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Alumna discovers the power of filmmaking

Sarah Choi produces The Drop Box, a documentary about a man taking in unwanted babies in South Korea

The Drop Box follows a pastor who built a special box for unwanted infants. (Photo/David Kim)

Unlike a lot of USC students, Sarah Choi ’13 didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur or a filmmaker. Fate, however, had other plans for her.

On Feb. 24, the USC School of Cinematic Arts screened The Drop Box, a documentary the USC Marshall School of Business alumna helped create, along with a team of other USC students. Choi, a Business of Cinematic Arts graduate, was the film’s producer.

The Business of Cinematic Arts degree program combines the curriculum of USC Marshall with nine classes from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

“The idea is to educate the next generation of leaders in the entertainment business,” said Kim West, associate dean of undergraduate programs at USC Marshall. The program, available only to USC Marshall students, is celebrating its 15th year.

“The BCA degree put USC at the top of my college list,” Choi said. “I really wanted to work on the business end of the entertainment field — I just wasn’t sure as to what.”

Making it happen

A producing role, Choi learned, called for an innate skill set.

Sarah Choi, Business of Cinematic Arts Alumna is Behind the Scenes of New Documentary

Producer Sarah Choi (Photo/Brian Morri)

“A producer helps make it happen,” Choi said. “They manage the millions of everyday details, the budgets, the travel coordination, the schedules and keep the project moving forward. And I am very organized.”

As a BCA student, Choi had come to understand that stories had power and that powerful stories could lead to social change. That’s when she heard about a friend’s Kickstarter campaign to fund a short documentary about a man taking in unwanted babies in South Korea.

The Drop Box chronicles the story of Lee-Jong-rak, a pastor in South Korea who built a special “drop box” for unwanted babies, most of them disabled in some way, who would otherwise be left out to die by their desperate young mothers. He also built an ad hoc orphanage for their care.

It felt like my own brothers and sisters were being left out on the streets, and I knew I had to act.

Sarah Choi

“I was instantly impacted by this story,” she said. “It felt like my own brothers and sisters were being left out on the streets, and I knew I had to act. There were solutions and people who could help to make this film a reality, and I felt called to be a part of that.”

She knew the students trying to make the film from Campus Crusades, a Christian student group on campus. They included director Brian Ivie ’13, co-producer Will Tober ’13 and music supervisor Bryce Komae ’13.

“The first question I had for them was, ‘none of you guys even speak Korean. How is that going to work?’”

The trip that changed everyone’s plans

A crew flew to South Korea during the winter breaks of their junior year. But meeting Pastor Lee for the first time changed everyone’s trajectory, she said.

We immediately realized that this was a much bigger story that had to be told.

Sarah Choi

“None of us knew what we were getting into,” Choi said. “But we immediately realized that this was a much bigger story that had to be told.”

Three years and five trips later, the film is now an 80-minute feature-length documentary. Aside from the USC screening, it will be opening in more than 700 theaters across the United States and Canada from March 3-5.

The team was in Korea interviewing Lee when a baby was put in the drop box. “To actually see it happen before your eyes, it was a surreal moment,” she said. “It was a constant reminder for why we were making this movie.”

In 2013, with filming complete, the team established a nonprofit entity, Kindred Image, to help support the work of Lee and his orphanage.

Choi, now 23, serves as the project director overseeing Kindred’s programs and campaigns to continue to expand Lee’s work in South Korea. More than 600 babies have been rescued since Lee began his program, she said.

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Alumna discovers the power of filmmaking

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