Tag Archives: CJ E&M

Korea opportunities

Korean dramas provided the basis for two US series this year, with ABC shows Somewhere Between and The Good Doctor both taking their inspiration from a country that is prolific in its output of scripted content. Here, DQ picks out some new Korean series that are also ripe for acquisition and adaptation.


Emergency Couple
A divorced couple reignite their feelings for each other when they become interns at the same hospital years later. Produced by Dragon Studio for tvN and distributed by CJ E&M.


 
Why were you interested in telling this story?
Director Chul-gyu Kim: I chose the story because it added a pleasant romantic comedy element to a medical drama genre that could turn out to be a heavy and serious story. The story seemed like one that could give audiences balanced enjoyment.

How was Emergency Couple developed for the network?
At the time, tvN was oriented mostly towards young and active people. The network was embarking on a strategy to broaden its demographic, and our story fitted in well with that strategy in that it can appeal to all audiences.

The show switches between two timelines – how did you tackle that?
For the scenes in the past when the couple were together, we focused on their emotions. For the present, social environments, roles and positions were added on top of their emotions and they were harmoniously depicted.

How would you describe the writing process?
We carried out thorough research and tried our best to reflect reality in the hospital. We collected as much medical information as possible and also gathered diverse ideas from people who work in the industry.

Why were Song Ji-Hyo and Choi Jin-Hyuk picked to star in the show?
Both are talents who can express earnestness and brightness, which are important to starring in a melodrama.


Stranger
A thriller in which a prosecutor who is unable to feel emotion begins to uncover corruption within his office. Produced by Dragon Studio for tvN and distributed by CJ E&M.


 
Why did you want the lead character, Shi-Mok (Cho Seung-woo), to lack emotion?
Producer Jae-hyun So: Being unable to feel any sort of emotion is a big flaw and is abnormal. We wanted to contrast this with the other ‘normal’ characters in the story. Doctors who save lives, prosecutors who convict criminals – they need to have an underlying love for humanity. However, we set up a character without emotions because we wanted to portray someone who would pursue the truth and not be swayed by personal greed, not to mention justice or love for humanity.

Tell us about the show’s visual style.
In the development stage, our camera, art and casting teams came together and decided to make the show look cold and emotionless. We shot tight angles, getting very close to the actors to better capture their emotions. The actors’ expressions seemed much more real this way.

Where was Stranger filmed and what does this bring to the show?
We filmed the show in Incheon, South Korea, but the story was inspired by the Seobu District Prosecution Office. All the houses, bathrooms and crime scenes were all filmed on set. We tried our best to make it look real. The prosecution office on the set was built after tours of real-life offices and we referred to videos and documentaries about how the prosecution operates.

What were the biggest challenges in development or production?
As the whole drama was made before it began airing, there were limitations to receiving viewer feedback. However, we could elevate the perfection in post-production with editing, mixing, CGI and music.

How is K-drama evolving and what new stories are you able to tell?
Audiences now seem to prefer dramas with a unique concept – storylines that are different from any others, regardless of the genre. In addition, successful shows reflect Korean sentiment and social atmosphere.


Band of Sisters
A ‘womance’ that depicts the friendship between a group of women out for revenge after they each lose something following a car crash. Produced by SBS and FNC Add Culture for SBS and distributed by SBS International.


 
How would you describe the writing process?
Producer Younghoon Choi: Traditionally, Korean weekend drama series feature the story of an extended family. However, I wanted to introduce some fresh and dramatic devices and settings, with younger main characters and three villains. I emphasised the confrontation between good and evil and abandoned the clichés of a Cinderella story or a success story. I wanted to have characters attack each other and defend themselves in each episode, like a game, and I upgraded the clichés of a birth secret, false romance, betrayal and conspiracy, and utilised them colourfully.

How did you create the style of the series?
I wanted something between American soap operas and cinematic TV series. It was difficult to keep it low budget and high quality while producing and directing a 50-episode series. So for the first 10 episodes, I shot at 24fps to maintain the cinematic look and later I shot at 30fps. Also, I used three cameras for every episode to reduce the shooting time and capture various shots.

What were the biggest challenges in production?
The overwhelming volume – 50 70-minute episodes – was the most burdensome. It was challenging to control the rhythm of the story from the beginning until the end. I tried to make the scene transition quick, but at the same time tried to make the story flow naturally. I constantly interacted with the actors while shooting, and held enough rehearsals before shooting so they could act smoothly. I enjoyed experimenting with various genres – this series has elements of comedy, thriller, action, romance and even horror.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
Band of Sisters features a clear confrontation between good and evil. The story development is fast and the situation changes quickly, not allowing the viewers to feel bored. Moreover, romantic scenes and touching family stories are a bonus.


