We catch up with Pep Kim to discuss his path into filmmaking and photography, the roles skateboarding and soccer have played in his life, and how all his passions came together with the making of his latest film, Broken Femur.
I understand you grew up in Seoul. What was it like growing up there, and when was the first time you picked up a camera?
It wasn’t culturally very exciting until I started skateboarding in 1996. Then the course of my life had completely changed. I remember I picked up my dad’s camera to start documenting my skate crew first time around 2000.
When did you first realize you you might want to pursue photography and directing more seriously?
I was fortunate enough to skate with amazing local skaters in Seoul. Just skating with the crew every day was a huge blessing. In the beginning, it was more like to just document my friends and practice how to shoot then I started focusing on composition a bit more seriously. (I was already one of very few kids collecting Transworld and Thrasher so I naturally grew my eyes published skate photos. And there was only one book store carried skate magazines back then so it was so priceless checking mags in person.) So I started taking fairly good skate photos soon enough. That’s when I realized photography could be something more serious in my life.
To be honest, I never really was into “Directing” a film. I’m interested in story-telling so I’d say what I’m doing is more like “Filmmaking”. (Maybe they mean the same in the industry but that’s just how I feel.) I started making film for my brand Chrystie NYC. We needed/wanted to make a skate video to promo the brand but most of my filmmaker friends I wanted to work with already were too bust with other commercial works in their career. So I decided shoot B-rolls and second angles with my first Super 8 camera, Nizo. Filming with Super 8 was so fun. Especially, the design of the camera is very intuitive and you can always keep it in your hand to document anything super quickly even while I was pushing around in the street of NewYork. 16mm is great but you can never react and document fast enough.
After our first video “Chapter One” I started getting small fashion assignments. That’s when I started taking filmmaking more seriously.
Skateboarding seems to be fundamental in your life, both as something you enjoy doing but also formative in your photography career. What’s that journey been like?
The best thing about skateboarding is that it’s fun. That’s an endless joy and inspiration to create something. Usually everyone in skateboarding starts creating whatever they are into with their own idea. Drawing, photography, video, performance, sculpture, furniture, clothing design etc. And most of the time, they don’t have much knowledge about it so often the result could look “unprofessional” but skateboarding’s “DIY” spirit is the greatest thing ever. (Look at Spike Jonze!)
It was same to me. I learned basic skills from books and free college classes but I learned most valuable lessons through skateboarding. (Obviously it was pre-youtube and instagram era.)
But at some point, to break through, you have to have your own idea, voice, story, philosophy. Beautiful images are everywhere but not everyone has their own voice.
I probably am on the stage of building my own voice right now.
" Beautiful images are everywhere but not everyone has their own voice."
Do you find your photography and directing work help inform one another? Or do you find you approach each medium differently?
They do help each other and are similar but at the same time are completely different mediums. But at the end I think it’s most important that the story should be clear through any of these mediums.
Playing football(soccer). I play at least 3 times a week. It defogs my brain and obviously keeps me very healthy. Health is everything. Drink water, stretch your body and have good sleep.
That leads us to your most recent film, Broken Femur. What was the experience like being able to tell the story of a community that you love so much and has been such a big part of your life?
It’s definitely a pleasure to be working on a project about something I love. Nothing is forced when you love your subject matter.
"Nothing is forced when you love your subject matter."
Playing your film in front of a live audience has got to be very rewarding. How did the premieres in NYC and Montreal go? Do you have any others scheduled?
Both premieres were great. NYC premiere was full house. It was a mixed group of soccer, skate and creative people. MTL was more of invitational. There’s our sister club called Ringleaders FC and we had to have a premiere there because there also is a small section of Angelo, the founder of the club, talking about what community means. We are planning to do premieres in London, Milan, Paris in Europe and Mexico City then Tokyo & Seoul.
BTS of Broken Femur
Talk about your process when working on set or in post.
It doesn’t matter if the team is small or big. I LOVE working with professionals. Imagine being on a set with a bunch of untrained staffs. It’d be a big nightmare.
In terms of post, I get involved in the process but open the opportunity for editors to work more flexibly.
What have you found to be your biggest struggle in your career thus far?
In filmmaking, translating my vision and idea verbally to editors and music producers is the biggest challenge I’m experiencing right now. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to understand and handle cinematography and editing so in the beginning I was able to make a few small pieces out of my own knowledge. Then last year I started directing my short film and I realized it’s completely different field to accomplish my vision with many other collaborators. Commercial works, I am still working independent so negotiating rates and just talking about money in general is the least fun part of the process.
What’s it been like running your brand Chrystie NYC?
Like I said, it’s all just DIY style. I had zero knowledge about every step of branding, designing clothing, manufacturing, logistics, sales & distributing and marketing.
Before the pandemic broke out, it became more than a full-time job. I was woking at my studio for 12-15 hours a day. It definitely doesn’t help my creativity but understanding business side of branding really opened my eyes to think differently. Like a lot of photographers or filmmakers think, “Cool images” would sell products. That’s not entirely wrong but it only works when “cool images” are handled correctly by many other people in the team. I’m not sure if I could say it’s rewarding but it definitely opened my eyes to different field. We are right now rebranding it and I’m very excited to step into the next stage of it.
"Understanding the business side of branding really opened my eyes to think differently."
How did the opportunity to open Cafe Chrystie come about? Was it something you had always planned to do?
To be honest, I never really had a plan to open a coffee shop. It’s always really exciting to start something new though.
It also was fun because I directed the whole interior design. Never learned any interior design but seeing the result coming out in the way I planned and imagined was very fulfilling. And witnessing how the space functioning as I planned the business model is also amazing.
The Cafe seems perfectly poised to be a community hub. You’ve already done a couple events, what else do you have lined up over the next couple months?
Showing your work at offline space is important. There used to be a lot of events and art shows pre-pandemic time but it seems most of brands pull out their offline programs. I already have a bunch of creative friends so it when I found the space, I knew I had to leave a couple of walls empty for shows. And as a Korean creative, we also would like to have art shows by Korean artists more often.
You can catch a screening of Broken Femur this coming Tuesday, January 16th
Pep Kim is a filmmaker & photographer based in NYC.