RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2021

Mt. Freelance Podcast - Episode 103

Sue Kim

Freelance Director & Producer

Sue Kim has worked agency and client side as every kind of producer you can imagine, but became a director after her son introduced her to the world of competitive Rubik’s Cube. She’ll share how she worked with Netflix to make “The Speed Cubers,” how to get hired as a freelancer, and more.

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43 Min

Episode 103 Sue Kim Mt. Freelance Podcast Cover

Episode Recap

In our third episode Aaron James and Andrew Dickson welcome producer turned Oscar short-listed director Sue Kim, to the Mt. Freelance podcast. 
 
Sue Kim has spent her career as a print, commercial film, digital and experiential producer working for ad agencies and brands up and down the West Coast. But when she took her son to a Rubik’s Cube competition, she knew she had to take the reins and direct her first film. 
 
The Speed Cubers” is a wonderful short documentary about a relationship within the world of competitive speed cubing that will make you cry. Sue will take us through how she quit her job to get the film made and what working with Netflix to bring the film to life was like. 
 
Sue is full of insights and ideas on how to successfully create the freelance career of your dreams and shares some important advice for fellow freelancers on how to get hired again and again. 
 
The Mt. Freelance podcast is hand-crafted by the producers, mixers and sound designers of Digital One, right here in Portland Oregon, and sponsored by Stumptown Coffee
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Sue Kim

Episode 103
 
Intro:
This podcast is brought to you by Digital One. Tell your story, connect with your audience and build your brand with an engaging podcast. Learn more at digone.com.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Aaron, welcome to our podcast. 
 
Aaron James:
Well, thank you, Andrew. It's great to be here, isn't it?
 
Andrew Dickson:
It is. Why are we doing this? 
 
Aaron James:
Everyone said, "Don't do it." So we said, "Hey, let's do a podcast."
 
Andrew Dickson:
What are we going to do today? What's this all about?
 
Aaron James:
Well, I think it's important to let other people share their journey, and their secrets, and their hacks around freelance. Mt. Freelance digs in on the business and the practical side of running a freelance business. There's a lot of people that do a lot of different things as freelance, and we're going to put them all on one podcast together. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Are you suggesting that we're about to bring in an experienced creative freelancer and interview them? 
 
Aaron James:
Yes, I believe so. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Aaron, true or false, we all have a personal project that we are burning to make.
 
Aaron James:
True.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yes. 
 
Aaron James:
I think that's something you and I talk about a lot, and it's something we go through as freelancers. Lot of times we don't get to pick and choose exactly what we're working on, but when you're working on your own project, you get to.
 
Andrew Dickson:
We don't always, though, get shortlisted for an Oscar, which is what happened with our next guest, Sue Kim. She's a commercial producer turned documentary filmmaker. So she's going to talk about, among other things, her new film, The Speed Cubers, which you can watch on Netflix right now, or after the podcast. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Sue, how are you doing? 
 
Sue Kim:
Hi, Andrew. I'm well, and how are you? 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Doing good. Thanks so much for coming on to talk with Aaron and I today.
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
We always start with a similar question. When you meet someone, I would like to say at a party, but parties have been in short supply. But when you have met someone socially out and about and they ask you, "What do you do?" what do you tell them? 
 
Sue Kim:
I think back in pre pandemic party time, I would have just said I'm a producer, because that's what I've been for quite a long time. But in the past year, I think now I would say I'm a producer and sometimes director.
 
Aaron James:
A slasher.
 
Sue Kim:
I'm a hyphenate. 
 
Aaron James:
Yes.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yeah. I feel like we should just talk about the film.
 
Aaron James:
Yeah.
 
Sue Kim:
Okay. Just get it out.
 
Aaron James:
Let's hear all about it. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yeah. Why Rubik's cube? How'd you get into the world of Rubik's cube?
 
Sue Kim:
That whole thing, I came into, very honestly, in that my son is a speed cuber. I think he asked for it for his birthday like when he was 11, because he saw a Rubik's cube in his fifth grade classroom. The teacher did that very smart thing that teachers do where she just threw down the gauntlet a little bit, and she's like, "You know, guys, every year, there's at least one student that figures out how to solve the Rubik's cube," and then just left it at that. 
 
