MI NAR I | PRODUCTION
LEFT Steven Yeun as Jacob Yi, and Alan Kim as his son, David, who has a heart condition
In addition, some of the most beautiful scenes in the film – in terms of imagery and performance – happened by chance. The shot of Jacob smoking a cigarette on his farm after sunset, for example. “We had some night scenes to shoot, so, while waiting for nightfall, I decided to get some B-roll images of the sunset. Steven was stood just behind me in the field, still in wardrobe and smoking a cigarette, so I pulled out my camera and started shooting,” he explains. “Isaac peppered it in at a really critical point in the film; a moment of reflection for the character, battling with the question of whether he’d made the right decision to leave the city and pursue the so-called ‘American dream’. But it wasn’t scripted. I just thought it was a nice image of a man, sweat-stained and smoking, in a huge, empty field by himself, as the sun was about to go down.” With shot framing, Milne mostly kept his lens wide, leaning into the beautiful location vistas and encouraging the ensemble performances. “Close-ups had to be earned. I don’t like shooting coverage
T he film Minari almost didn’t happen. Before directing the affecting drama about Korean immigrants making a new life on an American farm, Lee Isaac Chung was at a crossroads in his life – debating whether to continue as a filmmaker. A career that was, until recently, largely unknown outside industry circles. As you may know, Minari won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2021 Golden Globes. This was an achievement the film’s DOP, Lachlan Milne, describes as “phenomenal catharsis” for Chung, who is finally receiving the international recognition he deserves. However, Minari wasn’t without its share of controversy. Although it is an American film, directed by an American, more than half the dialogue is Korean. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a conversation for another time, because this Golden Globe win has made Minari a leading contender for multiple Academy Awards, with six nominations. We’ll find out the winners on 26 April. Like Chung, Milne nearly didn’t get to work on the film. He had just finished Love and Monsters, when his US agent advised him: “Whatever you do, don’t go to the wrap party, don’t go out to dinner with everybody. Go home and read this script immediately – I’ve set up an interview for you with the director tomorrow morning.” Within weeks, Milne was on location in Oklahoma to film Minari . He recognised something special in Chung’s semi- autobiographical story about growing up as the son of Korean immigrants in rural Arkansas during the eighties. He recalls: “I’d been desperate for a film like this – purely script-driven, performance-based and simply executed. It was a quick 25-day shoot, but everybody who signed on was doing it for the right reasons and brought a lot of sweat and dedication.” When Milne says sweat, he is speaking literally, since filming took place in the middle of the day at the peak of summer.
“Because of the short production schedule, I didn’t have the luxury of shooting at the beginning and end of the day, as most cinematographers prefer,” he explains. “So, I decided to lean into the severity of the environment that Jacob [played by Steven Yeun], in particular, was trying to harness on his own. I kept the lighting harsh, I didn’t diffuse it or make it feel any more pleasant than it should have, because it was belting hot. Almost 40°C every day. When you see Jacob covered in sweat, he’s actually covered in sweat.” This honest, almost restrained approach to lighting is also how much of the film was executed. There are few cutaways with dolly or crane shots, as Milne was keen to make Minari feel like a single-camera shoot. “I’m a huge fan of holding shots for longer and minimal coverage, particularly if the performances are working as part of an ensemble, like they are in this film,” he says. “It’s an ideal way of controlling editorial pace and giving the viewer the opportunity to look around, picking up extra details in the background that are good for character development.”
APR I L 202 1 | DEF I N I T ION 05
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