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Joy Hao 301133211 Amy Truong 301154486

IAT 206 Final Project: Grant Proposal
Life or Death: a short expository documentary

Michael Filimowicz David Newman

Part I. Abstract

"Life or Death" will be an expository documentary that explores the existence of extreme fans in Korea, and the impact they have on the entertainment industry, and by extension, its economy and culture. We will be using video clips, articles, and first-person accounts to show how fans interact with their favourite celebrities, and the effects their actions have. We plan to interview some participants and show them some fan-taken footage, along with news articles related to fan activities in Korea; we will be recording their reactions and opinions towards this information to compile into a short film. The final video will be posted online for others to view and comment on, hopefully starting discussions that will give a more detailed insight into what people thought before watching, and if their views on the subject differed after.
In particular, we will be exploring the aspect of stalker fans, and whether or not it is appropriate for idols to react with violence in self-defence. As a result, we will be briefly touching on the general views towards mental illnesses and gender roles in Asian countries. In creating this documentary, we are hoping to expose a part of fan culture that does not receive much attention, potentially educating viewers on the relationship between celebrities and their fans. Through the interviews and comments, we would like to discover what fans and non-fans alike may think of appropriate reactive behaviors, and whether or not there should be decisive actions taken against celebrity idols.

Part II. Project Narrative

Our proposed project will be a short video documentary, that depicts and exposes "sasaeng" fans in the Korean entertainment industry, using the idol groups "JYJ" and "TVXQ" as primary examples. It will not follow the format of a traditional expository documentary, as we intend for there to be as little bias or persuasion as possible. We are most interested in seeing what people in North America think of the phenomenon of extreme fans, regardless of their interest or knowledge in Korean pop music culture. This project is unique in that there is not much known about extreme fans in Korea, and few articles or videos exist that provide a full, unbiased view of this phenomena. Media attention tends towards condemning either the fans or the artists, but never pauses to consider what outside forces may have influenced the way both groups act. It is important that this information is shared, so that these fans and celebrities can better understand each other, and receive help for the issues addressed in the documentary. Everyone is a fan of someone, or something, and it is frustrating to see fellow human beings act reprehensibly towards others and other cultures because they are uninformed or prejudiced. We hope that by viewing this documentary, fans will begin to understand that they are an integral part of what makes an idol who they are, and that they should not act rashly in a way that insults a culture or its people; nor should they refuse to acknowledge that someone they idolize may have done a morally condemnable thing, and that apologetic actions should be taken. It is important that people realize that although much of society revolves around celebrities, they too are regular people that have imperfect reactions and thoughts, and should not above punishments or atonements. We want this project to become something that will be able to enlighten viewers on the subject of Korea's entertainment culture, encourage fans to act in a responsible and intelligent manner, as well as advocate a higher level of contemplation when considering behaviors between any groups of people, specifically concerning how behaviors are seen and influenced through networks, archives, tribes, gender, violence, and politics.
There are several layers to the existence of extreme fans, usually dependent their portrayal in the media. "Sasaeng", literally meaning "private life" and also a homonym for "life or death" (Fortyninpointfivebananas, 2010), is used to describe the fans who stalk their favourite celebrities. These fans will follow idols around all day, waiting outside their homes, as well as any restaurants, salons, and boutiques they visit. This specific action alone is not particularly harmful, but some fans carry much a much deeper devotion and have done some very invasive things, such as breaking into the dormitories and apartments of idols, obtaining their private cell phone numbers and social security numbers, as well as purposely causing car accidents (Redfaith, 2012). Firstly, let us focus on the fact that "sasaeng" fans are essentially a tribe, being a very closed group that benefits from disclosing information sparsely, and only amongst each other (Millett, 2008). No one individual can benefit, as there will surely be repercussions through reduced information, and being rendered an outsider. Secondly, these extreme fans are highly dependent on networking, using social media platforms to constantly keep updated on where idols are, and what they are doing. As stated by Wellman and Haythornthwaite in New Media: The Key Concepts, "Their computer-mediated communication has become part of their everyday lives" (pp. 25). This becomes blatantly apparent, as there has to be a constant stream of information gathered and shared to different members of fan communities, and communication through cell phones and internet forums are the most common methods (tvN-ENews, 2012). This networking extends internationally, as fans in countries across the globe have a difficult time procuring news on these celebrities locally. Fancams are uploaded on YouTube, and shared amongst fansites that translate articles and press releases; photos, art, and fan accounts are also parts of these new media archives, making them "individualized and highly collaborative" (Beer & Gane, 2008, pp. 86). The issue then becomes one of authenticity, as much of the news relies on proper translations and fan interpretation. There exists "anti-fans" who would wish to damage the name and reputations of certain celebrities, and may post false accounts of a meeting, or intentionally provoke an artist into lashing out. All this information is user-based content with a high level of interactivity, leaving both the fan or anti-fan as well as the celebrity open to attacks from anyone online. In the case of the idol group "JYJ", there are even media outlets controlled by entertainment companies that would publish harmful rumors as a show of political power. These facts become the basis of many issues surrounding the controversy of "sasaeng" fans and relevant celebrities in relation to privacy and violence, along with mental and gender issues.
Celebrities obviously have a difficult time keeping their private lives separate from their public identities. Korean idols are representatives of popular music, and just like the genre itself, they must both “provoke the listener’s attention” and yet remain natural and realistic (Adorno, 1941, pp. 71). To put it harshly, they are just as manufactured as the music they perform, and must constantly monitor their image (Yoon, 2010). As celebrities, they must be prepared for their lives to be open, but is there a line that cannot be crossed? As human beings, they have the right to keep certain things to themselves. The question here is whether or not “sasaengs” are going too far in their search for whatever may be behind the public personas, and whether or not celebrities are overreacting. This becomes especially serious when violence is introduced. If an artist hits a fan, who is as fault: the celebrity who has reacted violently, or the fan who has actively violated the celebrity? Furthermore, depending on the representation of events in the media, the violence may have been much less complex and compelling, or overdramatized and deliberately misleading (Prince, 2004, pp.181). Something else to contemplate is the role gender plays in these scenarios. If it was an older male fan who had groped a teenaged female celebrity, would the blame be placed entirely on the male fan? Because of societal views concerning what defines “masculine” and “feminine”, males may be expected to never retaliate against females because they are stronger, and much more aggressive (Quigley, 2009, pp.6). And finally, some thought must be placed upon how idols are treated both by their management companies and their fans. Many artists are recruited at a young age, and suffer many hardships to debut as an idol. They are very isolated from regular society, and have limited interactions with members of the public. There is incredible stress placed upon them; they must always perform well, lest they are cut from the company and left without a proper education, or functioning social skills. Asian countries tend to “not accept the medical model of depression” (Karasz, 2005) and there is a “lack of knowledge and negative stereotypes” concerning mental illnesses (Jang, Kim, Hansen & Chiriboga, 2007) which means these celebrities do not undergo therapy or counselling. The obsessive behaviors of “sasaeng” fans are often seen as simply part of being young and infatuated.
We were inspired through reading articles and reports on this issue, being fans of Asian culture ourselves. We found it frustrating that the media was reporting with undisguised bias and superficial details. It was also very disappointing to see fellow fans instantly condemn each other or the celebrities without first ruminating on how and why these actions happened. This project will differ and build from past work by exploring all sides of the conflict instead of simply presenting either “sasaengs” or idols. It will be a collection of information that includes what people actually think on the subject, and how they have reacted. There will be research that supports both sides of the argument, using visuals as well as accounts. “Life or Death” will help advance the conversation through encouraging fans and non-fans alike to think critically about the issues we have addressed, specifically in researching the facts behind what the media reports, and looking for contributing factors that have not yet been mentioned.