Sue Kim:
Of course, my son's like, "I'm going to be that kid." So then he just started watching some of the video tutorials that teach you how to solve the Rubik's cube. And then he just got super into it. And so, I think it was maybe three or four months after he picked up that first Rubik's cube, that he asked if I could take him to a local competition. And so, that's how the whole thing started. It was in some church in Milwaukee, in the basement, and there's-
 
Andrew Dickson:
That would be Milwaukee, Oregon, not Wisconsin.
 
Sue Kim:
Yes, Milwaukee, Oregon. So the little bit outside of Portland. It just was one of those things where the minute I walked in, it was just insanity. It was adults and kids alike running to their competition tables. Everything's so fast. People are like fist in the air when they had a good time, or head in their hands when they flubbed to solve. And it just was so interesting, from the very beginning. 
 
Sue Kim:
In my mind, I was like, "Surely someone has documented this little charming, quirky world, and if they haven't, someone really needs to." So yeah, so then the idea just really took hold and developed from there. 
 
Aaron James:
I love the idea that you see the idea, you see the opportunity, but so few people actually take the next step and the next step and the next step. And then, all of a sudden it becomes what it... How did you get it going?
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah, that's a great question, because it took a long time. I had that first thought about, oh God, this is such a interesting, quirky world. Let's think about making a film. I think I thought about it for maybe like another year and a half. Just thought about it, talked to people about it. I started posting little stories and little videos of Asher at competitions on my Instagram. I remember a lot of people would be like, "Oh my God, you should definitely make a movie about this. This is awesome."
 
Sue Kim:
It galvanized this affirmation, like, "Yes, this is a movie that at least some people would be interested in." But I was working full time. It was a very big and very time-consuming, stressful job. I just didn't have the bandwidth to put creative energy into a side project when I was already working like 60 hours a week. And on the weekends, I was just like a vegetable. I'm just decompressing from my regular job. 
 
Sue Kim:
So after about, I would say, a year and a half of talking about it and thinking about it, I realized that I would never do anything with this film and this idea if I didn't take a very scary leap, but a very necessary leap, which was I had to quit my job and focus on making this film full-time. So I did that, and I'd do that as both it gave me the creative and emotional bandwidth to really tackle this. But also, I needed something to hold my feet to the fire to make sure I would follow through on this.
 
Sue Kim:
Telling everyone when I was leaving, that I was leaving to go make a movie, was the perfect thing, because all of a sudden I'm like, "Well, now I really have to make this movie."
 
Andrew Dickson:
That is awesome. 
 
Aaron James:
Did you have some of the things in place that you think you might need to start a documentary film, maybe some funding or some backing, or did you just like, "No, I'm doing this. I'll figure it out"?
 
Sue Kim:
I did have a friend and he had been a producer of documentaries in a former life, and he used to own a documentary production company like 10 years ago. He ended up being my producer partner on the film, but at the time, we were just meeting for coffee and he was giving me advice. He's the one that basically was like, "Okay, the first thing you need to do is write a treatment, pull together your treatment, then pull together your budget, and then cut a sizzle."
 
Sue Kim:
He would just give me these little tasks that were manageable. They're all big things, but if I had one thing to concentrate at a time, it felt doable, which helped me wrap my head around, how am I going to just up and make a film? So yeah, he, he advised me and we started with these little small steps and then took it from there. But none of that was in place when I decided to leave my job. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yeah. You've been a commercial producer for many, many years, at agencies and freelance. I mean, how was it different producing your own film versus enlisting a production company, having an agency behind you and making something that's 40 minutes versus 30 seconds?
 
Sue Kim:
Producers, they're just like workhorses. We do the thing that has to be done in order to make a project happen. And so, there are many times, in the process of making this film, that something fairly big and seemingly insurmountable had to be done in order to get to the next step. That's when my producer brain would just kick in and just be like, "Just do it. Just start with this. We'll call this person, see if they know that person." There's a "Just get it done" mentality that I had built in over the years as a producer, that really helped me. 
 
Aaron James:
Could you just run through real quick the places that you've worked? 
 
