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Uprising: Iris Kim on Perseverance and Making People Speechless


Director at Toronto’s Impossible Studios, Iris Kim speaks with LBB’s Ben Conway about the journey from hiding her Korean identity as a child to opposing typecasting as a director who champions women in film

Uprising: Iris Kim on Perseverance and Making People Speechless

Although she never said it out loud, Impossible Studios’ Iris Kim always wanted to become a director. Her dad owned a variety store and would bring back a ‘random selection of films’ that served as a slightly unconventional education when she was a child, and her passion for filmmaking has stayed with her ever since. During childhood, she also loved magazines, photography, playing the violin, and became captivated by the internet - recalling how she “barely left the house” during one summer vacation to spend more time creating and consuming media on YouTube and Facebook.

Growing up in a not very diverse hometown, Iris says that she tried to hide her Korean heritage and has subsequently been on a journey to reintegrate into that culture. Being Korean sometimes left her feeling outcast and she also admits to feeling the pressure of the significant emphasis that Korean culture puts on success. Although, as a ‘pretty optimistic’ person, Iris is learning to outgrow the negatives and appreciate the positive ways that Korean culture has impacted her outlook: “Being Korean impacts my outlook in many ways - certain mannerisms and mindsets… feeling like a fish out of water makes you learn how to be more observative and possibly more empathetic. I think I’m pretty good at those things.”

Taking her first steps into the industry, Iris studied Media Production at university, where she was exposed to many new experiences and skills. She says: “I felt so ready and shiny-eyed about it. It was so much fun. One moment we were interviewing strangers for our radio shows, then the next week we were directing multi-cam shows - I remember sweating a lot.” She also cut her teeth working as an intern and PA for production companies during this time and kept her social media updated with work, which resulted in more opportunities. The young creative directed wherever she could, making shorts with friends and using borrowed equipment from older students. She used all her spare time to create, even directing music videos on the side at her first post-graduation job.   

This dedication and perseverance is emblematic of her personality and the advice that she lives by: “It sounds simple but just keep going. Drink lots of coffee and tea. Find things and people that make you want to do your best,” she says, highlighting that the path is never straightforward and that it’s worth to step back and enjoy yourself. “I always had to remind myself that this is a slow and steady journey and it’s nice to not take everything so seriously - especially in the beginning.”

Her first professional project, and one that she believes changed the course of her career, was  being creative director on a music video. The drastic jump up from the small-scale sets that she was used to during university was a shock at first and the project left a significant mark on Iris. She says: “I was used to smaller student sets with pizza for lunch and four people for crew (that individually had three different roles).” Especially as it was the first project she had been hired for, rather than something she self-produced, the experience was a memorable learning moment: “As soon as I stepped onto this set I was like… ‘Oh.’ There was an art team, a G&E team, tons of extras and a huge truck parked outside the mansion we were filming at. I remember so much from that day.”

Since these early days, Iris has gradually discovered her likes and dislikes of the profession, describing the experience of working on a film set as something quite unique. The aspects that give the director the most joy however, are the collaboration between experienced professionals from a variety of vocations and the opportunities for creative problem solving: “It’s very much like: ‘Here’s a problem…. now, based on all your skills, figure it out. Good luck’.” Iris continues, “When things slowly fall apart, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I find it helps when you have a good set of people that don’t falter when things go wrong. It’s tough seeing people upset.” 

An issue that regularly causes such difficulties are budgets - which the young creative says she overcomes by compromising, setting achievable goals and persevering: “There are compromises you have to make because of it [the budget], time constraints, limited creative. The important lesson is to set a realistic expectation, not get discouraged, and get creative with different aspects of production.”

Regardless of budgetary constraints - or any other restriction - Iris always wants to evoke ‘strong emotion’ with her work: “When I think about why my favourite movies are my favourites, it’s because there were moments of the film that left me speechless - I was either on the verge of tears or a few seconds away from having a heart attack. I love that stuff.” By watching her favourites or new pieces of content and observing what she enjoys and dislikes, the director can refresh her influences and stop herself from being too repetitive in her own work. As well as repetitiveness, Iris avoids typecasting in her projects - something in the industry that she actively fights against: “They’re so boring. They reinforce stereotypes because of lazy casting. Do you know how happy I was to see Brenda Song in Suite Life of Zack and Cody play London Tipton? An affluent, Paris-Hilton-type character instead of a quiet nerd? Ecstatic.”

And as the social media giants and increasingly accessible, mobile content creation platforms grow ever more popular - presenting more freedom to make unique, more transparent and truly representative content -  Iris looks to the future of the industry with excitement for up-and-coming, independent creators. 

She says: “I love the idea of a home-made creator. With apps like TikTok and Instagram, everyone is given this platform where they can showcase their skills, hobbies, personality. You don’t need to ask for permission anymore and I love that.” Although, for larger, original productions she highlights the need for support and funding from the industry to help solve the aforementioned issues and to give the young creators, like herself, a helping hand - especially when they are in the position she was not long ago, graduating from university and breaking onto the scene as independent creatives. 

Iris says: “I wish there was more funding for original Canadian content, I’d love to see more diversity on all forefronts - writing rooms, behind and in front of the camera, realistic budgets for fair pay for all crew and cast, less glorification of substances, emphasis on new talent, less nepotism.” A member of Women in Film & Television Toronto herself, it’s a personal goal of the young director to ‘get more involved’ in the community of Canadian creativity and have an active impact on the issues at hand.

Currently based in Toronto, Iris found it difficult to stay inspired during lockdowns in the Canadian winter and has noticed a significant shift in pace in the industry, which has resulted from the pandemic: “Because of this, lots has changed in my life - I don’t leave the house very often, I’ve grown tighter bonds with my friends. I’ve also watched and read more things than I have in years. I see my family a lot more too. I’m just trying to make the best of it since there’s not much else anyone can do.” 

Some of the creators that kept her inspired and sane during the most testing months include Parasite director Bong Joon Ho, music video specialist Yoni Lappin, cinematographer Rina Yang and Vogue’s modern Macarena director Bardia Zeinali. “All these creators I admire because of the unapologetic way they approach their art,” says Iris. She also has taken inspiration and motivation from podcasts like NPR’s Life Kit and TV shows such as Succession during long periods of lockdown, as well as the literary works of psychologist Angela Duckworth and Canadian novelist Emily Mandel. 

When she is able to get outside, Iris is a ‘big walker’ - going for daily walks to avoid sitting down all day and focusing solely on work. The exercise of walking, running and yoga help keep her balanced and fresh, but she stays in touch with her creative side too outside of work. The director listens to classical music and wants to rekindle her love for playing the violin, enjoys getting coffee with friends and sampling the seasonal offerings of Starbucks, and tries to take in all kinds of media, from horror movies to broadway shows. Now holding her Korean heritage close to her heart, after concealing it for so long as a child, she also has an interest in Korean fashion. 

Iris’ passion for storytelling and creating only grows with time and it’s these inspirations, as well as the winding journey she has been on, that have kept her going through difficult recent times for creatives: “My love for telling stories, my parents, the town I’m from, my insecurities, my internal monologue... There are so many things I want to say and create.”

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Impossible Studios, Mon, 31 Jan 2022 12:41:00 GMT