Part III. Process

What we would like to do is introduce a range of people (in age, gender, and familiarity with Korean popular music) to an idol group, and explain how they become so popular. Specifically, we will describe how they were recruited and trained, how their schedules are arranged to achieve maximum exposure, and how the existence of their fans helps keep them relevant. Following this, we would show them "fancams" (short for fan cameras, meaning fan-taken footage) of these celebrities (or their managers) yelling, hitting, or shoving fans, before proceeding to ask our participants if these actions are justified. Then, we would proceed with showing them some other videos and photos of "sasaengs" following and calling these idols, as well as providing a list of intrusive and disturbing activities done by extreme fans that have been known to occur. Again, we will ask our participants if the previously shown violent reactions are justified. The entire time, we will be filming their reactions and responses to the clips and article. We plan on playing devil's advocate by giving them some more detailed facts concerning how entertainment companies maintain their idols and how society sees fan culture, as well as giving queries concerning the role gender plays in these scenarios. They will then be asked to put themselves in the position of both the artists and the fans, before being encouraged to share their final thoughts on the issue, and whether their opinions had changed throughout the experience. We will then take video cuts from the interviews and interject them with the footage and information shown in process during to create a short documentary entitled "Life or Death".
After receiving the grant, we would start work on intensive research over two weeks, looking for articles, fan accounts, videos, and other types of media. The following two weeks, we would collect videos and articles to sort and show participants, interviewing and recording their thoughts. In the last two weeks, we would record a scripted voice over for the final project, mix sound, edit the film, and re-shoot footage if necessary.

