“There are few films that show how much the art department pays attention to details. In the film Room, the art department team studied the sun’s movement and bleached the part of the wall where the sunlight comes through the shed’s skylight and hits. They believed most of the objects inside the room should have some sort of stories because the five-year-old main character personifies every object. In Danish Girl, the set starts with the gloomy grey bedroom in Copenhagen where the main character couldn’t find his real identity, and then it shifts to a colorful room with beautiful floral pattern wall and Art Nouveau style architecture in Paris where he finds his real identity as a woman and starts blooming. I love art directors who are storytellers, who transfer the words into imagery by conceptualizing, using imagination, and creating the mood with emotion, style, and feeling,” said Young.
When Ji Young Lee talks about what it is to be an art director, one immediately understands that this is someone who not only loves what they do, but someone who appreciates every intricacy of their craft so fully that their passion and commitment are unrivaled. Young wanted to be an art director because she wanted to create a world that affects people who are watching the film; she thought it was fascinating that she could make the background world that helps people believe the story, whether it is real or fantasy. This is exactly what she does, and this vision is evident on every film that features her name in its credits. Director Ryan Betshart says without Young, he would not have the success he does today.
“Ji was my art director for two projects, the first being Paper Chase, a music video that has played Ann Arbor Film festival, which was a highlight of my career. Ji did so well and was so exciting and thoughtful to work with that I hired her for my next short film The Sacred Mushroom Edition,” said Betshart. “Working with Ji helped my career so much so that I intend on hiring her again on all my future projects. Her attention to detail is second to none – no one has an eye for set design like her – meticulous yet on budget and fast, a true professional. Her communication with the other departments, as well as with her own crew is clear and effective in ways I have rarely seen on set. Things get done, and so quickly and quietly one would think magic was being used to make everything perfect. Does this make Ji a magician? Does she have magical powers like a sorcerer? I’d say yes. Everyone on set respects her. The actors love her. She is the first to show up and the last to leave. I wish I had met her sooner, my previous films would all have done much better!”
Such accolades, although flattering, are not what keeps Young going. For her, it is all about her work. The Sacred Mushroom Edition is at the beginning of its festival route, and has already seen tremendous success. It premiered at Portland Underground Film Festival on April 9, followed by the prestigious Mammoth Lakes Film Festival on May 25, the Moviate Underground Film Festival in Pennsylvania on May 28, and internationally at Winnipeg Underground Film Festival in Canada on June 1. None of this could have been possible without Young’s artistic eye, and yet, she remains humble.
“It feels very surreal and exciting to have the film be doing so well. I don’t know much about experimental films, so I had no idea what kind of films our film was going to get chosen with for the festival. I’m just very glad that now I got some experiences in experimental film, which was the world that I never got to explore before and got these great festival opportunities by working with my great friends,” said Young.
The Sacred Mushroom Edition is an ode to the 1978 version of Kenneth Anger’s film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and its peculiar use of Electric Light Orchestra’s album ‘El Dorado’ over images of a ritual orgy between gods. The Sacred Mushroom Edition finds two fallen angels arguing over ELO and their lead singer Jeff Lynne’s affiliated super group The Traveling Wilburys – and his connection to the dark side.
“I watched the original film and loved how stylized the set design was. It was visually stunning and very artistic. Most of the films I’ve worked on wanted the art department team to stick to what’s exactly written in the script in terms of creating the set, but Ryan loved to hear about team members’ interpretation on the script and discuss with them which sometimes led to something unexpected. This film helped me to use more imagination and understand sometimes the filmmaking is less about form or content than it is about context,” said Young.
Although Paper Chase was a music video that focused on more digital manipulation of the video with a minimum set, The Sacred Mushroom Edition was the exact opposite. The film required two different sets, with strong contrasts between the two. The film starts in a backyard, and then it transitions into a darkroom. For the backyard, Young made some colorful choices for the set dressing, because she wanted to create brightness and lightness. For the dark room, she wanted to create some intimate, gruesome and cluttered environment, and therefore put different materials and furniture that had great textures for the set dressing.
“As this film is an experimental film, what it says is very abstract and poetic. The good part is it’s very artistic and unique film, but it could be difficult to understand for the audiences who used to watch the traditional narrative films. Therefore, my job was to provide some sort of device that would allow the audience to connect themselves with the film, so they don’t feel total alienation,” said Young.
There is little doubt as to why Young is considered one of Korea’s best recent art directors, and even less doubt that we will continue to see her name attached to many high-profile l films for years to come.