Dramas Get Lift from Pre-Production

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‘Descendents’ success showed how valuable filming in advance can be

IU
Top left: IU, left, and Lee Joon-gi, right, star in the new time travel drama “Scarlet Hearts: Ryu” Bottom left: Lee Young-ae, left and Song Seung-heon play the leads for the highly anticipated “Saimdang: The Herstory” (SBS.) [JOONGANG ILBO]
Korean dramas are known for hitting the air before production has been completed, but that’s changing after the success of KBS2’s“Descendants of the Sun.”

Breaking the trend, “Descendents of the Sun” started airing only after production had been wrapped — which allowed the show to simultaneously run in China and rise to huge popularity.

Upcoming romantic comedy drama “Uncontrollably Fond” (KBS2) is following the lead.

Just like “Descendents of the Sun,” the drama will air only after production has wrapped and ink has dried on the sale of broadcasting rights to a Chinese streaming website.

It stars A-listers like Kim Woo-bin and Bae Suzy, and follows two friends separated in childhood who meet again as adults.

“Scarlet Hearts: Ryu” is another example of the new pre-production trend.

Set in the Goryeo Dynasty, the drama stars popular actor Lee Joon-gi and singer IU. It will begin airing simultaneously in Korea and China on August 29.

Its story is based on the Chinese novel “Bu Bu Jing Xin” by Tong Hua, which roughly translates to “Startling by Each Step.”

The highly anticipated SBS drama “Saimdang: The Herstory” is following suit.

Filming has already wrapped on the drama, which stars actress Lee Young-ae of the hugely popular “Jewel in the Palace” (2003-04) and actor Song Seung-heon. It will begin airing simultaneously in both Korea and China in October.

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Bae Suzy, left, and Kim Woo-bin play opposite each other in “Unconditionally Fond” (KBS2). [JOONGANG ILBO]

The changes are part of a broader shift in the production of Korean dramas.

In addition to completing filming before the air date, drama producers are finding new ways to sell broadcasting rights, secure domestic and foreign investment and create merchandise tie-ins.

For example, the production company behind “Saimdang: The Herstory,” Group 8, received
investment early on from Hong Kong Emperor Group’s Korean subsidiary, and have already sold merchandising rights in 10 countries.

Things were similar with “Scarlet Hearts: Ryu.” Produced by the Korean company Windrises, the drama received investment from big names like NBC Universal and YG Entertainment.

“It is a new challenge for all three companies investing and participating in the production, and global corporations like NBC Universal are showing more interest in content made in Asia”, said Jo Seon-gyeong, a team leader at Windrises.

“YG Entertainment, housing singers and entertainers, has a lot of experience with merchandise production and is already preparing to produce merchandise based on the drama.

While pre-produced dramas first emerged as a way to spread in the Chinese market, they’re now being aired almost simultaneously around the world.

“Unconditionally Fond,” for example, will air on TV in Korea, quickly followed by Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan. It will also become available in the United States on the streaming website “DramaFever.”

“If we send the master edit in advance, subtitles can be prepared or dubbing can be done beforehand and the content can be released around the world at nearly the same time,” said Yun Eun-jeong, a deputy at Samhwa Networks, the production company behind “Uncontrollably Fond.”
“The world can already communicate through social media in real time, so people who buy broadcasting rights want them available in their country as soon as possible.”

It’s a model that, in many ways, reflects the influence of streaming services like Netflix in the United States.

“Video services like Netflix release whole TV series at once,” said Kim Yeon-seong, the head of HB Entertainment, which produced the massively popular drama “My Love from the Star.”

“Taking this into consideration, pre-production is not merely an option considering both domestic and global channels.”

But contrary to those demands, it’s still not possible for all dramas to be pre-produced. Currently, enough investment to finish a drama is hard to secure before it starts airing and proves to be a hit — unless the drama boasts a star-studded cast.

“Works that can receive large investments beforehand are special cases,” said Yun.

“But we are looking forward to more dramas receiving investments in advance for their good storyline in the future.”

BY LEE HOO-NAM [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

 

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