Sue Kim:
Yes. I've worked full-time and freelance at a bunch of these places. The last place I was at full-time was Wieden in Portland. Before that, I was at AKQA. Before that, I was at Nike. Before that I was at Adidas. Before that, I freelanced at a bunch of little local shops here. Like I was at Nemo for a little bit, Happy Lucky, just little places. And then, before that, I was at Leopold Ketel. And then, before that, I was in San Francisco, so I was at Goodby for a little bit. Then I was at a small agency called Odiorne before that. So many, many places.
 
Aaron James:
I'm tired.
 
Andrew Dickson:
I mean, I think growing up, or like 20 years ago, the idea that you would work at so many different places was like, "No, that's going to look bad."
 
Sue Kim:
I know.
 
Andrew Dickson:
But it's become really the norm and something actually a lot of people aspire to. What do you gain from working at all these different places or what are you able to take from place to place? 
 
Sue Kim:
I feel like the advantage of working at a bunch of different places is that you get to pick up and decide to keep best practices. So you're almost like an anthropologist. You're going into these new little cultures and you see a different way that they're doing something, and it's a good idea. And so, you go to the next place, and maybe they're not doing it the same way. But you can bring that to your next place.
 
Sue Kim:
You basically just can pick and choose what kind of cultural behaviors or processes or systems or just inspirational things you can pick up from a workplace, and you can always take it with you. I liked having that breadth of experience. So I had that many more sources of influence and inspiration to pick from. I just think it's nice, at least for me, to be a little bit on my toes. Every new place, you have to prove yourself a little bit. 
 
Sue Kim:
Not a lot of people might maybe like that, but I actually appreciate that state. It just keeps me sharp. It keeps me from sliding into the known and the complacent. I'm not saying people that stay at places for a long time do that. Just for me, I need that challenge. I need almost like a daily challenge in order to stay engaged with a position. 
 
Aaron James:
I can relate to that as someone with a short attention span. I like new, so coming to a new place, I'll meet a lot of new people, connect. And then, I think doing things for a long time is really, really hard for me. I think everyone's a little different, and I think it's cool to find like, "Okay, this is experiment," figure something out. And yeah, I love what you said about best practices. I think there's so many different ways to approach creative problems and producing and things. It's just so cool to just see how other places do it. 
 
Sue Kim:
Also, the industry we're in, there really is no set rigorous, "This is the way to do a thing." It's very much how you personally like to produce or how you personally like to create. And so, having exposure to more and different ways of thinking I think can only benefit you.
 
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Andrew Dickson:
Here in Portland, Aaron, we can get Stumptown coffee whenever we want. But what do folks who live elsewhere need to do?
 
Aaron James:
I'm not sure, actually.
 
Andrew Dickson:
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Aaron James:
Oh my gosh. So it's like a magazine?
 
Andrew Dickson:
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Aaron James:
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Aaron James:
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Andrew Dickson:
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Aaron James:
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Andrew Dickson:
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Aaron James:
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Andrew Dickson:
We've been talking to a lot of students. This is obviously a hard time to graduate into this economy. And so, we've been doing a lot of lecturing. One of the questions we get over and over again is from students who are like, "Should I start at a big agency or a small agency," or even, "Should I start brand side or I should start agency side? Having worked in all those different capacities, what would you counsel? 
 
Sue Kim:
I think there's pros and cons to both. I think when you start at a bigger, very well-known agency, like, say Wieden, the benefits you get from that are having access to best-in-class work and very large scale productions, and some of the best creative minds in the business. But I think what you also have to tackle is that there's just a lot of layers in places like that. 
 
Sue Kim:
You can tend to get very siloed into doing a very specific job and only that job. So it might not give you the breadth of experience in lots of different things. But I think what it also does, though, is it's great to have on your resume. It's really great for you to take that next step and get a promotion for your next job, because you just came from Wieden, Portland. So, for career advancement, I think things like that are great. 
 
Sue Kim:
But I also have worked at... I started at a smaller agency, and smaller is like 60 people. I got to wear like 10 different hats. Aaron, just like what you were saying, I also get very bored with things and I need to have new things, and new challenges, and new people. And the ability to try working in different roles in the same place, it felt very safe and supportive, but still challenging and fun.
 
