USA | 7 minutes | 2020
Narrative short film by Yongmin Hwang
Starring Joyce Kim
A short film about a young woman’s hunt for social media cred.
CineAsian Films (CAF): A very timely film about our society’s obsession today with searching for online validation. What inspired you to explore this topic from this perspective?
Yongmin Hwang: The visual approach of Ethicool was inspired by my experience on Uber Pool rides. Whenever I joined a group ride, instead of socializing with the other passengers, I’d bury my face into my phone and scroll mindlessly through my Instagram feed. More often than not, the other passengers would be doing the same. Once the rides ended and I got out of the car, a fog would lift. I’d become unsettled by how hypnotically chained I was to my phone, blocking out the world. This gave me the idea to make a film with a first person perspective of this “chain”. By literally anchoring a phone to the camera, I wanted to call out how I’m anchored to my phone screen, unable to look away.
CAF: The design for Ethicool is incredible. What was the process behind designing the app’s look and animating it for the film?
Hwang: Thank you, that means a lot! It was definitely a team effort. To begin, I storyboarded out the flow of the app animation with crude drawings and timing instructions. I also wanted to include Egyptian mythological motifs, such as weighing a heart against a feather, and give it a bastardized makeover to fit into the world of the Ethicool app. Once I settled on the creative direction, I relied on the talents of my writing partner Judith Park, who’s a professional graphic designer. She created all the art assets in Adobe Illustrator, converting my crude drawings to clean works of art. Finally, my high school friend and current roommate Jonathan Eden, who’s a seasoned animator at South Park, graciously offered to animate the app in After Effects. He used Judith’s art assets and worked off my storyboards. To finalize, we’d hash out the timing of the animation together in person. Overall, they both did an incredible job!
CAF: What was the hardest thing to film about a story that is so centered around the phone screen?
Hwang: The hardest part about filming the phone screen was the finger tap timing! Jon had rendered out video clips of the app, and we used the prop phone to play back the video clips in real time during filming. Unfortunately, we didn’t foresee adding countdown audio cues to let the actress Joyce Kim know when to tap the screen. So she would have to practice on the fly with the video clip playing, learning the timing of when to mimic tapping the phone to show her “pressing” a button in the app. But this was really tricky, and it took several takes for her to “tap” the screen at the right time. I have to give total props to Joyce for selling the taps to make it seem like the phone wasn’t playing a video clip, but rather a genuine interaction with a real-life app.
CAF: What do you hope people will take away from watching Ethicool?
Hwang: I hope people, upon watching Ethicool, will reflect on their motivations for using social media. For me, likes and view counts make me feel important and loved. From an armchair anthropology perspective, then, our pursuit of online validation gives rise to a new social landscape. Influencers, like Logan Paul, flirt with the boundaries of morality to achieve internet fame. I wanted to explore this new morality in Ethicool. Overall, I hope that people watching the film consider my view that influencers are the apex predators of the social media jungle. They are to be admired, but also feared.
Ethicool is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.
Director, Writer, Producer, Editor: Yongmin Hwang
Cinematographer: Robby Salisbury
Animator: Jonathan Eden
Composer: Scott Francisco
1st AD: Allie Bevacqua
Also featuring: Brett Harris, Judith Park, Jasmin Oertel
More from Yongmin Hwang: Jesa