제목 [News] Behind the scenes of Olympic preparations [The Korea Times 2018-03-21]
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The "light of harmony" performance takes place during the closing ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Feb. 25 at the Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Song elaborates on back story of Olympic preparation 

Only a month after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics ended did executive creative director Song Seung-hwan open up about the variety of interesting episodes and difficulties he faced while preparing for the opening and closing ceremonies of the international event. His fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of Olympic preparations came only at a closed-door event at a hotel in Seoul, Tuesday, organized by one of his advisers, professor Choi Jung-hwa, president of the Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI).

"The reason I came here is because I owe Choi an idea. She's one of our advisory committee members. Remember the Olympic torch? An important idea came from a story I heard from her," Song began, explaining why he couldn't refuse her invitation.

"Our team had held dozens of meetings about how to design the torch. None of them pleased me. Then one day, Choi told me the French culture critic Guy Sorman started saying since a few years ago that a moon jar was the best, when until years ago he had been lauding a thinking Buddha sculpture. So that story hit my mind and so came the design for the torch in the form of a moon jar."

The PyeongChang Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies were a success. Positive reviews came from both within and outside the country. What was amazing was Song worked on a very tight budget of 600 billion won, one-tenth that put into the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But Song managed to pull off a magnificent show.

"My biggest concern, since I was appointed to executive director in 2015, was that in two years the Olympics will be held in Tokyo and in four years in China. I wondered how to portray the beauty of Korea differentiated from Japan and China," Song said.

Song Seung-hwan, executive creative director of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, speaks during a closed-door event at a hotel in Seoul, Tuesday, organized by Choi Jung-hwa, president of the Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI). / Courtesy of CICI 

"Most people around the world think of China and Japan when they think of Asia. Honestly, whatever we try, it looks Chinese, because we were influenced by China. The torch was initially designed as a brazier but even that looked Chinese. So I gathered a group of humanities scholars to study the differences between the three cultures. Then I came up with the concept of harmony and convergence. Korea is amazing with that.

"Look at how traditional Korean architecture harmoniously blends with nature. Koreans appreciate harmony with nature. As for contemporary culture, Koreans are geniuses with convergence. K-pop is a form of convergence between Western pop and Korea's energy, passion and dance. The Nanta performance I created is also a mix of samulnori percussion and slapstick comedy. So I started with these two concepts -- the harmony of traditional culture and the convergence of contemporary culture."

While viewers marveled at the visual arts feast in front of their eyes, those who were behind the scenes went through blood, sweat, tears and toil.

"It took months to create one scene. Every director had a different idea and it was so hard to bring them together. For instance, deciding on the color of a dress took months. The costume director wanted red while the visual arts director wanted blue on screen while the music director felt yellow portrayed his music better. In the end I had to make the decision. The process was so hard because I had to bring them together over the two-and-a-half-year period. I chose to stand back and let them fight, and wait. When they were tired of arguing, they were ready to accept my verdict."

Among netizens there were criticisms and complaints over why K-pop star Psy didn't appear on the show. Song had a funny story to that.

"It took the team one year (can you believe it!) to decide whether or not to have Psy on stage. Half wanted him while the other half didn't. After a year, we finally came to a consensus to invite him, only for the closing ceremony, and create a party mood. But when I went to see Psy to recruit him, guess what he said: no. We've been debating this and wasting our time when the singer wasn't interested!"

The magnificent drone performance was a result of the low budget, Song said.

"I watched all the previous Olympics and they were great. But one thing they didn't do was use drones. So I decided to do that because we need to do something the others hadn't done," he said.

"We didn't have enough people to use due to the budget. The performers in our opening and closing ceremonies combined were less than 3,000, while in Beijing the first scene alone consisted of 3,000 people. So one way to compensate was to use a lot of images."

There were obstacles to using drones, however. Law banned flying drones at night and over a crowd of people. So Song went to lawmakers and the transport ministry to convince them to change the law. In the end, the law changed last summer to allow drone flying at night under government approval. And because flying over a crowd was still disallowed, the IOC and OBS decided to pre-record the drone show.

Another episode Song shared was that of the slope leading to the torch which changed colors and turned into stairs as torchbearers ascended. This was magnificent on screen, but a horror backstage until the very last minute.

"When I requested this, at first the technicians said it wasn't possible with local technology. In the end, however, they did it," said Song.

"But the day before the opening ceremony, plans changed to having two torchbearers -- players from both South and North Korea. Immediately our technical director came to me and said, the stairs were designed for carrying one person and could only hold less than 100 kilograms. It could stop when overloaded. So we had to rehearse this but the two players couldn't make it to the rehearsal. So at midnight, two of our female staff each weighing 60 kilograms went up the stairs to test if they could bear their weight. Fortunately, it worked fine. The two players came right before the ceremony and thankfully played their part well."

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