Andrew Dickson:
As a producer, you actually are often hiring freelancers. What are some things that you really look for from people?
 
Sue Kim:
Well, I think a certain level of experience is just mandatory, just knowing that this person has chops, has probably been through stressful situations before, can handle themselves. Just having some experience on their resume that connotes they can handle the job that we're thinking about hiring them for would be just the base level. Beyond that though, and specifically for producers and people in production, I feel like a really underrated component of a good producer is their soft skills. 
 
Sue Kim:
It's their ability to work with potentially difficult people. I don't mean necessarily agency side, but certainly there are some. But difficult vendors or knowing how to calm people down when a situation's super stressful and you hit a roadblock. Someone once said a producer is like the flight attendant on a flight, where if you're going through turbulence and the flight attendant looks scared shitless, you know you're in trouble. But if they're fine, you're probably like, "Okay, this seems like we're going to fall to the sky, but it's fine because they're calm."
 
Sue Kim:
I feel like producers are the same thing where they really have to be the barometer for the team to feel like, "We're okay. We're hitting some roadblocks, but this is totally fixable and we can get past it." So I think the soft skills... I look for that a lot.
 
Aaron James:
Keep doing your work, everyone. It's going to be okay.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Now, so you shared that you actually started as a graphic designer and then made the switch to being a producer. Can you talk a little bit about that? 
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. Actually, my very first job out of college was in the music industry and I worked for Universal Music. I did that for a few years, and I left because I basically started hating music, which was terrible because I loved music so much. But when it's your job, you start to hate the thing that's your master. But my favorite part of that job was I got to make flyers. 
 
Sue Kim:
So I went back to school for graphic design. And then my first job was at a small advertising agency in San Francisco. It was as a studio artist or assistant studio artist. Very, very shortly after I started working there, I started getting just terrible pain in my right arm and wrist. And so, then I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel. It just got to a point where either I had to have the surgery, or I need to think of a different career.
 
Sue Kim:
I am terrified of surgery, so I decided to talk to the people at the agency I was at and they mentioned, "Oh, there's a print producer position. And it's very close to the creative. You're not maybe designing it, but you are still an integral part of the process." And so, I just thought I'd try it. Why not? I had nothing to lose. Yeah. So I started as a print producer and then as I went to all the different places I've been to, I changed up the medium a little bit. 
 
Sue Kim:
I went to broadcast. I did broadcast production for a while. Then I did digital production because that was the thing in 2010. Everyone was like, "You must be a digital producer." And then I found I really hated digital production. So then I went into experiential production and I did that for a while.
 
Andrew Dickson:
What does that mean, for someone who doesn't know what experiential production means?
 
Sue Kim:
I mean, it's fairly new. So a lot of people don't know what experiential is. Basically, it's environment and physical environment-based experiences. A lot of brands are doing pop-ups now or experiences. And so, it basically, as a producer, it takes all of the other mediums of production and fuses it into one role. I had to learn how to read architectural drawings and work with design build and fabrication places. 
 
Sue Kim:
But also, then we were producing content to be shown on screens in the environment or we'd have a motion tracking game that was based on like how you played basketball. And so, we'd have to bring in a digital third-party vendor that could program a motion tracking game. So it ended up being every kind of production. But the manifestation of it was usually a physical environment that a consumer would interact with a brand and have some kind of experience, and walk away from with a social takeaway or something to show like, "Look, I did the obstacle course at the Niketown in New York," or whatever.
 
Andrew Dickson:
You recently ended this contract job with Facebook, helping with diversity, equity, and inclusion in their production department. What does that process look like? How do you come into a big or even a small company, start that process and make it successful?
 
Sue Kim:
There's a lot of work in starting a true diversity, equity, and inclusion program. And so, basically when I started, Facebook had started it the summer prior to my joining. And they were like, "We're not going to just track whether or not we hired female directors. We're going to track if we were hiring female directors, or gender non-binary directors, or any underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ, veteran status, differently abled. 
 