Questionable Victory
A wrongly convicted death row inmate escapes from prison to save the life of his friend’s sister. Produced by SBS and RaemongRaein for SBS and distributed by SBS International.


Where did the story come from?
Producer Kyungsoo Shin (pictured): I was interested in stories about people who waste their youth in prison after being falsely accused of a crime. In 2000, a taxi driver was stabbed to death and the first witness, a 15-year-old delivery boy, was accused of murder. He was recently released from prison at the age of 32, after his innocence was proved in a retrial and the real perpetrator emerged. Nothing can compensate the time such people spend in prison. I wanted to make a story where the wrongly charged individual solves the case by himself. The writing began in 2016 and the casting began this July. Pre-production kicked off in August and shooting is now underway.

How would you describe the show’s tone?
This is close to a serious drama, but I’m adding some humour at some points so it doesn’t become too serious. Unexpected, natural comedy or a funny situation will prevent the series from becoming too serious.

What makes Questionable Victory stand out from other Korean dramas?
I try not to make emotional scenes too deep or too long. Questionable Victory will stand out because it gives a light touch to such scenes. But to find out if this difference becomes a strength, I’ll have to wait until the editing finishes.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
The story is easily approachable even for foreign viewers. A story of a falsely charged man trying to solve his problem by himself, about jailbreak and a detective, is easy to understand. Also, the main character is humble and has his faults, so viewers will feel comfortable with him.


Untouchable
An action drama about two brothers and the ill-fated choices they make, due to air in November. Produced by Drama House and Kim Jong Hak Productions for JTBC and distributed by JTBC Content Hub.


 
What did you find appealing about Untouchable?
Producer Cho Jun Hyoung: It’s not just a tale of two brothers, but a complex family story. Initially, it may seem like [main character] Joon’s journey to avenge his wife’s death is the central plot, but his internal struggle is the real arc of the story. As he faces the disgraceful history of his family, his deep hatred for his monstrous father and brother grows. But he is conflicted by the desire to forgive them because they are his family. Audiences today can connect with this complicated and delicately told father-son conflict, magnified through dramatic settings. It is directed by the charismatic Cho Nam Gook and written by Choi Jin Won, known for his dense writing style.

Why would this series appeal to international viewers?
It may sound weird to say that this is a story about family when a brother is seeking revenge for his wife’s death and the plot includes a struggle against immense power. But as you get into the story, you will see that it’s something we can relate to, because we all experience life as a family in some way. We are telling a story that can draw the sympathy of not only people living in Korea but around the world.

How would you describe the state of Korean drama?
The K-drama industry is enjoying an increased number of networks and timeslots. Correspondingly, there is a flood of new shows being produced, and many of the major networks are preparing to open a new slot for drama. The result is a more competitive environment for us. JTBC is home to a diverse genre of stories such as Woman of Dignity, Strong Girl, Man X Man and Hello, My Twenties!. Our main priority is to discover and deliver fresh stories and subject matter.

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West spies Korea opportunities

The Idolm@ster is based on a game franchise
The [email protected] is based on a game franchise

Netflix has made Korea a priority in its quest for global SVoD domination – and now arch-rival Amazon Prime Video is following suit.

Last week, it was revealed that Amazon had boarded The [email protected], a Korean TV series for 2017 that is based on a popular Japanese game franchise from Bandai Namco.

First mooted in spring 2016, the live-action series is about a group of aspiring female singers trying to establish their music careers. As such, it sits at the crossroads of two Asian obsessions – K-Pop and television drama. The TV drama is a no-brainer given the success of the franchise across various platforms. Since launching in 2005 as an arcade game, The [email protected] has inspired animation and manga versions, as well as live concerts and hit singles. It has also been adapted for digital platforms including smartphones.

The series will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from early 2017 and will be localised into several languages, including Japanese and English.

James Farrell, head of content at Amazon’s Asia Pacific Prime Video, called [email protected] “the perfect combination of Japanese idol culture and Korean drama power. The idols include K-Pop sirens, as well as Japanese and other international singers, and we’re confident fans and viewers alike all over the world will become addicted to watching their careers bloom.”

The news continues a growing trend for global companies to exploit the Korean drama phenomenon. Recently we reported on the fact that NBC Universal participated in the financing of Moon Lovers. And this week South Korean media group CJ E&M has formed a partnership with Warner Bros-owned streamer DramaFever to coproduce local dramas for the international market. Under the terms of the alliance, called Studio Dragon, the partners will produce two original series over next three years.

