Korea prospects

Posted By Gün Akyuz On 02-10-2014 @ 4:03 pm

South Korea has begun its first push to forge scripted coproduction partnerships with the UK, with the development of the country’s storytelling high on the agenda. Gün Akyuz reports.

gabdong
Gabdong

A contingent of South Korean broadcasters, producers and scriptwriters arrived in London last week in search of drama collaborations with UK partners.
In the first seminar of its kind backed by the South Korean government, they addressed a 50-strong audience of UK-based broadcasters and production and distribution companies, including All3Media, FremantleMedia and Shine International. Several of the visiting broadcasters called for closer ties with their UK counterparts to explore drama production models, share know-how and develop their storytelling with the aim of launching the first drama coproduction partnerships between the two countries.

Underscoring the aims of the mission, the pitches took place during K Drama Week, a series of screenings and seminars showcasing Korean wave drama and movies, co-hosted by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and Korean Cultural Centre. Partners included Korean broadcasters KBS, CJ E&M, MBC and SBS, as well as the UK’s Pact and SOAS University of London’s Centre for Korean Studies.

Given the speed with which Korea has developed its TV drama industry, that door may already be half-open. With Korean scripted format sales to the US already making headlines [1] in the wake of last month’s Seoul Drama Awards [2] (SDA), the UK and US are frequently cited as significant stylistic influences on Korea’s young but rapidly evolving K-drama wave. And the UK approach to drama storytelling is already very popular among Koreans aged 20-50, with series such as Hartswood Films’ Sherlock, crowned Best Foreign Drama at the SDA ceremony, and the BBC’s Doctor Who leading the pack.

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Alex Oe

Alex Oe, director of acquisitions and sales at Korean media company CJ E&M, which operates a suite of cable channels including leading cablenet TVN as well as production and sales activities, told K Drama Week delegates the company had considered adapting Westerm dramas. He also noted that CJ saw potential in creating new spin-off series.
TVN, which has been busy innovating across a range of drama styles, from serial killer drama Gabdong to romcom Plus Nine Boys, and already coproduces with its neighbours, is already working on its Korean adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. Separately, Korean broadcaster JTV has struck a strategic content partnership [3] with Welsh broadcaster S4C, which could lead to drama collaborations.

According to recent Korean government figures, the country’s drama generates around £100m (US$162.8m) in exports across Asia, with particularly brisk business in Japan and China, with Korea positioned as a potential gateway to the latter for foreign partners. However, sales of its soaps have also spread to the Middle East, and scripted format deals have reached the US, such as pubcaster KBS’s Good Doctor and cabsat broadcaster CJ E&M’s Nine Times Travel [4]. Korea’s drama output is now being likened to Turkey’s, where “even a couple of years ago you wouldn’t have been looking at a scripted or unscripted format,” said Marc Lorber, format sales, acquisitions and coproductions consultant to Lionsgate, who also attended the event. “Buyers are now looking at Korea’s scripted formats and have been looking at their unscripted formats for a while. This is starting to generate penetration. All it takes is one successful series for everyone to start to take notice.” Lorber said it’s just a matter time. “There will be a show or two, or three maybe, inspired by international fare that people have seen and distilled through their own voices, or something completely original they’re come up with that breaks new territory.” It’s fair to say, though, that Korean drama remains unchartered territory in the UK beyond niche cable or online communities. And as an export market, Korea is only a £7m slice of the UK’s £1.2bn-plus global television content export figure. That share could be significantly boosted by closer cooperation, said Dawn McCarthy-Simpson, director of market development at UK audiovisual trade body Pact, which partnered the event.

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Marc Lorber

One example of how that trade is being boosted is UK company The Bridge. Having launched earlier this year, it specialises in creating, securing funding for and managing coproduction opportunities between English-speaking and Asian companies. MD Amanda Groom pointed out the company has three factual coproductions [5] underway, ready for broadcast in early 2015. Several more as-yet undisclosed big-budget (£500,000 per hour) factual projects are in the pipeline with UK and Korean production companies – one of them involving a US network as a partner.

Groom’s in-depth understanding of the Korean TV market and its culture as well as personal connections are key to the success of such deals, she explained. “We connect the format or idea with the right production company in Korea and secure the Korean broadcaster, and that is what brings in the Korean money,” she said.

