Parasite director Bong Joon-ho’s creative process is a perfect roadmap for our new normal
I watched the Oscar-winning winning move Parasite now streaming on Hulu. It’s good. And it’s worth reading the subtitles for.
I wanted to learn more about how the film’s director Bong Joon-ho creates and thinks. It turned out to be a refreshing three-step approach perfectly suited for our current moment.
Elements of the plot were based on Bong’s life experience. How that experience would translate to the film’s story was gestating in his brain for 17 years. But it was starting to be a “parasite leeching off his brain.” So, there’s a fine line.
Takeaway: Give yourself ample time to chew on an idea — which could be years or even decades — but know when it’s time to pull the idea into the next phase.
His planning was split into two phases:
- Research: Bong’s cowriter spent months researching different areas in South Korea, taking photos, and doing interviews with tutors, personal drivers, and housekeepers as those characters are essential to the plot. The co-writer came back with copious notes to refine.
- Writing: I love the way Bong describes the writing process starting slow and finishing easily, comparing it to a full sink draining. “At first, it’s very quiet and you barely notice the waterline descending; but near the end, you start to hear a gurgling as everything rushes down the drain. Writing Parasite was kind of like that.”
Takeaway: Doing the prep work — letting your mind wander in thought, research, jotting down ideas — is necessary before diving into execution mode. It’s similar to the French culinary concept of mise en place (translation: everything in its place). It’s where chefs prepare and chop as much as possible ahead of dinner service so when orders start coming in, they don’t have to spend valuable time rushing to chop garnish at the risk of burning something in the pan. And as we’ll see, Bong has his “mise” ready to ensure an efficient filming process.
This stage is the part I’m most impressed with.
According to an actor in his 2013 film Snowpiercer, Bong trims the fat before he shoots. He doesn’t film extra scenes just in case he needs them in the editing room. He’s relying on his preparation in the writing phase to tell him exactly which shots he needs to make the film and he’s relying on his intuition to make small adaptions real-time. According to a different actor in Snowpiercer he would change up filming angles mid-shot based on feel.
Takeaway: It’s inherently risky not to give yourself the wiggle room of extra footage. But there is also something calming about this strategy. He trusts his intuition and doesn’t allow himself to get overwhelmed with additional choices or allow the story to become overcomplicated.
To me, this is such a reassuring approach right at this moment.
There are abundant choices. There’s abundant advice. There’s plenty to worry about.
If you give yourself time to think.
Do only what’s essential for you.
Trim out the fat as you go.
And trust your gut.
You’ll be doing exactly what’s right for you. And you can always make real-time adjustments — cut back to the foundational human basics during the uncertainty of a global pandemic and add back in as you have the bandwidth to do so.
Bong knows moviemaking and tips for staying quarantine sane.
Here’s to an upcoming idea that gurgles as it quickly rushes down the drain.
Hi, I’m Grant. I write the weekly Sustain newsletter about how to prevent burnout from work based on research and my own experience. It’s a fresh approach called Holistic Burnout Prevention which treats the causes, not the symptoms of burnout. Join me and let’s create a world without burnout. Subscribe >