Sue Kim:
So they tackled a whole gamut of underrepresented communities. And then they wanted to track how they were performing, on not just this highest level of director, which is what a lot of people track. But they track editor, cinematographer, VFX artist, composer, basically any creative field where it was shown that there was a history of under-representation from other communities, they tracked. And then they took it to the supplier ownership level, and then on-camera talent.
 
Sue Kim:
And so, their intentions were great. It was a very robust program, but it basically required a full-time job for someone to be able to track this. Because what I spent a lot of my time doing is really refining that program and then taking agencies that were working with Facebook or production companies that were working with Facebook through the process and telling them, "This is what we care about. This is how we want you to hire with diversity in mind and with very intentional hiring. And we're going to ask you for your results."
 
Andrew Dickson:
Very cool.
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. 
 
Aaron James:
I want to ask a few more questions about the movie. 
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah.
 
Aaron James:
At what point does distribution and a Netflix come in and how does that part work? I think that's a mystery to a lot of us. 
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. I mean, it's still a mystery to me. I'm still figuring my way around in that world. I'll tell you how it happened for us. We pitched it to Netflix at the development stage, at the treatment stage, and they bought it based on the treatment. That is very atypical for them. It might be more common for things like episodic series, or features. But for shorts, they usually... Because ours is a short. It's just under 40 minutes. They usually pick those up at festivals. 
 
Sue Kim:
But I can say, a lot of times, if you're lucky, you can find independent financing, and maybe that'll come to the form of private investors. My producer partner on The Speed Cubers, he said that once he had his documentary film company, he just became buddies with Wall Street guys that had tons of money and would be willing to pitch in 50,000, a hundred thousand here, so they could attend film festivals and have that part of their life. Or you could do what I did, which was try and get distribution or platform at the very beginning. And they then provide the production budget.
 
Andrew Dickson:
That made it a little easier, having that.
 
Sue Kim:
Oh my God. Honestly, I think that the movie wouldn't have been made if we hadn't made that deal with Netflix. I was trying to find independent funding before going to Netflix because, to be honest, I wanted to make a feature, and they were the ones that were like, "No, we just think it's a short. This is what we want. We want it as a short." So I took a couple of minutes off from my talking to them to try and find independent financing, so I could at least make the movie that I wanted to make, and the one that was like in my head. It led nowhere. I mean, and I also self-funded a few of the very early shoots through credit cards or whatever. That is not a good route to take. 
 
Aaron James:
Talk us through the edit. How much was Netflix involved and how much control did you and your team have over the final edit?
 
Sue Kim:
For filming, they were completely not involved, which was great. They weren't trying to drop in on any of the shoots. They basically just wrote us a check and was like, "Here." And it was great. I will still say, the edit was very painful for a lot of reasons, but mostly because the first rough cut we submitted was 84 minutes. So we clearly did not stick to the short agreement. I don't mind admitting that.
 
Aaron James:
It's just a short feature. It's a short feature. A very long short.
 
Sue Kim:
Or maybe you want to rethink your decision. Maybe you want to make this a feature. In their credit, they sat with it for a couple of weeks and really thought about maybe they would want to make it a feature. But in the end, there's some decision that came from the top, like suddenly was like, "No, it's got to be a short. Go back and cut over half of this film." That was painful because it's like you lose a lot of... You're killing your darlings.
 
Sue Kim:
There was so much backstory and more character development for Felix and Max that we had to cut. And I'm just sad that we lost that, but it was just what had to be done. But I would say, once we got it down to close to 40 minutes, there was rounds of feedback. But their feedback was excellent. I fully defer to them on certain things. They know their platform really well, so they knew... Netflix is very algorithm based and there's certain things that they just were wiser about that I'm like, "Oh, I get it. I see why you're asking for that."
 
Sue Kim:
So it wasn't like dealing with a client that's like, "Can we have the product more prominently?" It wasn't like that at all. They're gunning for the story as much as we are. So that part wasn't too painful.
 
Andrew Dickson:
I will say, it's tight and it's awesome. And it made me cry. I'm not afraid of saying that. It made me cry.
 
Sue Kim:
If it makes you feel any better, I think it makes everyone cry, which I honestly didn't anticipate, and I didn't know that that would be the case. But so many people said that they were like shocked at the tears because they didn't mean to cry and they didn't go into a Rubik's cube documentary thinking that they were going to cry.
 
