in-Chief of CINE21. Working at film festivals, most programmers typically emcee the session with the movie director or work yearlong for an annual special exhibition. These people must constantly study to keep on top of the film industry and they need people skills as well since they need to be involved with a lot of contract negotiation. Therefore, anyone interested in becoming a movie journalist must possess these abilities.
What is the most rewarding or memorable moment while working as a movie journalist?
Recently, articles on the MeToo movement as they relate to Director Cho Geunhyeon are interesting. We were the first and only magazine to shed light on the behavior of Director Cho. Journalist Kim Seong-hoon of CINE21 wrote an excellent fair article about it. Despite guidelines that should be kept when reporting on sexual molestation, press agencies will often ignore those regulations and sensationalize the story due to competition with other press. Kim’s article outlines the case, reports damages, presents information revealed from an interview with the victim, and ensures the victim’s privacy. The reporter also approached the accused attacker in order to give the person the right to counter claims against him to make sure the article was a just and fair presentation of the case. This article shows the way that film journalists are able to overcome an identity crisis. Many readers have expressed positive feedback like ‘CINE21 remains faithful to its role as the last remaining movie magazine’. These types of comments and expressions of love are immensely rewarding moments .
Moreover, we gain much exclusive coverage of new stories in the film industry because we are last print movie magazine in Korea. It has always been our forte. For instance, the interview article with Cinematographer Darius Khondji of “Okja (2017)” last year, written by our Paris correspondent, was the most viewed article on our official internet website. The article was over ten pages, and it was his first interview related to the film “Okja”. Moreover, it was the first time famous cinematographer like him ever granted a film magazine an exclusive interview. That was a truly rewarding event for all at the magazine. To overcome identity crisis, interview articles like the one presenting the case surrounding Director Cho Geunhyeon can show the magazine’s true colors. Generally, renowned movie directors are always in the media spotlight, so we focus on the unknown. They may not be as famous or recognized, but for those in and following the film industry, it is crucial that controversy be revealed sooner than later.
What is the value of movies to you? What personal value do you see in publishing a film magazine?
Film is something that is a part of everyday life. In Korea, with fifty million people, the number of moviegoers on average is two hundred million a year. Foreign film critics and movie professionals are astonished at this number and often ask why Koreans are so frequent moviegoers when going to the theater can be so trying. Because Koreans are such avid moviegoers, films have powerful influences in society. The recently released “1987: When the Day Comes (2017)” is one example. Over time, the educational effect of a film has become more and more important. Filmmakers are realizing this and trying to create films that have more impact on society. The currently released Korean movies are filled with misogynic elements and audiences are not pleased. But with society concerned with the MeToo movement they have gain less success than those that are conscious of social issues.
I’m not sure if this is the answer you are looking for, but while I am working on the film magazine, we, I mean all film journalists, keep in mind and constantly consider the fact that CINE21 is the sole remaining film magazine in Korea. We are not just film journalists but archeologists and members of a preservation committee. Whether we want or not, we are writers of historical material in a way. Indeed, other media platforms write movie reviews and present interviews with actors when a movie is released, but we go much further and more in depth than just a review of the setting, interviewing the director, actors, producer, and film crew. We seek out historical and controversial source about movies and do so wholeheartedly to ensure an accurate historical piece. Take the film ”The Post” and directed by Steven Spielberg. There is one scene between Kay Graham, Owner of Washington Post, and Editor Ben Bradlee in which the dialogue: “We don’t always get it right. We’re not always perfect. But I think if we can just keep on it, you know? That’s the job, isn’t it?” appears. This sums up our work. I now work under the idea that if we don’t cover the story, who will record a true account of the Korean film for the future generations to learn and study from?
There are hundreds of thousands of people who like movies. Some people say, 'My hobby is watching movies' and others even dream of becoming movie journalists. Could you tell us how you started out? Does being a film journalist require a particular talent or attitude?
To answer that, I need to explain it through two differing aspects. First, blind love for film is definitely helpful for a job in this field. Roughly, there are about a hundred Korean films released each year and a weekly magazine would see 50 publications per year. To make it simpler, think about movies you like or enjoyed watching. Most people merely name about 10 instantly, so choosing only 10 of the best Korean movies each year is hard. It would be nearly impossible for me to name even the best out of 100, but when we publish 50 issues a year, we can cover all types, from those most loved to least loved. Also, along with the films, themselves, there is the great chance of speaking with the director of the movie when you write film reviews. Most people who romantically dream of being a movie journalist imagine meeting great film stars or talented actors they admire, but in reality, it doesn’t work that way. Often, although you were disappointed with a film, you convince yourself to look for what is good such as the cinematography and interview the cinematographer or rather than focusing on the poor acting of the main stars, you look to the supporting actors and report on their incredible effort or interview them. A film journalist should be able to procure all that is good out of a movie, so proper attitude and mindset is important.
Besides talent, because our magazine is published weekly, you must be able to write quickly. I don’t mean frantically, but I mean you need to be able to quickly arrange your thoughts and develop the story. Also, movie journalists should have good telephone communication skills because you will need to contact people often and those with good verbal communication skills can easily arrange interviews and others. For instance, CINE21 is the only magazine that does not merely report the names of the director and actors but also provides readers with the names of the director of photography, the gaffer, the music director, and the art director in its reviews. Because other media don’t pay much attention to other important players, CINE21 reporters are responsible for finding out who these people are and contacting them to confirm before article publication. Frankly, calling around trying to find out the film’s director of photography and gaffer is extremely tiresome, so those wanting to become film journalists should expect a bit of wearisome work.
In a lecture at the ‘Journalism School for University Press’, you spoke about the crisis paper magazines face. How is it, then, that CINE21 remains a thriving paper magazine in Korea? How do you plan to keep its stronghold firm despite the downtrend spreading quickly among paper magazines?
This year marks CINE21’s 23rd anniversary. First, it is time-honored. People nowadays may not always purchase a copy, but they know the magazine, which is important. Its brand name is as solid as ever. When I meet and talk with others, they usually say, “I used to regularly subscribe to it and read it enthusiastically when I was student, but now I don’t read it much”. Hence, though people are not subscribing to it as often as before, they know it and this is important. Not many people realize how many copies are still being sold and the number of press staff at work on each edition, but people still say, “I know CINE21.” When people are curious about movies, they turn to CINE21. Most readers are those in their thirties and forties who read CINE21 on the subway trains during their younger university days, but even the younger generation knows the magazine. Crisis paper magazines face is not just our problem. It is the problem of every print magazine and offline newspaper. In spite of the trend to forgo print, CINE21 is lucky enough to still keep a fair number of loyal subscribers, and they are CINE21’s inspirations to continue with this work.
Han Lee Hyebin / Editor-in-Chief
Kim Lee Jihyun / Woman Section Editor