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7 Apr 2010

Show business – I hadn’t expected it to take me this long to do the write-up promised in my last entry, but there were a lot of things that needed to get done before this. Ultimately it came down to me just saying, “OK, I’m writing this today and that’s that.” So here you go.

“I felt like a pyromaniac who had been given a can of gasoline and a book of matches and told to have fun.”

As I mentioned last time, last Wednesday I visited the Arirang studios to film a segment of “Heart to Heart.” Filming was supposed to start at 10:10, and I was supposed to arrive thirty minutes early for make-up and whatever other preparations needed to be taken care of. The Arirang building is located rather far from where I live, so to make sure I got there on time I left at twenty after eight.

Unfortunately, it just so happened that the forecast for Wednesday was rain, and for once they were spot on. I decided to take the subway, figuring that the bus would take longer in the rain. This is true, of course, but I wasn’t the only one to have that idea, and the subway was packed. The number one line was so full that it took an extra minute or two to close the doors at each station. By the time I got to my destination station, it was half past nine, ten minutes before I was supposed to arrive. I rushed out of the station, hailed a cab, and arrived almost exactly at 9:40.

It turns out, though that I needn’t have rushed; thanks to the rain, everyone else was running late as well (being exactly on time for me is the equivalent of being late for most other people—I have my dad to thank for that little peccadillo). I met the producer who had come out to HUFS for filming the previous week, and together we went to the make-up room. The make-up itself didn’t take long—for guys, at least, the idea is simply to make sure that we don’t shine in the strong television lights—but some of the audience members were late in arriving, so I just stayed in the waiting room and talked with the writers a little longer.

When it was finally time for filming, they led me into the studio. The audience was a group of around fifteen young people who sat in a semi-circle around the stage. The rest of the studio in front of the stage was completely black and empty—in fact, later I was glad for the audience, as it would have felt a little odd to be sitting there with just the host (and the crew) in that cavernous space. I went up onto the stage, sat down in a rather large, cushiony chair, and tried not to squirm around too much when they put the mic on me.

As we waited for the start of filming, I chatted briefly with the host and looked around at the studio. I had to smile a little when I saw the cameras, but not because I was happy to be in front of them. In fact, I would have been much more comfortable behind them. When I was a university student, I didn’t really engage in too many activities (what would be known as “circles” in Korea), but I did do a brief stint with the university television station, where I worked as a cameraman.

Most of what I did was studio work, and involved sitting behind the camera with a pair of headphones on, listening for instructions and acting accordingly. There were usually three cameras running for your typical interview show: a wide-shot camera and then two closeups. The wide shot never changed (and was thus usually unmanned), but the closeup cameras had to react to the people we were filming. It wasn’t all that difficult, though. Once you knew how to operate the camera, it was just a matter of keeping your subject properly framed and following the instructions that came through your headphones. Since we usually alternated between shots, most of the fiddling was done when the cameras were not live, so there weren’t too many chances to screw things up.

On occasion, though, we got the chance to do more challenging (and more interesting) camerawork. There was a student-produced soap opera, for example, that allowed me to use a portable camera and go on location to shoot (much like what I was subjected to the week before my studio interview with Arirang). Now that was a lot of fun. When we were in the studio, we were pretty much invisible, but when we were shooting on location, we were part of the production, right there with the actors. It was more challenging, of course, because you didn’t have someone directing your every move, and also because you had to deal with all of the equipment issues. But that could be fun in its own right—for that soap opera, for example, I remember drafting one of my friends because we needed a grip. I can still remember how much fun we had that day.

All of these things went through my head as I sat there in the few minutes before the cameras started rolling. It actually felt good to be back in a studio, even if I wasn’t in my preferred position, and for a moment I was transported back in time.

Considering how stressed out I was in the days leading up to the interview, it might seem odd that I wasn’t nervous once up on stage. But that’s just the way I am. I wish I wasn’t that way, and I try to deal with my stress issues, but so far I’ve made little headway. Even though I know it’s going to be fine, and I don’t suffer from stage fright, the anticipation kills me. So it wasn’t until I was actually sitting in that big chair with my mic on, waiting for the cameras, that I finally felt at ease.

When everything was ready, we began shooting, and we more or less followed the script. By this I mean that, the week before, I had received a list of questions (in Korean) that the host might ask me, and I wrote down my answers to those questions (again in Korean). The writers then used this feedback to craft the final version of the script (in English), which followed the standard format for the show: the introduction followed by a few questions, a break where the on-location piece that was shot the week before would be inserted into the final program, more questions, a break, some questions from the studio audience, and then the wrap-up.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that my answers were scripted, though. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say in response to each question, but there were some instances where I thought of things on the spot that I hadn’t written down in my original responses—like an interesting story about Kim Young-ha that helps explain why he is my favorite Korean author. For her part, the host also didn’t slavishly follow the list of questions in the script. A number of questions were left out, primarily (I’m guessing) for time reasons, and she did a pretty good job of going with the flow and making everything seem natural.

If I was worried about anything, it would be how much I was supposed to say in response to each question. If you know me, you know that I am a talker—and I know that I am a talker, too, so sometimes I am a little self-conscious about how much I talk. Before the show, though, when I was still waiting in make-up, the producer of the show came in and told me that I didn’t have to stick to what I had written, and that I should feel free to elaborate as much as I wanted. And, of course, the whole purpose of the show was for me to talk about things. But I still wasn’t sure. I felt like a pyromaniac who had been given a can of gasoline and a book of matches and told to have fun.

In the end, I don’t think I talked too much (if that was indeed possible), and even if I did, well, that’s what the editing room floor is for. But it was fun to be able to talk about things that were important to me. In truth, that is the only reason I agreed to do the show: because it wasn’t some silly entertainment program that had nothing to do with my concerns or interests. I was asked to do something like that a number of years ago, and it was very easy to say no. I have no interest at all in being on television just for the sake of being on television, but on this program I got to talk about my studies and my thoughts on translation—all things that are very important to me.

I don’t know how the final program is going to turn out. I suppose it depends in large part on how it is edited. But I doubt I will watch it. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of watching myself on television, mainly because I am hypercritical and all I will see will be the flaws. Water drop torture would be preferable to having to watch myself on television, I think. I told my students that I would tell them when the show will be airing, though, so I suppose I will have to do that (if the people associated with the program do indeed contact me to let me know). But that’s as far as it will go.

In summary, the experience itself was fine, and the people I met in the process were all really nice. In fact, had I been able to put aside my strange neuroses, I might have even enjoyed it. For the time being, though, I would be happy to continue to labor in obscurity—at least until I write my best-seller and have to go on book tours and all that. If that ever happens, I’m going to try to force myself to enjoy it.

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