“Studio Dragon is determined to become Asia’s number-one drama studio. To achieve that goal, we plan to work with industry leaders to provide unrivalled content for audiences,” said Jinnie Choi, president of Studio Dragon.

Killjoys focuses on a trio of bounty hunters
Killjoys focuses on a trio of bounty hunters

Away from Korea, US channel Syfy has announced that sci-fi series Killjoys and Dark Matter will both be returning for third seasons. Killjoys, which follows a trio of interplanetary bounty hunters, is produced by Temple Street Productions, the Toronto-based firm behind Orphan Black. The show also airs on the Space channel in Canada. In line with the Syfy announcement, Space revealed that it too would be on board the third season of the show.

In terms of audience ratings on Syfy, Killjoys attracts around 650,000 viewers per episode, which makes it a mid-ranking performer on the network. It’s a similar story for Dark Matter, which comes in at around 690,000 per episode. Interestingly, this positioning and ratings differential is broadly reflected by IMDb rankings, which come in at 7.1 and 7.4 respectively for the two shows.

Syfy has struggled to secure a bona fide hit series in recent times and is shifting towards series with built-in brand recognition. This week, it debuted Van Helsing, a reimaging of vampire mythology in which the central character has been switched from male to female (similar to Wynnona Earp).

There was also news this week about Syfy’s planned Superman prequel. Called Krypton, it is set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s home planet. The show is based on a pilot by David S Goyer and will feature British actress Georgina Campbell.

Winona Ryder in Stranger Things
Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Last week, we discussed the success of 1980s-set thriller Stranger Things on Netflix and suggested it would only be a matter of time before a second series was greenlit.

In fact, a second season was announced the next day. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer and starring Winona Ryder, season two will debut in 2017 and will consist of nine episodes, one more than season one’s eight episodes.

We’ve also looked at Marvel’s expansion recently. The latest news on this front is that Marvel and ABC Studios are plotting a new series called New Warriors. Although a cable/SVoD home is yet to be found for the show, the plan is for it to be a comedy about a superhero squad made up of teenagers. This will follow a recent trend in the superhero genre towards irreverent franchises including Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool and Suicide Squad.

In terms of shows that won’t see a greenlight, the big news of the week is that AMC won’t be bringing back its restaurant drama Feed the Beast. Despite having a cast headed by David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess, the show attracted pretty modest ratings.

In a statement, AMC said: “We have great respect and admiration for the entire team associated with Feed the Beast and our studio partner, Lionsgate. Unfortunately, the show simply didn’t achieve the results needed to move forward with a second season.”

Jim Sturgess (left) and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast
Jim Sturgess (left) and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast

In number terms, season one of the show averaged around 447,000, making it the second lowest-rating scripted show on the network. Interestingly, the show it beat, Halt and Catch Fire, has been renewed through to season three.

However, AMC clearly decided it couldn’t carry two scripted series on such low ratings. This presents a slight conundrum for AMC, which is that it is heavily reliant on dystopian fantasy/horror series (The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands, Preacher) and could do with establishing a different editorial beachhead to appeal to a new audience subset.

Finally, DQ’s sister publication C21 is reporting that Spanish producer Boomerang TV has opened a new scripted production division in Chile. The arm will produce dramas for Chilean broadcasters and follows the arrival of Boomerang in the country in 2014. Veteran Latino producer and former Chilevisión drama chief Vicente David Sabatini becomes fiction director, while Cecilia Stoltze, formerly at TVN, has been named general producer.

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About Time: How to make time travel work on TV

DQ looks at the latest dramas to incorporate time travel into their storylines, and asks those behind the programmes exactly how they tackle a plot device that so often lends itself to confusion and complications.

Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist whose life was the subject of recent award-winning movie The Theory of Everything, hasn’t ruled out time travel completely. But he’s pretty sceptical about our ability to travel back in time and change or participate in events that have already happened.

His doubts were summarised succinctly in his 1998 book A Brief History of Time, in which he asked, quite reasonably, “If time travel is possible, where are the tourists from the future?”

Hawking’s concerns haven’t, however, stopped the TV business from dabbling in time travel. In recent years, a wide array of shows, ranging from hardcore science fiction to historical romance, have used time travel as a central narrative device.

