A continuation of the themes presented in his earlier, self-imposed isolation short The Latecomer, Filmmaker Albert Choi returns to Directors Notes with meditative vignette on solitude, The Idea of North. I caught up with Albert to discuss how he and his team of collaborators mapped out this reclusive journey towards true north.
It’s been three years since you joined us with The Latecomer, what’s been taking up your time prior to this new film?
I read somewhere that we choose what we want to hear, because all that’s landing is, “We missed you Albert.” laugh-sigh… Nothing makes me happier than to mobilize the team, form Voltron, and venture into unchartered territories. But with The Latecomer being such a special whirlwind project, it was vital to take a beat and work on diverse assignments (where you meet creative partners & level up). It was important not to rush into this film because the two are related.
Was there a specific point of reference which inspired this meditative reflection on solitude and centeredness? How did the concept develop?
There’s. so. much. noise. And whatever is the loudest, usually wins in grabbing our attention or distracting us from the present. Solitude provided an awareness of innerness and a space that is creatively rich and limitless. Instead of adding to the noise I want to engage the audience and invite participation in the story by providing the bare minimum. Whether they want to complete it or not, it’s open to interpretation. The core concept ideas are: absence, stillness, and recreation of emptiness.
Yukina Takase’s character has a mannered, analytical air to her, almost as if she’s existing within laboratory conditions. What methods did you use to shape that performance?
Yukina’s level of focus is extraordinary. With a unique character existing in different timelines, we spent weeks developing a visual language that reproduces her perception of the immediate world. We talked about finding one’s true north and seeing north less as a direction but a state of mind. By the time we got on set, Yukina brought a different dimension of solitude to each reality, and we concentrated on ‘show don’t tell’.
Instead of adding to the noise I want to engage the audience and invite participation in the story.
There’s a marked difference between the first and second half of the film in its styling and cinematography, what was your process for defining and then executing this shifting visual aesthetic in relation to the themes you wanted to explore?
First, sequencing deception. Then playing with inclusion/exclusion of camera “personality” to manipulate the viewer from existing reservations (past/present, reality/simulation). Finally a focus on spatial awareness, compositional economy and separation. Two sides of the same coin, camera team David Sanders and Josh Park did great building off each other and responding to Yukina’s performance.
How much was the edit a process of refinement rather than extensive restructuring?
I have to say a bit of both… During pre-pro, we all have a laugh because the team knows that the script is just a starting point and the end product will go way beyond the pages. The real unsung hero is my Producer, Benjamin Koh, because we always find a way to resourcefully open the project to creative possibilities. And yes, I do build the film exactly to my script as part of the assembly process, but I also approach it as if I’ve never seen it before. Having the flexibility to play with form separately from the subject matter is key.
Do you have any new projects in the works we can look forward to?
With The Latecomer and The Idea of North finished, I will be working on the final short of The Solitude Trilogy.