Significant sources of production financing are available in the country, but Groom warned that Koreans would be seeking projects as active partners, to “engage and develop creative synergies around programming of global relevance,” and not merely as co-funders on international projects.

Korea has had a coproduction agreement in place with EU member states since 2011, and while there’s no formal rebate system in place, various schemes exist to support productions. A £520m fund created by the Korean government in partnership with the private sector, covering drama and entertainment, is there to be tapped for the right culturally relevant projects. Also available are production grants and loan schemes from KOCCA and the Korea Communications Agency.

In particular, Korean broadcasters and producers have expressed the appetite to develop a wider range of drama styles, including a greater focus on character-driven storytelling, to take their drama into new territory. KBS is ready to make the leap into coproduction partnerships on the right projects, said drama director and producer Jeeyeong Choi, also speaking at the event. The pubcaster was behind Korea’s international ‘breakthrough’ spy thriller drama series Iris, directed by Yang Yun-ho, which has been sold into around 30 countries and recut as a feature-length movie.

Another Korean broadcaster pitching to UK producers was SBS’s chief producer Sun Kyung Lee, partnered by Kim Yonh Hoon, CEO of Goldenthumb Productions, one of Korea’s largest produces. “Initiating new styles necessitates new risks,” said Lee, explaining that the two companies were already exploring a diverse range of stories and genres, “taking on areas of drama that other Korean broadcasters have avoided,” as well as backing big-budget dramas.

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Amanda Groom

Examples she cited included Sign, Korea’s first forensic medical drama, and also My Love From the Star , which has attracted interest from ABC in the US; and Three Days, a US$6m series similar in style to 24, which generated 30 million online views in China and is Korea’s most successful drama of 2014 so far, Lee claimed.

As with any coproduction, partners will need to bridge significantly different production models as well as cultural barriers. In Korea’s case, there’s an intensive approach to scriptwriting, with one or two writers responsible for generating 16 to 20 episodes stretching to 70 minutes in length for closed-end series. There’s less time to plan or develop character sub-plots or subsequent seasons. And in terms of revenue models, the norm for Korean producers and broadcasters is to retain all rights to their productions, which are financed in large part through sales to neighbouring Asian markets.

Given the context, Lorber believes the first coproductions are more likely to happen in the form of short-run drama, miniseries or TV-movie-length specials, and possibly dual-language versions. “The question Koreans and other countries face when it comes to coproductions is whether they want to invest in a purely English-language copro that may have little or nothing to do with Korea – whether it shoots in Korea or elsewhere. I don’t think they do,” he said. The next step will be to ramp up opportunities for further cultural exchange between producers and scriptwriters, he said. “What’s really telling is how many other countries’ entertainment industries and governments are supporting and sponsoring their production companies, directors and TV networks coming to the UK, not just to buy and sell but to meet people and promote their work,” said Lorber. “They’re doing the same thing in LA. That’s impressive, getting behind the opportunities for producers to meet. More of those meetings are essential and the more they do, whether in the UK, US or internationally, the better they’re going to do.”

Although The Bridge hasn’t embarked on a drama project yet, Groom is looking for the right one. “The challenge with drama is that it reflects the culture you come from. Asians, including Koreans, have a greater respect for authority, which comes across in their storytelling and international audiences can find hard to buy into. The conflict in Western-style drama is often around what an individual chooses to do next and is simply not there in Asian drama,” she said. “Asian society, and particularly Korea’s, is changing at a rate of knots and all of that is now being questioned. But to me that is where the essence of the challenge in coproduced drama lies.”
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Article printed from C21Media: http://www.c21media.net
URL to article: http://www.c21media.net/korea-prospects/
URLs in this post:
[1] making headlines: http://www.c21media.net/korean-wave-crosses-the-pacific/
[2] Seoul Drama Awards: http://www.c21media.net/stars-come-out-for-seoul-drama-awards/
[3] strategic content partnership: http://www.c21media.net/s4c-agrees-korean-network-first/
[4] Nine Times Travel: http://www.c21media.net/perspective/korean-wave-crosses-the-pacific
[5] three factual coproductions: http://www.c21media.net/argonon-builds-bridge-to-korea