Logistics of filming in North Korea

My friend Paul at Knife Tricks recently interviewed the producers of Crossing the Line about the logistics of filming in the DPRK.  Here are some excerpts:

Gordon and his crew brought their own equipment to North Korea because local film technology was not compatible with the needs of a modern documentary shoot. “As far as equipment goes, they film on 35mm, and we were filming on DigiBeta for the first two films and hi-def video for Crossing the Line,” says Gordon.

“I used standard Canon lenses,” notes Bennett. “When I needed to light, I used Kino Flos, but much of the film was shot with available light.” Gordon adds, “In North Korea, the electricity isn’t necessarily on, and when it’s on, it isn’t necessarily constant, so we tried to use available light wherever we could.” He carried batteries at all times and hooked into mains when possible.

In addition to Gordon, Bennett, soundman Stevie Haywood and co-producer Nicholas Bonner, the crew included one or two North Koreans assigned to the shoot by the Ministry of Culture. Gordon notes, “Your immediate suspicion is that they’re government plants — security people pretending to be film people. But the longer you work with people, you tend to find out what they are and what they’re not, and the people we worked with day by day were absolutely film people.”

“They basically took it upon themselves that they were going to work for us and get us the access that we wanted, whatever that took and whatever personal risks that took on their part,” he continues. “Had it all gone wrong, there would have been quite nasty consequences for everyone involved.”

The filmmaking process involved many nights of discussions with the North Koreans about access or other issues concerning the next day’s shooting. The topics to be discussed with Dresnok were provided to the North Koreans in advance, with the understanding that new topics would arise over the course of the interview. The minders occasionally reviewed the dailies. “There was never an occasion when they said, ‘No, you can’t shoot that,’” Bennett recalls. “There were lots of occasions where they’d hem and haw as to whether they wanted us to film something, and we shot it, and they had a look at it afterwards and said, ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ You’re not always aware of what they’re looking for.”

“No footage was ever taken away from us,” adds Bennett. “We came away with everything we shot.”

The North Koreans had no hand in the edit, either. Gordon says the final cut was not shown to North Korean officials until after it was screened at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

Read the full article here:
Documentary filmmakers are granted rare access to shoot a project that provides glimpses of life in the closed-off society.
American Cinematographer
Paul Karl Lukacs
March 2008

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