Behind the scenes of Olympic opening ceremony

By Im Eun-byel
  • Published : Mar 21, 2018 - 15:43
  • Updated : Mar 21, 2018 - 15:43

With the hype of the Winter Games beginning to fade, Executive Creative Director Song Seung-hwan revealed the intricate planning that went into staging the Olympic opening ceremony that captivated an international audience.

Song directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the PyeongChang Olympics.

He attended a meeting held by the Corea Image Communication Institute on Tuesday night in Seoul to speak about what it was like to stage performances for a global audience. 

Song Seung-hwan delivers a speech at a meeting held by the Corea Image Communication Institute at Park Hyatt Seoul on Tuesday. (CICI)

Song debuted as an actor in 1965 and went on to produce “Nanta,” a popular percussion show using kitchenware. Recognized for his talent and leadership, he was appointed as the PyeongChang Olympics’ artistic director in 2015.

“To decide on details of the ceremonies, around 20 people, made up of directors of art, music, chorography and stage, gathered for discussions,” he said. “While they shared the overall concept, the ways of expressing it differed from person to person. It was extremely difficult to come to an agreement.”

For example, they debated for a year on whether to cast K-pop sensation Psy. Some considered him an obvious choice, as the singer is recognized globally for his hit song “Gangnam Style,” while others expressed doubt, arguing that there were better choices.

“But when I asked Psy, after all the discussions, he refused the offer at once,” the actor-turned-producer said. “A year of debate, while the singer didn’t have any inclination to be featured in the show.”

It was reported that the ceremonies’ budget was limited. However, Song managed to make the most out of what he had.

A spectacular drone performance at the Olympic opening ceremony was actually a result of trying to reduce costs. At the opening ceremony, around 1,218 drones flew in harmony to create the Olympic logo, marking the first such performance at an Olympics.

But another reason for the drones was that they were cost effective, Song said. 

Some 1,218 drones form the Olympic logo at the Winter Games’ opening ceremony in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)

“To hire a person, it takes a large amount of money. It was not just about the wages, but the incurred expenses as well,” he said, adding the drones were offered for free by Intel, an official sponsor of the Olympics.

Another highlight of the opening ceremony was North Korean athletes’ participation. Though meaningful, the last-minute addition involved some unexpected risks, said the director.

Thorough rehearsals were necessary as the stage setting was intricate. Athletes from the two Koreas had to climb up stairs that would change into a slope as they went up.

“But the North Korean athlete couldn’t come early for the rehearsals. We searched for the two athletes’ weight and shoe sizes to make sure that nothing would go wrong,” he said.

The broadcasting of the ceremony also involved careful planning. Song revealed that he cooperated with the Olympic Broadcasting Service for more than 15 days, discussing how the ceremony should be broadcasted. Every little detail, such as the camera angle and a cut’s length, were decided in advance and rehearsed repeatedly.

“Of course, it was not just me. The good results were achieved, thanks to everyone. The directors and the staff members discussed, argued and made up more than hundreds of times,” he said.

The director was also thankful for the weather, saying, “I was in PyeongChang for more than 45 days and the weather was nice for just two days -- the days of the opening and closing ceremonies.”

By Im Eun-byel (