A Conversation with Amy Hoff

Posted by WebVee on April 22, 2016 in Interview
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On a recent trip to Korea, Amy Hoff, filmmaker, novelist, and folklorist chatted with WebVee Guide’s Kyle Price-Livingston
As a film maker, what does the term “male gaze” mean to you?
 
“Male gaze” in this instance refers to the way that women are filmed. I decided I wanted to flip this around, and I film men in the same way as women. That is why you see slow-motion shots as well as the full-body pan with characters that are meant to be traditionally handsome. Women are also interested in men, and it’s a fun way to express that, through Leah’s POV.
 
What role does gender play in the ways you write, cast and direct?
 
I have always enjoyed writing multiple different types of people and avoiding one specific version of gender. Gender itself is on a continuum, so I want to provide as many variations and representations as possible. That’s why the characters of Caledonia run the gamut from traditionally masculine and feminine, to genderfluidity, transgender, and many points in between.
 
Some people see the “Male Gaze” filming style as being a poor choice not just because of the heteronormativity but because they feel that sexualizing ANY character is in some way trivializing. These people would say that it’s better to film without any gendered gaze at all than to sexualize men and women equally. Does that approach make sense? Could that work?
 

I don’t necessarily think that sexualising characters is trivialising; many people in real life experience sexual attraction and sex is something that exists in the world. I think there are films that don’t need it, of course, and there are people who aren’t interested in sex, but it’s a part of life and storytelling should reflect that.

Are your male actors aware of the way in which they’re being filmed? Or rather, are they aware of it as something that isn’t usually done? How do they feel about it?
 

They are definitely aware of it because I’ve told them in advance, and they have seen the results of the direction. We haven’t had a lot of conversations about it, but our group does a lot of unconventional things so it’s pretty much par for the course that we’d play with gender roles this way. Since they’re the ones being filmed I think they’re okay with it, and some of the scenes (such as Magnus’s famous hair-toss in season 1) are favourites among the company.

Have you had feedback from male-attracted fans regarding the film style? 

Many fans refer to both Magnus and Robert when discussing characters they like, particularly the scenes that were created in this way. In one review, a quote ‘Damn, Hoff sure likes her pretty men’ has been mentioned repeatedly, so people have noticed.

You’ve spent some time in South Korea. How did that happen?
 
I was hired to teach history in Seoul. I am a historian and folklorist, so I have worked in academia and specialise in urban legend monster research, particularly in the media. I didn’t have much of a concept of South Korea at the time, but upon walking into Incheon International Airport for the first time, I knew things were going to be wildly different.
 
Different cultures have different standards regarding gender and sexuality. Are there any differences you’ve noticed between American and Korean culture? How about specifically within entertainment?
 
Yes, I think there are. Male beauty is focused on here in Korea far more than anywhere else I have been. There is also a lot more same-sex touching allowed in Korea; good friends hold hands, cuddle, sit on each other’s laps. In entertainment, men and women are both allowed to dress in outrageous fashions, most of which look as though they were developed for a science fiction program. I also see men photographed and filmed in the kind of position that women are often filmed in other places. The models and stars are shown with slightly open mouths, submissive posture, focusing on flawless beauty rather than any kind of macho imagery. Men also tend to advertise the makeup stores, and there are men’s sections in every makeup store I have gone into. However, there are some overtures to masculinity here – I once saw an advertisement for BB cream that read: Real men don’t wear makeup, real men wear BB cream. (BB cream is makeup.)
 
You’ve written fantasy, a genre which has a rich tradition of strong heroines, but probably an even richer tradition of misogynistic gender role nonsense. How has that history impacted the stories you’ve told?
 
I’ve always tried to avoid the misogynistic aspect of fantasy, both in my writing and what I choose to read or watch. I like to think there is no particular role for any variation on gender, and when I write I like to create characters that do not follow particular guidelines for their gender. My most recent novel is set in a fantasy world where gender expectations are almost the exact opposite of what they are in our reality.
 
How did the experience of going to Korea shape the way you told stories?
 
I had always wondered what it would be like if male beauty had been as focused on as female, and living in Seoul taught me that in some places this is true. South Korea is the male makeup capital of the world, and the flower boy aesthetic is very popular here.This concept of men always being presentable and fashionable is an interesting culture to experience, although it does have many of the downsides that this obsession with beauty has always had on women.
 
You’re in Seoul right now. You’ve spoken before about how much you love bringing people to Korea. Did you bring any of your cast who hadn’t been there before? How has that been? 
 
Caledonia is based on a series of novels I wrote, partially on the Seoul subway, while splitting my time between the UK and other places. The second novel, Mortal Souls, which corresponds to season 2, has a gumiho as one of the primary characters. The opening of the novel takes place in Silla Dynasty-era Korea, and then in modern Seoul. Linn Mattisson, the actress playing Lee Yoo Min, had to be flown here along with cameraman Joseph Bell. They absolutely loved it here. I remember we were eating patbingsu in the airport before returning to the UK. Joseph said, “The way you have always talked this place up, I didn’t have high expectations, I came into this prepared for disappointment.” I said, “What do you think now?” He replied, “You didn’t talk it up enough! You didn’t mention all these other things, I don’t want to get on the plane!”
 
Would you make Caledonia differently if it were a Korean show?
 
If it were a Korean show, it’d probably be based mostly in Korean mythology, so it would be different in that way. However, the general concept and humour would probably be the same.
 
What’s wrong with the way we handle portrayals of different genders and sexualities in popular media, and how do we fix it?
 
I personally feel that there is either exclusion or ‘after school special’ ways of handling various sexualities and gender differences, if they are shown at all. I’d like to see more examples of treating all these differences the same way as they are treated in everyday life. That is, someone’s sexuality, gender identity, and so forth, is only one aspect of who they are, not their entire story. I’d like to see more stories where the main character also just happens to be gay, or just happens to be (fill in the blank). It’s an aspect of their lives, not their entire lives, and there’s no reason to believe that every hero must be a straight white man.
 
Please rank your top 3 Korean pop stars/groups:
 
Xiah Junsu will always be first and foremost, because what he did was very brave and he became successful on his own. Then Big Bang, because my introduction to Kpop was the nonstop playing of Wow, Fantastic Baby underneath my apartment window when I first moved to Seoul. Then Shinee, because they are amazing dancers.
 
Why can’t I dress like a Korean pop star?
 
Why hasn’t everybody accepted that this is clearly the way to live? I don’t see why you can’t. The only reason I can figure is that nobody has the access to the various makeups, dyes, and fantastic outfits the Kpop stars have at their fingertips. As I’ve always said, everything you could ever possibly want exists in Seoul, it’s a constantly unfolding city, you just have to know where to look. As to why everyone hasn’t accepted that this is the way to live, clearly they’ve never been to Korea.
 

If media plays a role in the development of society, do socially progressive content creators have a responsibility to put out work that is outspokenly socially progressive? What responsibility does the artist have to the world around them?

When I was a child, most of my opinions and thoughts about the world were shaped by the media. Media can spark real social change, and it also helps teach children about equality. I think the artist has a responsibility to the world around them, to reflect what is there, and to show the diversity around them. It’s very important because you can change someone’s opinion and open their mind via storytelling.

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