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Industry Insights from Toronto-Based Director, Iris Kim

Toronto-based director Iris Kim has made a bold name for herself in the filmmaking industry following her graduation from X (Ryerson) University’s Media Production program in 2019. The rising star has directed music videos for the likes of Johnny Orlando as well as commercials for Adidas and Hennesy. It’s as easy to fall in love with her colorful directorial style as it is with her bubbly, generous demeanor. Here’s how Iris got her start, what she wishes school taught her, and her advice for budding directors.

How did you get your start directing music videos?

I got a full-time job doing social media and I knew that was the way I was going to financially be okay. On the side, I directed my own music videos because I just wanted to be like, “Okay, I can do this on my own if I have enough financial freedom and time to do so.” That’s kind of where I got my momentum.

There are a lot of people in Toronto who want to make music videos and aren’t signed, so you have a lower budget with them. Because I was fresh out of school, I had a lot of people in my corner that were down to do things for free, including myself. From there, more people got in contact, and that just became a rolling ball.

How do you find projects to work on?

It either goes one of two ways. Either I reach out to an artist saying, “Hey, I want to do something with you.” That can either not go at all, like they don’t answer, or something does happen. Other times, the artists reach out to me to create a treatment. I pitch for them and if I get chosen, we go through with it. It’s hard because 90% of being a director is just pitching. If they don’t like it, it’s like a whole treatment— a whole pitch that goes on the back-burner because they didn’t choose you. 

After you’re greenlit to direct, what happens during pre-production?

If you do get chosen, it’s a big deal. From there, you hire a producer to budget out the project. You find the art director, the stylists, the editor, the choreographer… I usually have a set of people that I really like working with. 

I do a breakdown for each scene. I’m like, “Hey, these are the concerns. Can we do this? Can we not do this? What can we replace it with?” Then, if there’s fittings or rehearsals we need to do, I usually do that on the same day. It’s a lot of meetings, calls on calls on calls, negotiations, compromises— and then the shoot date. The reason why I like music videos so much is because you really do get to make your own schedule.

How do you cultivate inspiration for music video concepts?

Making the treatment is really cool because you’re by yourself, listening to the music and immersing yourself. That is like the spirit of the project coming alive. Then it comes alive again when you’re on set. The in-between, it’s just work, work, work, work, work, problem, problem— then it all pays off when you’re shooting. 

What do you wish you were taught about the filmmaking industry in school?

Setting your rate, knowing which projects are worth it versus which aren’t. It’s hard when people think you’re just in it for the art because it’s also a business. There are so many projects where I was like, “No, it’s okay, I want this to be good so I just won’t take a rate on it.” I really regret doing that because that didn’t align with my values. Set your standard rates so you can make a living off of this and people don’t take advantage of you. Know when to say no to projects and not feel bad about that. 

What is your favourite part about directing?

I like working with experts at their jobs. For example, someone who really knows how to light a scene with camera movements or a production designer who can do a build. I don’t know how to do that but I’m like, “I want this,” and they can tell me how it’s done. Then, I see it on the shoot day and it’s done. It’s literally a room full of experts at what they’re doing. I don’t know any other experience where I would have that opportunity. 

What advice do you have for aspiring directors?

Reach out to people that you look up to. Literally, reach out to your role models. Have a list of questions that you want to ask them. Maybe do some research on them, creep them on LinkedIn. I find Instagram is really helpful; it’s just resume after resume but it’s all visual. I find that reaching out to different roles is really helpful. Especially as a director, learn what DPs like in directors and what makes their job easier. I cold email people a lot, I cold DM people a lot. Finding people your age that are doing what you want to do really helps because it feels like you have lived the same experiences so they’re giving relevant information. Connect with people you resonate with and keep in touch so you know what’s up and how people get to where they are.

Nikita's hipster high school teachers sparked her love for slice-of-life podcasts, books, and movies. Whether oversharing through introspective conversations or scribbling journal entries, she'll do whatever it takes to make sense of life. One day, she hopes to write stories for the screen, the radio, or for print. On the side, she bakes and plays the piano mediocrely but passionately.
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