Justin Ivan Hong talks new film ‘Black Friday’ and finding his way to cinematography

The arts have always been a dominant part of Justin Ivan Hong’s life. In his earliest years, he had an interest in sketching and drawing, and at the age of six he was given a little point and shoot camera, which he used to take random snapshots in his home

“I think that definitely started to spark an interest in seeing the world, and also framing the world, within the confines of four corners,” he said.

As he grew older, Hong began to understand the relation between drawing and photography, and discovered that Cinematography was the amalgamation of these two crafts he loved so dearly. 

“A cinematographer is essentially creating in real life, exactly how they want to, and then using photography as a medium to capture it. It was the perfect collision of my interests,” he said.

Now an industry leading cinematographer, Hong has shown the world his innate artistic talents through countless acclaimed productions. His film A State of Self took home major awards at prominent international film festivals like Los Angeles Film Awards and Hollywood North Film Awards, and he has worked alongside top Hollywood talent such as Star Wars icon Mark Hamill on Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest and Tony nominated actor Colman Domingo in AMC’s latest hit Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s. Hong’s contributions to these projects have not gone unnoticed, and have impressed audiences, critics, and colleagues alike.

“Justin once told me that he served two years as an Air Force officer in Singapore. That’s

probably part of the reason why he’s so good at being a cinematographer. Crafting nice

and meaningful images is one thing, but I think being a cinematographer is much more

than that. It’s equally a leadership and management role as it is creative. The way Justin

instructs and leads his team is truly impressive,” said Corey Lubowich, Producer of the film Black Friday where he worked alongside Hong.

Black Friday is a motion picture depicting the fictional town of Hatchetfield and its inhabitants. Over one faithful Black Friday, the holiday season’s hottest toy, the Tickle-Me Wiggly, causes the town’s mass hysteria to boil over and turn sinister. A small group of the town’s residents soon discover that there’s more to the toy than just the doll, as an evil supernatural being is attempting to physically manifest itself and is slowly taking over the souls and minds of the town, and eventually the world. One small group of residents needs to fight off the growing army, and perhaps, save humanity’s existence. 

“I think that the story was such a great balance between entertainment and a social commentary on our culture’s obsession with objects and consumerism. I think that the best kind of art is one that doesn’t try to preach a message to an audience, but rather, put forth a subtle idea and story that would make an audience think for themselves. I think that this project was very successful in achieving that goal,” said Hong.

Hong had collaborated with StarKid Productions on many projects before, so when they approached him with this newest story, there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to be a part of it. After reading the script, he prepared a proposal on how he would best reflect the wacky nature of some of the characters and story elements in every scene. His idea was to amplify the slightly outlandish nature of the story and characters, but still maintain a level of believability. To balance these two ends of the spectrum, Hong was to identify moments in the movie where the cinematography could go all out with extreme colors and lighting, but also knowing when to pull back and let the characters take the lead – bright and colorful vs muted and monochromatic, quick and energetic camera moves vs steady locked of shots.

“Cinematography is always a delicate balance between effectiveness and subtlety. It shouldn’t overshadow the actors or story, but yet it needs to be obvious enough to say something sub textually,” Hong described.

Black Friday was first released on demand to the massive fan base that StarKid has, originally garnered for the success of the company’s original A Very Potter Musical. The following and fan base of StarKid spans the entire globe and it was enough to make this a financial success. After its video on demand run, it was released to the wider public on YouTube. To date, it has garnered over 2.7 million views on the platform. Hong’s approach to the cinematography was greatly appreciated by StarKid and their many fans.

“It was certainly very satisfying to see the audience react positively to ideas that aren’t quite within the norm or what is expected,” he concluded.

Check out Black Friday to see Hong’s stunning and complex cinematography in action.

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