Aaron James:
I've been trying to make Andrew cry for two years. I don't know what's happening.
 
Andrew Dickson:
It's pretty easy.
 
Sue Kim:
We can share that win.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Well, I'm curious, having produced for so long and worked with so many directors, was directing pretty intuitive? Was that an easy... Or were there some sort of hesitation there, some challenges that you didn't foresee?
 
Sue Kim:
Honestly, it was the weirdest thing, where I was very intimidated about taking on the director role. So once I was actually like onset... Or not really a set, but once we were filming, it did actually come pretty intuitively to me. I think the reason why is because I think all these years as a producer, I've always, in my head, had my own creative dialogue going. Like, "I wouldn't do that." Or like, "Oh, that's a good call." 
 
Sue Kim:
Basically, it's the same thing, except I'm allowed to voice them now, of like, "Yeah, I don't like that shot. Let's move it over here." I've always had the thoughts. I think I just never had the ability to affect the decision-making. 
 
[Begin Advertisement]
 
Aaron James:
Andrew, you know what's not a lot of fun?
 
Andrew Dickson:
Root canals. 
 
Aaron James:
Yeah. What else?
 
Andrew Dickson:
The pandemic.
 
Aaron James:
True. But what I was thinking of, and I'm surprised you didn't say this, is buying brand new windows. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Oh, right. Yeah, that's not funny to do.
 
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Andrew Dickson:
That would be mtfreelance, as opposed to M-O-U-N-T freelance.
 
Aaron James:
Correct, mtfreelance, and that's after the slash.
 
Andrew Dickson:
I think I'm going to do that. 
 
Aaron James:
Do it.
 
[End Advertisement]
 
Andrew Dickson:
I was a film major in college. And making my thesis film, I would get up and I would lay in bed until I had to get in the car and drive. Not cut out for... Just freaked me out.
 
Sue Kim:
Oh, you didn't like doing it? Oh. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
I think once I was there, but it was just like, "Ah, there's so many people," and just the money and just the... I mean, I was 21, but just the people depending on you, you know?
 
Sue Kim:
Yes.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Well, so now what are you, are you? Are you a director? Are you a producer and a director? This is something a lot of freelancers, we evolve. How does that factor in too, maybe you're trying to get directing jobs, but you maybe also need some producing jobs. So how are you articulating that, maybe outwardly and even inwardly?
 
Sue Kim:
I mean, I'm hoping that I can just keep on directing, and that's really why... I just left my last position. I was at Facebook for a year as just a contractor. But it was like a permanent contract position. And so, I left so I could focus... Do the same thing I did a few years ago. Just quit my job so I can dive back into the projects I'm working on. I do have representation. I have a manager now and he's feeding me projects too to consider, of like... That they don't have a director. 
 
Sue Kim:
Like I would be a director for hire, but it's not my personal project. So I'm hoping that I can just do that from now on. I guess the next two years will be... It's like an experiment for me, of like, "Is this a new career path for me? Can it work?" Also, there's finances. I have to think about like documentary filmmaking is not very lucrative. 
 
Aaron James:
Oh, really? Wow.
 
Sue Kim:
Not really. Not at all. If I wanted financial stability, I should have stayed in the commercial world for sure. But I love this work so much and I really want to try and do it. And so, the past year, I've been putting a lot of my paycheck away as a nest egg to just give me a little bit more of breathing room to try and figure out if I can do this professionally.
 
Sue Kim:
So I think the next year for me is I'm hoping to get started on my next film. I hope I can get a few projects here and there from my management team and just see how feasible it is.
 
Aaron James:
I think you're a director now. 
 
Sue Kim:
You're calling it. 
 
Aaron James:
Yeah. I mean, I'm just taking in all the information. I think that's what it is. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yeah.
 
Sue Kim:
All right. Well, I feel confident if you feel confident. So I'm just going to... Okay, I'll make the switch. I like that. I think I needed something like... I needed someone to just tell me.
 
Aaron James:
I think we all need a nudge, because we're trying different things where... I mean, the coolest thing is you found what you really, really love.
 
