By Han Sang-hee
The global economic crisis and corresponding local business sentiments are spreading over to the entertainment sector. Planned dramas are being dropped from production while top celebrities are willingly reducing their paychecks.
Main broadcasters MBC, KBS and SBS have each cut one drama from their programming budgets this fall, as production costs, along with actors' paychecks, are still soaring higher than ever.
At a seminar dubbed "The Crisis of TV dramas and Normalization of Performance Fees", drama directors from television networks, producers from outsource production companies, actors, scholars and civil group members got together to further discuss the reality and come up with constructive solutions.
"Production costs have jumped 25 percent to even 120 percent since 2004. The surprising part of the jump is that almost 60 percent of it is due to the paychecks (of the actors)", said Ha Yun-geum from the Korean Broadcasting Institute.
The paychecks given to top actors ranged from one million won to nine million won in 2002, but the number has jumped to 10 million and higher. Now it takes about 25 million won per episode to bring a top celebrity to star in a miniseries.
According to Ha, the reason lies in that more dramas are outsourced to production companies and because the paycheck system for actors has changed. These outsourcing productions rely greatly on company sponsorship, unlike major networks, which have limits on receiving extra financial support. It has thus come to be believed that the higher the budget, the better the drama will be. Actors starring in the dramas produced by outsourcing companies tend to get more than those made by the major networks.
The paycheck system also changed from the previous grading system to "free-contract deals", allowing top stars to receive more than the general public could imagine. When the actors were ranked into 18 grades depending on various factors such as work experience and years of experience in the business, the actor positioned in the highest grade could receive no more than three million won. But now, as outsourcing firms need the stars to guarantee the popularity of their dramas, the sky's the limit for the actors' paychecks.
Ha mentioned that they needed a sturdy and relevant system in managing the money paid to actors, as well as sponsorships offered by businesses to drama production companies.
Kim Sung-han, chairman of the Korean Television Actors Association, on the other hand, argues that there are only a number of actors who receive such high paychecks and that they needed a more stable and comprehensive way to solve lingering problems.
"Actors don't have many guarantees for their future. It wasn't like they were given the money just sporadically. The word `normalization' does not make any sense", he said.
Others also pointed out that it was not fair to ask only actors to downsize their budgets without further investigating the true reality of drama productions.
Amid the worries in current drama productions and the incredible paychecks some local actors receive, some top stars have decided to give in and lower their "star" status and refuse any extravagant checks.
was the first to announce that he was reducing his paycheck from what he used to get, which was approximately 50 million won, to 15 million won per episode. The newlywed also added that he would donate 10 percent of the money to a celebrity donation organization.
"It's evident that many of my fellow actors and other production crewmembers are having a hard time working on dramas. I simply want to be a small help to them", he was quoted by his agency as saying.
Fellow actor Song Seung-heon
also followed suit and decided to pull down his payroll to 50 percent for the drama "East of Eden
". It was known that the actor was given 70 million won per episode, which would have been more than three billion won when the 50-episode drama ended. His agency announced last Wednesday that the actor would receive the remaining 50 percent from copyright deals from overseas earnings if the drama crosses the break-even point.
"I wanted to share the difficulties of the people I work with. If the drama becomes popular, then I think it's natural for all of us to share in the success", Song was quoted as saying by his agency, Mnet Media.
Actors So Ji-sub
and Choi Ji-woo
also announced that they will look into the paycheck cut in order to facilitate a healthier and convenient drama production atmosphere.