Like the nameless mysterious brown invitation cards in “Squid Game,” it started with a Slack message from Professor Bellantoni, with no context nor details, asking me if I was available on Monday night.
The next thing I knew, I found myself with four other Annenberg Media journalists Steven Vargas, Jocelyn Stone, Julia Kim, and Tess Patton, preparing to interview the international superstars of “Squid Game,” on the pink carpet. With the assistance of Professors Bellantoni and Mary Murphy, Annenberg Media had an exclusive opportunity to cover a red carpet event for “Squid Game” hosted by Netflix. Coming from Singapore, I could never have imagined I would be able to photograph and speak to stars of an international hit TV show. That excitement also came with trepidation as we were thrust straight into a professional, red carpet event, with real reputational stakes. As this reality sunk in, Tess, a sophomore journalist exclaimed, “I am so excited! I can’t believe Annenberg trusted us to do this!” However, we all felt the excitement of this rare opportunity to successfully do high-quality journalism on the biggest stage.
A banner and carpet meticulously cleaned and straightened out by Netflix staff told us our dreams were becoming a reality when we arrived. Event security ensured none of us stepped onto the pink carpet.
Media crew members came up 1 hour early to prepare, rolling in a trolley full of heavy equipment. Some took the opportunity to capture some B-Roll footage of the setting.
Julia and I were tasked with recording a live segment for Annenberg TV Network (ATVN) straight from the carpet. We were both very nervous, as Julia had never done a live stand-up before and I had never operated a Remote-Live TV Unit. When we reached the carpet, I frantically set up while Julia repeatedly rehearsed her stand-up. We were thankfully able to pipe footage back to the studio smoothly. As the clock struck 5:30 pm and ATVN went live there was an uneasy moment as we waited for our turn to go live. Then, when the call came, I gave Julia the cue. On camera, Julia successfully delivered her first live stand-up for ATVN.
Behind the microphone, Julia experienced a torrent of emotions. “My hands were shaking from the nerves and my mind was blank white— people were talking to me but I remember not being able to process anything — I felt hyper-focused on not stumbling over my words,” she reflected. “I’m really grateful for my teammates encouraging me before the interviews and ending up with astounding results!”
As we wound down the adrenaline of completing the live stand-up, more cameras decked the carpet. Each camera was easily worth more than $50,000, along with their own sound mixer and additional audio equipment. Our equipment: a camcorder, iPhone, and a simple remote TV unit, paled in comparison.
However, we punched above our weight and delivered fresh content for ATVN and social media with what we had. Under Steven’s guidance, the team soon switched gears and prepared for the pink carpet interviews. Tess prepared the camcorder for the next day’s ATVN segment. Meanwhile, Jocelyn was focused on recording fun content for social media.
As Jocelyn wielded her iPhone on a trusty phone tripod, an adjacent camera man cheekily remarked “Kids nowadays want it filmed vertically!” Jocelyn reflected that in spite of being surrounded by “big time cameras,” “covering socials for Annenberg Media from Tik-Tok to Instagram was so fun because nobody else has reported on [Squid Game live] before.” She gushed how “awesome” the final reel looked, “[it] really showcased how special the event was.”
Soon, the carpet was a sea of tripods and crew members. Crews from media outlets such as the Associated Press, Reuters, Entertainment Tonight stood alongside us with producers, sound technicians, camera operators, and of course, news anchors.
While I have been a photographer for more than 5 years, I found out the hard way that commercial red carpet photography is not as forgiving. Immediately when the stars showed up, seasoned professional photographers muscled their way forward, and shouted loudly in hopes of getting their attention. Caught off guard after being almost trampled, I initially struggled in getting a clean angle.
Eventually, I managed to find my voice and my space, capturing stars (clockwise from top-left) Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, and Jung Ho-yeon on my own camera.
As the director and cast went about with their interviews, anchors such as KTLA 5′s Doug Kolk had some tricks up his sleeve. He pulled out a Dalgona cookie and asked director Hwang Dong-hyuk for tips on the challenge. He successfully pulled a laugh and some smiles out of the typically stoic director.
As a native Korean speaker, Julia opted to interview the director and the stars for the ATVN segment in their native tongue. She pre-translated the questions and rehearsed repeatedly prior to the interview. When it came to our turn to interview them, she recalled “It felt hard to breathe because I was getting so nervous.”
Julia was the only anchor on the carpet that spoke directly to the director and cast without the need for a translator. It certainly made a difference and the cast was even more comfortable in expressing themselves. When Park Hae-soo cited “Oh f*** Gi-hun” (in Episode 8: Front Man) as his favorite line of the film, castmate Jung Ho-yeon, gasped in gleeful shock, walked back to compose herself and came back to chide him for cursing on record in front of students. He explained his transgression, “That was the main turning point for Sang-woo when his character and his desire changed. Even when he harms someone, he starts to be able to justify his actions. Honestly, that entire dialogue in that specific scene resonated the most with me.”
The show’s director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, is a fellow Trojan and graduated with an M.F.A. in Film Production. We sought his advice for current students and particularly young filmmakers at USC. He urged students to “enjoy their life” and said, “[if] you don’t have fun in your 20′s when else are you gonna have fun.” He also challenged students to take risks, saying “the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward you will receive. If you don’t take risks when you’re in your 20s, it will be harder to take risks in your 40s.”
As we closed the interview and the last star was ushered away into the theater for the audience Q&A, Julia turned around and was in pure shock. “I am feeling very nervous, still a little shaky. This is the closest I got to stars!” she exclaimed. She shares, “I am really thankful for the opportunity that was given to interview [the director and cast]. It feels really good representing [USC].”
View the ATVN interview segment with “Squid Game” director and cast here
Opportunities like this are hard to come by. They viscerally humble you, as you realize how much you have to learn standing next to professionals in the midst of the adrenaline in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The city of Angels is where media opportunities are aplenty and I am extremely grateful and honored to be here.