|K-pop music video production company Zanybros' director Hong Won-ki, left, and CEO Kim Jun-hong speak during an interview with The Korea Times in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, on May 12. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min|
By Dong Sun-hwa
Video by Lee Min-young, Kim Kang-min
It's only seven in the morning, but inside a colossal container in a secluded, mountainous region in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, people have started buzzing around.
It is hard to guess what the container is for merely by looking at its rather shabby appearance. But, surprisingly, this is where dazzling K-pop music videos (MVs) are born.
Some staff members of MV production company Zanybros check their cameras and lights, while others prepare the props and set up the site to make it visually fit a song's concept. But all have one thing in common ― they are mostly wearing tracksuits, presumably to feel cozy during their lengthy filming, which is scheduled to end at 2 a.m. the next day.
"I once stayed awake for 15 consecutive days to shoot the MVs for about 10 bands," Zanybros' director Hong Won-ki said during an interview with The Korea Times at a cafe on the first floor of the company's headquarters in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, on May 12. Even on the interview day, Hong revealed he filmed an MV till dawn and just took a short nap.
"We stay up all night for five days on average for shooting, but this is something inevitable," he said. "We have to shoot countless scenes within a limited time, as the singers often have extremely hectic schedules and more days of filming means more cost. On top of that, we have our own desires for quality."
Zanybros' CEO Kim Jun-hong said: "Sometimes we even reach a point where we do not even feel weary, but are purely in a daze. Zanybros can nonetheless produce flawless videos thanks to our unique system of specialization, in which different teams ― ranging from directing to editing ― work together organically."
Hong and Kim agreed the company needs an overhaul of the current system, so that a staff member can be as multi-functional as possible.
"Anyone can buy cheap cameras or use their cellphones to film and edit a video these days," Hong said. "Therefore, for survival, we should shift away from specialization and seek ways to enable our workers to pull off A to Z of the production process."
The two founded Zanybros in 2001, which is now one of the most distinguished MV production companies in Korea. Hong and Kim have collaborated with a plethora of artists including BTS, EXO, Girls' Generation, TVXQ and MAMAMOO for video production and attained international fame with their quality creations. So far, the pair has filmed nearly 1,500 videos.
|Hong Won-ki, center, shoots a music video for a K-pop band in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, on May 18. Korea Times photo by Lee Min-young|
But Zanybros was not a K-pop-focused company by birth.
"Heavy metal music and rock have long been my preferences, but there were virtually no videos for these genres in the bygone days," Hong said. "So I decided to make them on my own with Kim and began collaborating with bands such as Nell and Trans Fixion."
A big turning point in their careers came a few years later, after they shot MVs for rocker Seo Taiji's 2008 release "Atomos." Dubbed "culture president" and the "forefather of K-pop," his band Seo Taiji and Boys brought life to experimental music for Koreans in the early 1990s. Wowed by the Zanybros' clips, officials from several K-pop labels contacted Hong and Kim and asked them to work with their singers.
"Then the timing coincided with K-pop's rise," Kim said. "So we came to work with more idol stars such as SS501, BEAST and 4minute and people started to recognize us as a K-pop MV maker."
When asked about a point of differentiation in Zanybros' creations, the two touched on their "15-second rule."
"The most impactful scenes or 'secret codes' should appear in the first 15 seconds of the clip," Kim said. "Thanks to our career spanning almost two decades, we have our own perspective on K-pop and know how to unfold different stories on the video using our distinctive words. Regarding its interpretation, sometimes K-pop followers fathom it in a way we intended, but on occasion their analysis is cooler."
Hong elaborated on this, saying: "People are now flooded with visual content. Frankly speaking, there are so many singers and their MVs 'pass by' really quickly. I think it only takes about one week for a video to be off the radar, with people wildly accepting it for merely one to two days. This is why we strive to create eye-catching and memorable scenes from the outset. Our work can be characterized by wide use of color and emphasis on active choreography as well."
The director and the CEO also disclosed that Zanybros prefers idol fans as its workers.
"Since the emergence of phenomenal boy band BTS, close interaction between artists and the followers has been crucial," Hong said. "If we have fans in our crew, we can easily grasp the followers' needs and wants."
Kim said: "To gain a global perspective, we also hire workers hailing from different countries including Sweden, Germany, Colombia, China and Japan."
The pair also explained in detail how an MV ― which they say is a "gift set" comprising compelling performances and visual aspects ― is created, saying the whole process of pre-production, production and post-production takes about two to three weeks.
"Today's record labels are highly sensitive about international fans' responses and they monitor the reactions in real time," Kim said. "Hence, hinging on the feedback, the companies modify their plans ― such as adding something new to the music ― and these changes prolong the production time."
Regarding the cost of production, Hong and Kim revealed it depends on the clients' requests.
"This is similar when you buy a car," Kim said. "You have automobiles of varying prices to choose from."
Asked what motivates them to work, despite all the hardships they have, Hong and Kim gave the same answer ― a sense of accomplishment.
"Making an MV is demanding since we have to listen to one song 200 times and shoot the same scenes repeatedly until they look fair," Kim said. "But when we see an artist making a splash with our video or receiving some positive responses from the fans, we suddenly become stress-free."
Hong agreed and said that Zanybros is pouring efforts into the expansion of its intellectual property (IP) too. Last year, the company produced a 10-episode horror series and sold it to an over-the-top (OTT) platform. It also launched its first singer AleXa, who dropped her debut single "Bomb" in October.
"After all, we crave to create something of our own more and turn Zanybros into a total entertainment channel," Kim said.