Filmmaker and planet5D reader Rob Whitworth visits North Korea, and with stunning access to its capital city, Pyongyang, creates engaging Nikon time lapse and we've got some exclusive behind-the-scenes info!
If you’re like me (and after reading what’s next you may hope you are not), my sense of North Korea is informed primarily through the original 1962 version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE on the one hand and the much more recent TEAM AMERICA on the other.
I know, hardly a ringing endorsement of my worldliness.
And we really don’t hold it against Rob that it was shot with all Nikon gear.
Congrats to Rob and the team for…illumination.
Enter Pyongyang – a Nikon time lapse
From Rob Whitworth:
Little bit about the project – it was shot through the organisation of Koryo Tours who have been operating tours to NK for over 20 years.
The video has had 1.5 million plays in the sixty or so hours since launch, this is a crazy number.
Something that I've been watching with interest is peoples comments on the video. It was shot in five days, one of which was taken up storyboarding with no shooting.
That's not a lot of time to deliver a video. I would love to be able to take credit for directing the multiple thousand people who pass the camera in the metro sequence for example, I was to busy just trying to get the crazy ambitious single take nailed.
It was a totally beguiling place. So different from anything I've experienced before.
I'm afraid the news you guys are not going to want to know that it was shot using Nikon gear. Kit list below…
Nikon Kit List
Nikon D800 DSLR
Nikon D7100 DSLR
Nikon D7100 DSLR
Nikon D3200 DSLR
Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye
NIkon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX
Nikon 16-35 f/4G AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor
Nikon 28mm AF f/2.8D
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED AF-S VR II
About the video “Enter Pyongyang”
Via vimeo Description:
“Enter Pyongyang” is another stunning collaboration between city-branding pioneer JT Singh and flow-motion videographer Rob Whitworth. Blending Nikon time lapse photography, acceleration and slow motion, HD and digital animation, they have produced a cutting‐edge panorama of a city hardly known, but one emerging on the visitor’s landscape as North Korea’s opening unfolds.
North Korea was the last country seemingly immune to change—but no longer. Recent years have witnessed mobile phone penetration, a surge in tourists, and even a marathon. Numerous special economic zones have been launched in cooperation with China, Russia, and South Korea, with railways planned linking all countries in the region. “Enter Pyongyang” captures not just the city, but this dynamism and sense of potential.
This video is the single most significant multi-media contribution to transcending clichés about North Korea as a society defined by reclusiveness and destitution. To travel there is to witness a proud civilization, though one caught in a Cold War time-warp. Korean cultural traditions are meticulously preserved and displayed in authentic richness. Anyone who has witnessed the awe-inspiring Mass Games knows that, with great sacrifice, North Koreans can pull off a performance unparalleled in its precision.
“Enter Pyongyang” captures the reality of North Korean citizens as earnest and humane, not automatons. The infamous traffic ladies and subway guards stand stiff and sentinel—but today they share a smile too. The more North Koreans one meets, the more one sees an organic society that wants to be a normal country. If you travel there not to judge but to appreciate, you will come away with a better understanding of how challenging national transformation can be.
“Enter Pyongyang” is above all an invitation to explore. Few places in the world have been as hermetically sealed as North Korea, but Koryo Tours has made it possible not just to see North Korea but to engage with it in ways that were impossible until very recently. This is a window of opportunity not to be missed. If Pyongyang is no longer off limits, no place is.
–Foreword by Dr. Parag Khanna, Director, Hybrid Reality
Koryo Group: The Koryo team brought a wealth of valuable knowledge and expertise to this project. Thanks to their extensive experience in running tourism and cultural engagement projects in North Korea since 1993, we were able to get unprecedented access in Pyongyang. We are thankful to the Koryo team and their Korean partners for an unforgettable experience.
-How were you guys allowed to film in Pyongyang?
This project was produced in conjunction with Koryo Tours, the leading North Korea travel specialist. Co-producer Vicky Mohieddeen of Koryo Tours was with us throughout the shoot.
-Were there restrictions on what was allowed to be filmed?
We were closely assisted by two guides from the National Tourism Administration, who helped us gain special access to locations and made sure that we followed all the rules. As is standard for all foreign visitors to the country, we were not allowed to shoot any construction sites, undeveloped locations or military personnel. Other than that we were given relatively free reign.
-Isn’t this all fake? You don’t see the real North Korea.
The average visitor to Pyongyang is likely to be surprised by the scenes they encounter and are especially surprised about how clean and orderly the city actually is. Indeed, people living in Pyongyang and other major cities enjoy a higher quality of life than those in other parts of the county.
-Are people allowed to travel to North Korea?
Yes, despite what the majority of people think, it is possible to visit North Korea as a tourist. North Korea does not release official data on the number of Western tourists it receives, but estimates range from 4,000 to 6,000 per year. Most of the foreign tourists are from Mainland China, estimated in the tens of thousands annually.
-Were you paid to make this film?
We volunteered for this project with no pay at all. All other travel expenses for the 6 day trip were covered by Koryo Tours.
-Does this film support the DPRK government?
“Enter Pyongyang” is an observational film. At no point did Koryo Tours or we have to pretend to be supporters of the DPRK Government or their philosophy in order to be granted permission to shoot this film. Amazingly, we were given complete editorial control in the making of this piece.
Tom Day (Music)
(cover photo credit: snap from Rob Whitworth)
Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.
And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
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