Sue Kim:
I want to just say, I do have imposter syndrome every day. That is a normal thing. I know it's just an occupational hazard of anyone, especially in the creative world where everything is so subjective about whether or not you're good at your job or not good at your job. I do have to give myself that pep talk every day and definitely tell myself that I can do this. But thank you for affirming that. That's so nice.
 
Andrew Dickson:
I mean, that feels like we could almost just end it there. That's so good. But we've got a little time. 
 
Sue Kim:
I'm fine. We're just... Yeah. This is great.
 
bOne of the things that we're big proponents of, and one of the reasons why we wanted to have you on is, we are all about personal projects. I'm curious, when you quit your job, were you like, "This is a side project, this is a personal project," or was it like, "No, I am going to make this film and I'm going to use it to... I'm going to sell it or I'm going to use it as a springboard." How were you thinking through that? 
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. That's a great question. I was very much the former. It was always a passion project for me. It was always a side project. I never, in a million years, thought it would lead to anything. I didn't expect to make any money off of it, which is good, because I didn't. My producer and I, we basically just got the production budget and that was it. And that's fine. 
 
Sue Kim:
I'm aware of the kind of content that the world likes to consume, and I'm totally aware that a documentary about speed cubing isn't up most people's alley. So in no way did I ever think that there would be a huge amount of success coming from it. But I felt very convicted to do whatever I had to do to make the film, because I genuinely felt like the story of Felix and Max was something that... It just had to be out in the universe.
 
Sue Kim:
It had to be another constellation point in a world full of toxic anecdotes and situations like, "Here is this beautiful life-affirming friendship that makes you believe in the decency of humans again. I felt very driven to do whatever I had to do to put that out in the universe. And then, in my mind, that was going to be it. I was going to be like, "Okay, the baby has flown the coop and I'm done, and I'm just going to go back to my regular life, you know? 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Yeah.
 
Aaron James:
What did your son think the first time that he pulled it up and it was on the Netflix menu and he hit play? 
 
Sue Kim:
He is so unimpressed with me, it's amazing.
 
Aaron James:
Oh.
 
Sue Kim:
Well, I also took him on all my shoots. I mean, he competed at world championship. He's a very competitive speed cuber, so this is his world. He was there the whole time we were shooting. He was there at the Parks' home with me. He was there at Felix's house with me. And he saw all the rough cuts. I spent many weekends at Joint. I edited with Dylan Sylvester at Joint. I'd have to bring Asher in because he's not young... At the time, he wasn't old enough to be at home by himself. 
 
Sue Kim:
So he's been on the journey with me the whole time. So by the time it actually launched on Netflix, I think he was just over it, ready for me to stop talking about it. He was just ready to have it be in the past.
 
Aaron James:
Is he still speed cubing?
 
Sue Kim:
He's still speed cubing. He's speed cubing right now in the other room. I don't know if you could hear these muffled thuds, but that's him slamming the desk when he's done solving. 
 
Aaron James:
Love it.
 
Andrew Dickson:
When we talk to graphic designers, when we're like, "If you have spare time, you can make poster series and you can generate work." Being a filmmaker is very different because it's just you need people and you need equipment and you probably need funding. So at what point in your new journey do you just say, "All right, I'm just going to make something," or, "I'm going to figure out how to get my story back out there, a new story"? 
 
Sue Kim:
Yeah. I'm definitely not a DIY person. I also am a firm believer in surround yourself with people that are more talented than you are. And so, I think a film is a perfect example of that, of there are people for sure that can shoot really well and edit and maybe have a great sense of story, but it's rare I think to find all of that in one person. So I think any project I do, I don't know if I would be able to just churn something out on my own or if it would be very good. 
 
Sue Kim:
I'm so happy to share space with people that are geniuses in another expertise and just help lead the team so that the vision is cohesive. But yeah, I like to work with people that are smarter than me.
 
Aaron James:
Hear. Hear, to all the freelancers out there that are a good at what they do and could come in and solve a problem and make a project go well, if that's...
 
Sue Kim:
They're like ninjas of what they do. They just come in, fuck shit up in a good way, and then leave. Sorry, can we swear on your podcast?
 
Andrew Dickson:
Of course? It's the internet. 
 