Hindsight
Hindsight takes its main character back in time on the eve of her wedding

A case in point is Hindsight – recently cancelled despite initially being handed a second season – the VH1 scripted series about a woman (Becca) who finds herself propelled back in time while wrestling with doubts on the eve of her second wedding.

But there are no wormholes, extra dimensions or warp drives in Hindsight, says show creator Emily Fox, who explains that Becca’s journey back to 1995 occurs when she passes out in an elevator shaft.

“We’re not trying to crack the code of time here, we’re telling a fairytale,” she explains. “Becca’s experience is something most people think about at some point – what if I had taken a different path or made a different decision at a certain moment in time?”

Of course, Becca’s attempts to change the past don’t work out as planned. “The dirty little secret of time travel is that there is no such thing as perfect knowledge,” says Fox. “Becca’s attempts to alter her future for the better inevitably go wrong.”

Fox says the writing team on the show deliberately didn’t get into a broad theoretical debate about time travel “because Hindsight isn’t that kind of show, and we sensed that our simple ‘what if?’ premise would become unwieldy.”

But there were the inevitable fan questions, “such as why doesn’t Becca make herself rich by investing in Apple shares? Again, the answer to that was that we were trying to tell a more intimate story about a character whose priority was not to get rich quick but to find an emotional resolution,” Fox adds.

Historically, there haven’t been many female time travellers in fiction. But it’s interesting to note that there are currently two on TV, the other being Claire Beauchamp Randall, the heroine of Starz drama Outlander, which is based on the book series by Diana Gabaldon.

Claire is a Second World War combat nurse on a trip to Scotland with her husband. While there, she touches a mystical stone and wakes up in 1743 – in the middle of a military skirmish between the British and the highlanders. She sides with the Scots and falls in love with one of them (Jamie).

Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik says time travel is not used in a heavy-handed way during the first season (though it will be more prominent in season two), but adds that it does inform the relationship between Claire and Jamie. “It gives the relationship a different dynamic than if this was a traditional historical romance,” he says. “Claire has more independence than Jamie would expect from a woman of his own era.”

The fact that Claire is from the 1940s, not the present day, meant the production had to contend with two historical time periods, not one.

But like with Hindsight, a key theme of Outlander is whether the future can be altered or taken advantage of. Zlotnik adds: “At the end of season one, Claire and Jamie set off to try to stop the battle of Culloden, which she knows will end badly for the Scots. But she doesn’t know if there is a way for her to stop the Scots being decimated or if history is on some kind of autopilot.”

Interest in time-travel stories isn’t limited to the Anglo-American market. In the 2001 Mexican telenovela Aventuras En El Tiempo, central character Violeta discovers a time machine built by her grandfather that allows her to witness her own birth and her mother’s death.

tvN’s Nine: Nine Times Time Trave
tvN’s Nine: Nine Times Time Travel uses time travel to redefine the romance genre

In Korea, meanwhile, one of the top shows in the last couple of years has been Nine: Nine Times Time Travel, which aired on cable channel tvN in 2013. And like Hindsight and Outlander, the show explores concepts like the path not travelled, the unattainableness of perfect knowledge and the way in which actions have unintended consequences.

“Nine is a fantasy drama where Lee Jin-Wook, playing a TV anchor, gets his hands on nine doses of a mysterious potion that allows him to travel 20 years back in time nine times,” says Jangho Seo, head of international sales and acquisitions at distributor CJ E&M Corporation. “Each time he goes back, there are severe consequences for the present-day timeline.”

Although there are now a number of time-travel series on the Korean market, Nine was one of the first shows to see the potential of time travel in redefining the romance genre. Seo says: “The time-travel aspect was planned from the pre-production phase with a very clear purpose. The majority of Korean dramas focus on love stories and melodrama. As such, the main characters face dilemmas involving tangled relationships and disruptions from sub-characters. With Nine, we wanted the level of dilemma to reach its maximum.”

This approach is one reason the show has travelled so well, says Seo. To date, it has sold to 55 countries and has been picked up by a US prodco for development as a scripted pilot.

While all the above shows use time travel as device to tell relationship-based stories, it also continues to have a role to play in science-based action-adventure.

In ITV’s hit series Primeval (pictured top), for example, the idea of earthquakes in time, called ‘anomalies’ in the show, was developed so dangerous creatures from the past or future could accidentally travel through time, thus causing havoc wherever they went.

Tim Haines, creative director at ITV Studios and former creative director at Impossible Pictures, where he co-created and executive produced Primeval, says: “Time travel was a device to conflate creatures from different era. The anomalies were conceptually as simple as possible, so we did not need the audience to be excited about the process; it was more about the consequences of thrusting the fauna from a different time into the present and following the chaos.”