Part IV. Biography

I have taken courses on video production and journalism, and I believe the skills I have learned then have since been built upon, and will allow me to produce a quality documentary. The experiences I have gained from writing articles, interviewing others, and researching for relevant and legitimate information will contribute towards creating a thought-provoking documentary that explores the feelings of those who belong to the fan community, while encouraging the general public to think more deeply about media portrayals and societal pressures on celebrities and fans alike. In the past, I have created short films on other subjects, which has given me feedback that helped me understand what it is an audience needs to engage with and understand specific meanings and messages, in regards to both compelling imagery and factual information. I am dedicated to the subject as a fan of Korean pop culture myself, and I believe my passion on this matter will transfer through to the final project. Currently, I am attending Simon Fraser University, majoring in Design under the School of Interactive Arts and Technology. In the future, I hope to become an industrial designer, as well as a novelist.

Part V. Outcomes

This project will of course further my interest in Korean pop culture through intensive research. It will also provide a portfolio piece that showcases my ability to put together a communicative and engaging piece of film. Through this opportunity, I hope to furthur develop my interview, writing, research, editing and filming skills, granting me experience with which I may use to attain work with other films and documentary pieces, or journalistic investigations and reports.
The specific media format of “Life or Death” will be an online film (.AVI or .MOV depending on sourced video clips) presented and released through YouTube or Vimeo. We believe there is no better venue nor format that would adequately convey the messages we hope to share, nor facilitate discussion as smoothly. We would plan to release the documentary online through the video-sharing sites stated, after promoting it on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for a fortnight, roughly three weeks after post-production is completed.

Part VI. Budget

For our purposes, we would need to purchase the following specific items:

$2500 Canon EOS 5D Mark II body
$1400 Canon EF 70-200 mm F4.0 lens
$1600 Canon 100mm 2.8L Macro lens
$600 Sony Vegas Pro 11 Software

Other non-specific items we would still require would be:

$70 Microphone Boom Arm
$200 Camera Tripod
$200 Shotgun Microphones
$150 Lapel 2-Microphone Kit
$100 32” 5-in-1 Reflector Kit
$500 Fluorescent 2-Light Kit (6 Lamps)

Along with other miscellaneous items, such as lens filters and caps, wireless remotes, camera bags, cables and extension cords, cloths and wipes, etc. at an estimated $1000.

Finally, we would also require an estimation of $1000 to pay for licensing fees incurred on any footage we purchase from KBS, MBC or SBS, the three major telvision networks in Korea.

Altogether, this amounts to roughly $8000, but if possible, we would like to receive a grant of $10,000 to cover any additional expenses we may not have not yet predicted.


Adorno, T. W. (1941). On Popular Music. In A. Easthope & K. McGowan (Eds.), A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader (pp. 211-222). Surrey, BC: Simon Fraser University.
Beer, D., & Gane, N. (2008). New Media: The Key Concepts. New York, NY: Berg Publishers.
Dana. (2012, March 7). JYJ and Sasaeng Fans: An Ugly Controversy. Retrieved from http://seoulbeats.com/2012/03/jyj-and-sasaeng-fans-an-ugly-controversy/
Fortyninepointfivebananas. (2010, March 1). What it means to be a “sasaeng” fan. [Translation]. Retrieved from http://fortyninepointfivebananas.tumblr.com/post/419904902/
Jang, Y., Kim, G., Hansen, L. and Chiriboga, D. A. (2007). Attitudes of Older Korean Americans Toward Mental Health Services. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55(4), 616–620. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01125.x
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Millett, J.J. (2008). People Unlike Us. Amherst, N.Y. : Humanity Books.
Prince, S. (2004). Violence. In M. Filimowicz (Ed.), Media Across Cultures (pp. 173-181). Surrey, BC: Simon Fraser University.
Quigley, T. (2009, February 22). A Brief Outline of Psychoanalytic Theory [PDF Document]. Retrieved from http:homepage.newschool.edu/~quigleyt/vcs/psychoanalysis-intro.pdf
Redfaith. (2012, March 8). What JYJ/DBSK’s sasaeng fans had done? Retrieved from http://www.gokpop.com/news/what-jyj-dbsks-sasaeng-fans-had-done-list-of-crazy-activities::10789.html
tvN-ENews. (2012, March 20). Reality of Sasaengs [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp8wZHV3Taw&feature=player_embedded
Yoon, L. (2010, August 27). Korean Pop, with Online Help, Goes Global. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/world/aricle/0,8599,2013227,00.html