Actor Chris Evans, dressed as Captain America, sits on a car hood as the crew of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” films in Sangam-dong DMC in Seoul on April 4. (Yonhap)
The temperature had dipped suddenly, making April 6 an unseasonably chilly day. But that did not deter the hundreds of spectators braving the cold on Sunday morning who had turned up at Gangnam Boulevard to witness the filming of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the sequel to the highly successful “The Avengers” released in 2012 and featuring the Marvel Comics superheroes.
Among the crowd taking photos of Gangnam Boulevard empty of traffic on the northbound lanes except for numerous vehicles and cranes used for filming was Lee Byung-gwan, 29, on the scene since 6 a.m.
The movie buff, who was in the Konkuk University area ― another filming location ― for two hours the previous day, hoped for a war scene set in Seoul. He is interested in the actual shooting of the film, not the stars. In fact, there were no Hollywood stars sighted at the scene, just a stand-in for actress Scarlett Johansson filming a motorcycle scene.
“It is exciting to think that what I am watching now will be in a scene when the film is released next year,” said Lee, who works at an architecture firm.
What Lee will see of Seoul when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is released on May 1, 2015, is anyone’s guess. While the Korean government is covering 30 percent of the cost incurred while filming in Korea, how much exposure the Korean locations will get on theater screens is entirely up to the film company.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which is acting as a control tower for the project, the MOU that covers the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” filming in Korea should allay concerns that Korea may be shown in a negative light.
Marvel Studios, Korea Tourism Organization, Korean Film Council, Seoul Film Commission, Gyeonggi Film Commission and Goyang Industry Promotion Agency signed an MOU on March 18 in which “Marvel agrees to portray Korea as a high-tech, modern country and shall avoid portraying the Republic of Korea in any negative manner.”
“In foreign movies, Korea is either shown as a backward place or given a negative portrayal,” said Lee Soon-Il, deputy director of the film and video content industry division at the Culture Ministry. He, too, was initially concerned about how Korea would be portrayed, especially since the film, commonly called “Avengers 2” here, is an action film, a genre in which great explosions and fast car chases make up the bulk of the scenes.
“However, regardless of the genre, it is important that as much of today’s Korea is shown as possible,” Lee said, adding “I don’t think it will be one or two minutes. It could well be more than 10 minutes long.”
It is also encouraging that of the four locations where the filming is taking place ― Britain, Italy, South Africa and Korea ― Seoul is the only city that will actually be identified by name in the upcoming film, he noted. Filming is taking place throughout Seoul and Gyeonggi Province from March 30 to April 14.
Under the Location Incentive Program, Marvel Studios will be given about 3.9 billion won ($3.7 million) of the 13 billion won it is costing the company to film in Korea. Established in 2011 with a budget of 3 billion won in the initial year, the Location Incentive Program was conceived primarily as a way to attract Hollywood filmmakers to Korea.
The program, however, languished with few international film producers taking advantage of it, mostly Japanese and Chinese dramas and films, with a Chinese movie given 380 million won in 2012 the biggest project, and the program due to shut down this year.
“Avengers 2” resurrected the doomed program when Walt Disney Company Korea approached the Korean Film Council with Marvel Studios’ plan to shoot the film in Korea toward the end of 2013.
The Marvel Studios head, who had visited on a film promotion trip, thought Korea could be a good location and officials from the company were in Korea from November to December scouting locations.
“A new budget, 2.5 billion won, was quickly drawn up for the program,” Lee of the Culture Ministry said.
As the total annual budget for this year falls short of the 3.9 billion that is projected for “Avengers 2,” the ministry will tap into other tourism-related funds. “The Location Incentive Program is part of efforts to promote tourism and it is operated with funds allocated for tourism promotion,” Lee explained.
Using films to draw tourists is a concept increasingly employed by countries and cities. One of the most successful cases is New Zealand, which leveraged the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy ― shot mostly on location in New Zealand and released between 2001 and 2003 ― in developing its “100% Pure Brand” and saw a 40 percent increase in the number of visitors to the film locations.
The Korea Tourism Organization, too, is optimistic about the impact of a Hollywood blockbuster featuring Korea: It projected that “Avengers 2” will boost the nation brand value by 2 trillion won and have the same effect as spending 400 billion won in promoting Korea.
“Using Seoul as a movie backdrop could make the city as familiar as Shanghai and Tokyo are to foreigners,” said Park Young-gyu, chief of public relations at the KTO. “‘Gangnam Style’ was a global hit but most people still associate Korea with wartime memories.”
“‘Hello Stranger,’ a Thai movie filmed in Korea in 2011, was a great hit and I think if a movie does as well as ‘Hello Stranger’ did at the box office, it could be used as a marketing tool,” said Park. The number of tourists from Thailand shot up by over 35 percent following the release of “Hello Stranger.”
The MOU on the filming of “Avengers 2” allows the Korean signatories to prepare a tourism promotion video using clips from the movie, pending approval from Marvel Studios.
“If the clips are good, we will develop material based on it,” said Kang Jong-soon, manager of brand marketing at KTO, positing that nothing is certain until the footage from Korea becomes available.
|Trucks and other vehicles involved in the filming of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” are parked on Mapo Bridge as the bridge is closed off to traffic on March 30. The financial district of Yeouido is seen across the river. (Yonhap)|
Boost for local film industry
How “Avengers 2” can contribute to boosting Korea’s nation brand and promoting tourism has yet to be seen and depends on a number of factors, including the government’s ability to leverage the global exposure effectively, but the local film industry is already feeling the tangible impact of the film being shot on location here.
Not only is this the first time that a Hollywood blockbuster is being shot in Korea for an extended period, it is also the biggest project in the history of the Korean film industry, according to Kim Young-gu, location incentive program manager at the Korean Film Council. “A crew of about 150 people from overseas is in Korea for over two weeks, supported by 450 local staff. Also there are 300-400 extras involved, as passersby in the scenes, for example,” Kim said.
The Korean film industry personnel get a chance to work with the Hollywood system as involvement of a local production company is mandatory under the Location Incentive Program. “It is not only the ‘elites’ of the Korean film industry like directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook who get a chance to work with the Hollywood system now,” said Kim. Bong and Park have both directed films in Hollywood in recent years.
In fact, Korean companies were very eager to participate in the “Avengers 2” project as exchanges with international film industry people can open up the possibility of joint productions, Kim noted. “All this leads to the globalization of Korea’s film industry as well,” said Kim.
More frequent filming by foreign companies will be a boost for the local film industry, the market of which is now saturated, both in the number of movies produced and the number of moviegoers. “It will create new jobs,” Kim said, adding, “Projects like this could stimulate the local film industry.”
Addressing the resentment felt by some Korean filmmakers about the support given to a Hollywood production and the complaints of citizens who are inconvenienced by closures of major bridges and arteries, Lee from the Culture Ministry said, “We realize that this is controversial. Filming for an extended period in the heart of the city on such scale is unprecedented. Such a large scale is possible because it is a Hollywood film. But this could set a good precedent and Korean filmmakers can do similar projects in the future.”
“We are already getting many inquiries about filming in Korea after word began to spread that ‘Avengers 2’ is being shot here,” Lee said.
By Kim Hoo-ran, Senior writer (email@example.com)