While time travel wasn’t intended as the core of Primeval’s concept, it did inevitably play its part in storytelling. In episode one, the central character Nick Cutter and his wife Helen stumble across the remains of an expedition that has been attacked by a monster, and then realise that the destroyed expedition is the one they are now on.

“The strongest time-travel storyline in Primeval was Cutter’s wife coming back to haunt him (after being presumed dead for eight years),” says Haines. “As for individual stories, the bigger the incursion, the trickier it was to make believable, because (the central characters) were trying to keep it secret. So being surrounded by terror birds in a wood shack worked well, but a T. rex in the city was less satisfying.”

The BBC's Doctor Who also incorporates time travel elements
The BBC’s Doctor Who also incorporates time travel elements

Like his peers, Haines avoided dwelling too much on paradoxes caused by time travel. “We talked about this a lot at the beginning and end of the series. But as the series went on, time travel and paradoxes became less relevant, if occasionally necessary,” he says. “Our science was more biological, using anomalies to explain evolutionary and crypto-zoological mysteries. There was consistency and the fans did not mind, even though I am sure if you looked closely you would have found holes.”

One dynamic that sets Primeval apart from other time-travel shows is that it has characters coming back to the present from an imagined future. The future’s impact on the present is also the central theme in Refugadios (Refugees), a BBC Worldwide/Atresmedia coproduction that aired in Spain in May but has yet to arrive in the UK.

Made by Bambu Producciones, the central premise of Refugees is that three billion people from the future have travelled to the present to escape an imminent global disaster.

The scale of the refugee problem is framed through a few key establishing shots, but the story itself focuses on a small town. Explaining the show at Mipcom 2014, executive producer Ben Donald said: “We haven’t gone global with a story investigating the future, that’s just a premise that helps bring out secrets and hidden stories among the protagonists.”

This is a key point. Like most the other series in the genre, Refugees uses time travel as a device to tell a certain kind of human interest story – similar to series like Les Revenants (The Returned) and Äkta Människor (Real Humans).

Donald added: “Without being didactic, Refugees is about the global immigration debate, which makes the series feel incredibly relevant. Science fiction at its best can hold up a mirror to the world and act as a fantastic metaphor.”

This assessment is echoed by writer Howard Overman, who has used time travel in Dirk Gently, Atlantis and, most prominently, his acclaimed drama Misfits.

“Sci-fi works best when it speaks to the human emotions in us. It’s a very human thing to think about the mistakes we’ve made and wonder what it would be like to rectify them,” he says. “In Misfits, time travel allowed one of our central characters to compare who he is now to what he would become in the future. Showing characters who have something at stake is more interesting than if we’d just used time travel visit the Victorian era.”

Overman says he tried hard to keep temporal consistency in Misfits’ time-travel storylines. “I was really careful about avoiding paradoxes,” he admits. “It is easy to overlook the ripple effects that are created when you use time travel. But then if you are worried about logic you probably shouldn’t be doing time travel at all.”

BBC primetime drama Atlantis also used time travel, with central character Jason Donnelly travelling back from the present to the ancient city of Atlantis via a deep-sea temporal disturbance. In that case “we started out with the idea that our hero might have some kind of basic knowledge of Greek mythology, but gradually dropped that idea,” says Overman. “In hindsight, it may have worked just as well if he had been a Greek guy washed up on the beach of Atlantis rather than someone travelling in time. But that’s the benefit of hindsight.”

For the most part, then, TV time travel is used as an allegorical device. But are there any shows for sci-fi geeks, comparable to movie extravaganzas like Terminator or Interstellar? Well, yes – but it seems the TV industry has a tendency to look back in time for its inspiration (similar to the way robotics stories give Isaac Asimov a respectful nod).

US cable channel The CW, for example, recently aired a remake of 1970s show The Tomorrow People, in which a core power of one of the main characters is the ability to manipulate time.

Luther writer Neil Cross is also adapting classic UK sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, about inter-dimensional beings who guard the order of time.

Then, of course, there is the BBC’s sci-fi series Doctor Who, rooted in a mythology first invented in the 1960s. Speaking to BBC America, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat summed up his own feelings about the appeal of time travel as a storytelling device: “The moment you say time travel is an incidental factor of your world, it changes everything.

“You could be dealing with the consequences of an action you have not yet performed. From the point of view of a writer, especially a writer like me who likes a puzzle-box structure, it’s fascinating. The future could be your past. Come on, that’s brilliant.”

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