Aaron James:
Absolutely not. 
 
Aaron James:
As you've bounced between full-time, freelance, filmmaking, all these things, when you consider yourself freelance, what are some of the things that you do to get the jobs that you want? That seems to be the thing that everyone's always asking. How do I get work as a freelancer? What were some of your strategies you used as a freelancer?
 
Sue Kim:
That is a great question, and I'm probably a poor person to ask it because I'm not good at marketing myself. I think the big takeaway, just from my personal experience, would be make yourself easy to work with. Be a team player. Be a person people like to work with because then they'll want to work with you again.
 
Aaron James:
Seems basic, but then when you say that, it totally makes sense because I have this list of people that I love working with. And then I have this other list of people like, "Oh yeah." Andrew, you're on the right list. Don't worry. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
Thank you, Sue, so much for coming on and sharing so much insight and fun stories. 
 
Sue Kim:
Thank you guys so much for having me on. It was a total blast.
 
Andrew Dickson:
Now we've arrived to the part of the show where we hear from you, the listeners, and we're going to do a little Q and A.
 
Mark:
Hey, this is Mark. I'm a creative director and freelance copywriter in Boston. I'm constantly paranoid that if I turn down offers for freelance creative work, that those clients will not come back to me again, since they probably have 10 people who want every job that they are looking to fill. How do you make sure that a client will come back even when you turn them down?
 
Aaron James:
Yeah. Mark. Thanks for the question. That's actually a really common fear I think for freelancers. The one thing to think about is whoever's calling you, think about forging a relationship with that person. It's not just a company, an agency, or whatever. Hey, this is a person that reached out to you. Maybe you're booked, maybe you're not available. Maybe the rate isn't quite what you want. But you always want to be a resource for that person.
 
Aaron James:
And so, that's the relationship that you're trying to build. Andrew, so what are some good tricks to do, to keep that relationship healthy?
 
Andrew Dickson:
Oh. Never just say, "Hey, I'm busy." I mean, you write a really effusive response back, whether it's an email or at LinkedIn or a call, whatever, and just... Even if you don't really want the job, make it sound like you really wanted the job so badly, but you're so bummed because you've got this other thing. If you're interested, let them know when you are available, because a lot of times, jobs push, deadlines are moving targets. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
So if you're actually free in two weeks, that's a way to say yes without saying yes, is, "Hey, I can do this if I can start in two weeks." We're also big fans of "No but", so if it's a definite no, give them three other people that could do the job. And they may know these people, but they will so appreciate that you are actually taking the time to help. They have a problem. They need someone probably tomorrow. And so, even if you give them people that they already know, they're going to be like, "Wow, this wasn't a dead end. This kept me moving forward." And if they're new people, hey, maybe you've just hooked up a friend or a colleague with a great job offer.
 
Aaron James:
Yeah. The other thing that you could do is in, if you truly are available in two weeks, but maybe it starts... Maybe it has a slow roll. You could say, "Hey, I'm full-time booked on this thing, but I have my nights free. I would be willing to give you a few hours leading up to that time when you can have me full-time. That way I'm up to speed on the project. That's a way we could do it." If you show them that you're willing to be a little creative and flexible, it's possible that you may just line up that next job and only work a few hours between now and then to hold that job for yourself. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
And then, lastly, don't wait for them to reach out again or don't wait until you've got no work and you're desperate to reach out. Check in in like a month and just say, "Hey, I hope that job went really well. I noticed on your website you guys just did some new work for X client. Looks great." And when you keep in touch with people like that, where you're not asking for anything, you don't need anything, that's how those relationships are cultivated. And that's how you stay top of that freelancer list, even if you're not available.
 
Aaron James:
Yeah. Hope that helps, Mark. 
 
Andrew Dickson:
The Mt. Freelance podcast is hand-crafted by the producers, mixers, and sound designers of Digital One, Portland, Oregon, executive producer, Eric Stolberg, post producer, Kelsey Woods, assistant engineer, Tristan Schmunk, who also created the theme song and instrumental music. To learn more about Aaron, Andrew, and Mt. Freelance, visit mtfreelance.com. Thanks for listening, and may your day rate be high and your vacations long. 
 
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