A magazine with over 150 colorful pages of illustrations, editorials and surveys of a single film, Prism Of, published by Ef-Lab, short for film laboratory, sets a new standard for film magazines. Their focus on one movie per magazine was the fundamental principle that founded Prism Of.
Starting off as a club in 2014 in Sogang University with students who enjoyed watching films, their main activity began with movie screenings. Although publishing a magazine had always been considerated, they focused on movie screenings due to their shortage of professional graphic designers and photographers. They initiated Prism Of when some professionals offered to collaborate on Ef-Lab’s plan of publishing a magazine, sharing their philosophy towards movies.
By publishing their own magazine, Ef-Lab wanted to bring changes to the consumer culture in the film industry. Unlike conventional film magazines that mostly focus on popular commercialized films, they aimed to highlight the artistic value and provide an in-depth analysis on a single film, instead of seeing it as simple entertainment.
After winning first place in a start-up contest in Sogang University, they began to focus on publishing their magazine, but the financial support from the school was short to start a company. With the lack of funding, the students had to bear the financial burden.
“Frankly speaking, engaging in a startup was a challenge for everybody,” remembered Cho Hyun-kyung, CEO of Ef-Lab. “But we always believed that it was an item attractive enough to succeed in the market. None of us were experts in accounting or managing, but our bold ambitions kept us brave until we were financially stable.”
Since one issue deals with a single movie, selecting the movie is one of the most important decisions Ef-Lab has to make on a bi-monthly basis. However, there is no set standard on their selection as Ef-Lab focuses on choosing a movie that has a lot of room for open interpretations.
“It is true that popular films are easier to deal with in regards of receiving surveys and reviews from the viewers,” Cho admitted.
In fact, editors had a hard time collecting surveys for their fourth issue on Mommy, which gained about 60,000 viewers in Korea, whereas their surveys for the fifth issue’s film The Handmaiden, quickly built up on Ef-Lab’s SNS page. However, Cho stood by her stern philosophy of keeping the magazine to deal a single movie per issue.
“When our club turned into a business, many people asked why we dealt films that seemed to be out of trend or lack popularity,” Cho said. “However, a good film cannot be determined only by viewership, as this matter is deeply related with factors outside of the film itself.”
The first three issues concentrated on providing content for those who had already watched the film. However, starting from the fourth issue, the beginning of their regular bi-monthly publication, Prism Of renewed its table of contents. It now includes contents that could be read before watching the film along with the reviews and analysis after watching the movie. Their contents are not limited to articles, but include any form of works that can be published on paper. The magazine is not filled with still cuts or imitations of certain scenes but with original photos and illustrations based on the impressions of the viewers upon watching the movie.
The first section of the magazine, “LIGHT, before you walk in” includes a self-evaluation for the readers’ movie preference, information about the director and actors, and a brief introduction of the plot. The next section, “PRISM, when you meet the film” contains reviews on certain scenes of the movie in various forms, from graphic designs to articles. Then followed by “SPECTRUM, after you step out,” which consists of reviews of scenes in its chronological order that could be understood only after watching the film. The final part “BEHIND, editor’s cut,” is like an editorial by the editors, but put together in forms of virtual interview or a SNS page.
Although Prism Of is still striving to gain publicity in Korea, they have already expanded their market abroad. Faced with the limits of a domestic publishing start-up, they were determined to expand their market abroad upon starting the company.
When Ef-Lab had a chance to visit Singapore as part of their project, they visited book stores and asked the owners what they thought about Prism Of. One of the owners was impressed by Prism Of and invited them to the Singapore Art Book Fair, which became the starting point to expanding their market.
“It was a great opportunity but our team is not fully satisfied with the past volumes’ English versions, because we did not have enough time to adjust the contents accordingly to the taste of foreign readers,” Cho commented. “We are still contemplating on ways to publish a more attractive magazine for overseas readers.”
Also, English versions of their third and fourth issues were each sent to the directors of the film, Wong Karwai and Xavier Dolan. With their successful start in business, Ef-Lab hopes to spearhead a new paradigm of movie consumption.
“Along with our ultimate goal to open a new paradigm of movie consumption, our goal in keeping the business is to be a company that appreciates artists’ works,” Cho added. “Strategies may change but our essential goal of keeping an upright company providing original contents based on genuine impressions would forever stay as an identity of Ef-Lab.”