A film by Sean Conley, in partnership with Prime & Fire Selects, Talenthouse and BFI Future Film; Marble City sheds a light on the skateboarding scene in South Korea’s capital (Seoul).
The film focuses on Wongyu Kim, a skateboarder who has been part of the city’s skateboarding scene for the last 16 years. Over the last two decades, Seoul and skateboarding have become gradually entwined. The scene, which was virtually nonexistent in the 90s, is now one of the jewels in Asia’s crown.
Marble City not only shows us that Seoul’s architectural layout is perfect for skateboarding, but also that perceptions within a city can affect what that city becomes. The people who live in Seoul have, for a long-time, seen skateboarding as a fad and skateboards as oversized toys.
As a result of this casual attitude, there are no laws against skating and no real concept of skateboarding being a public nuisance. These conditions have allowed the scene here to blossom without restrictions. This giant city, with a population of 9.8 million, has consequently turned into something of a playground for skaters.
Prime & Fire Selects, in association with Factory Media, is an annual film competition giving up-and-coming filmmakers the funds and support to create short human-interest documentaries within the realms of action sports.
We spoke to Sean Conley about his experiences in Seoul, what motivated him to make the film, and his plans for the future.
I was born in Nashville, Tennessee. I started skateboarding when I was about 14. My friends and I started making skate videos using whatever camera anyone had.
I moved to South Korea in the fall of 2013, not knowing anything about it. I was living in a small town with about 9,000 people. My wife and I were the only foreigners. There was nowhere to skate and nothing to do. It was miserable. I found a curb and that was my skate spot. I began to wonder if other people skated in towns near me.
I took a trip to Seoul and met up with a few Korean skaters who showed me some seriously cool spots. I couldn’t believe the amount of untouched marble I was seeing.
It was a skateboarding paradise.
We moved to Seoul, and I started skating all the time. After a while, I began to wonder why no big skate companies came here. I thought maybe nobody knew about it. I was already filming with my friend, so I talked to him about making a skate video all about Korea. It was this same friend who told me about Prime & Fire Selects
From that moment on, I became determined to represent the skate scene in Korea.
Wongyu Kim is special because he has been skating for 16 years, and has watched the Seoul skate scene go from nonexistent in the late 90’s to what it is now. There has been quite a huge change, with the internet and the resulting exposure this had on skating. I wanted to talk to someone who had witnessed that first hand.
We’ve had similar movements in the states, on both the east coast and west coast of course, but this was brand new in Korea.
People in Korea still don’t really know what to think of skateboarding.
My friend knew Wongyu, and thought he would be a great person to talk to. He didn’t speak much English so another friend of mine translated our questions. Wongyu was shy at first, but opened up when we got into it.
The most difficult part was trying to get him to let me film him skate. He was really hesitant, but I was thinking, “Man I have to have some tricks off him, he’s the main guy!”
Initially, I just wanted to highlight how amazing the skate spots were.
During the interview, the piece became more personal and I decided to include photos of Wongyu when he first started skating, and then it went from there. The more we translated, the more it started to come together.
My friend Ryan Foley, and I, were skating through my neighbourhood when the sunset exploded the sky with colour. I set my camera up and got what is one of my favourite shots in the film.
It’s one of those shots where you know it’s going to look awesome. I geek out a bit on cinematography, so I really dig when the lighting and everything works out like that.
No matter where you go in the world, skateboarding is skateboarding.
You may not speak the same language as someone, but you can share skateboarding together. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but it’s true.
Wongyu taught me that even though Seoul, a city of almost 10 million people, has a small skate scene; they are as passionate as any group of skaters I’ve ever met. Skateboarding is still fairly new in Korea, so it isn’t illegal. You definitely can’t get arrested for it, and I don’t remember seeing any places that were prohibiting skating.
There is such an amazing group of skaters in Seoul, and the scene is only going to get bigger.
I met so many amazing skaters while working on this, and a lot of them became friends, so that was awesome in and of itself.
The most memorable part of this experience, though, was when I held the premiere in Seoul. I made a Facebook event and about 40 people RSVP’d so, naturally, I was thinking maybe 30 would show up. Well the place filled up with about 100 people. I had to do 2 showings.
Everyone was seriously hyped.
The film actually turned out better than I first envisioned it. It was originally going to just be about the skate spots in Seoul and how it was a cool place to be, but it turned into something so much more personal.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent working on this, it’s probably in the thousands, no joke. So the main thing I learned in this experience is that you have to love what you do; this film was a real labor of love.
After all this time, I know now more than ever that this is what I want to do. Life is short, so do what you love!
I minored in film studies so I have a lot of heroes, but one that always comes to mind is Spike Jonze. I think he is inspirational to me because he started off as a skateboard photographer for a magazine, then started shooting skate videos, then he co-founded a skateboard company, and started making music videos before becoming an award-winning director.
I have already started to work on a documentary about Daily Grind, the main blog about the skate scene in Korea. I also just moved to Portland, Oregon so I am hoping to get involved with the skate scene here and do some skate filming trips.
Thanks to Serey Siv, Hoeun Choi, Wongyu Kim, Wonseok Lee, Prime & Fire Selects, BFI, Talenthouse and all the skaters in Seoul!