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Film directors make inroads into small screens

Filmmakers push boundaries with introduction of OTT services

“The Kingdom” (Netflix)
“The Kingdom” (Netflix)
In recent years, film directors have been making inroads into the small screen, creating serial productions, “Kingdom” -- the smash-hit Korean zombie thriller produced and distributed by Netflix -- being one of the successful examples.

The first season of the Netflix series was helmed by director Kim Seong-hoon of films “A Hard Day” and “Tunnel,” who made the small screen debut with “Kingdom.” For the second season of “Kingdom,” Kim directed the first episode while another filmmaker Park In-je directed the five remaining episodes.

Kim is joined by several other directors in moving to small screens.

Leading comedy director Lee Byung-heon successfully aired his first drama “Melo Is My Nature” on JTBC last year, while director Kim Chang-hee made his small screen debut with the webtoon-based OCN thriller “Strangers from Hell.” 

“The Cursed,” a fantasy-thriller involving elements of shamanism and demons that recently aired on tvN, was helmed by two film directors. While Kim Yong-wan of 2018 film “Champion” took charge of the overall production, Yeon Sang-ho who directed the hit zombie flick “Train to Busan” wrote the screenplay.

Yeon, whose zombie flick spinoff “Peninsula” is due to be released this summer, is also due to direct his first drama series, “The Hell.”

“The Cursed” (tvN)
“The Cursed” (tvN)
It was the Cannes-winning Park Chan-wook, who cleared the path for directors to crossover to the world of television with his 2017 BBC series “The Little Drummer Girl.”

“It wasn’t TV drama that I wanted to do, but (the production of) ‘The Little Drummer Girl,’” Park said about the miniseries during a press conference in March 2019. The series was an adaption of John le Carre’s novel by the same title.

“If I were to make a film, I would have had to cut down the characters considerably. Even the six episodes had involved much reduction (in story),” Park said.

Greater creative freedom is one of the reasons why more filmmakers are jumping into the television industry.

Directors’ move to the small screen was accelerated by Netflix, which released its first Korean drama series “Kingdom” in 2019. During a press conference held ahead of the “Kingdom” season one release, director Kim said he produced the series as if he were producing a longer film.

An official from Netflix said the company does not prefer film directors, but look for creators who would manage each production the best and this naturally led them to cooperate with film directors.

“Our service is not run by advertisements from other companies and we grant the whole budget for the production, so we have no reason to interfere with the direction,” said the Netflix official.

The production environment for TV shows has been changing with the emergence of OTTs.

With OTTs releasing both films and series, drama productions have been increasingly employing film staff and expanding budgets to catch up with OTT productions.

“Strangers from Hell” (OCN)
“Strangers from Hell” (OCN)
“It wasn’t easy for film directors to jump into the drama industry before. The dramas had a much smaller budget and they weren’t preproduced before being aired, so there was time pressure. Filmmakers aren’t used to such an environment,” culture critic Jung Duk-hyun told The Korea Herald.

“Director Park Chan-wook’s move sent a message that the dramas didn’t have to be different from films. Each episode could be like a film in itself, just as Park had done with his ‘The Little Drummer Girl.’ It was same for ‘Kingdom,’” Jung said.

The viewers also tend to prefer contents by filmmakers due to the diversity of their genres and the more advanced technologies employed by film directors.

“The traditional Korean television dramas were mostly limited to romance and melodrama in the past, but this changed in the last few years as Korean dramas had to compete with film-like series shows made by US producers, such as HBO. With filmmakers directing dramas, their characters are much more evident in their productions compared to the traditional drama producers. This has now become another point to note for the audience,” film critic Ha Jae-keun said.

More dramas from film directors are expected to be released this year.

On Monday, OCN announced that “Team Bulldog: Off-duty Investigation” produced by director Kang Hyo-jin of film “The Dude In Me” will start airing May. The upcoming drama series is the third set from the cable channel’s “Dramatic Cinema” project. Launched last year, the project aims to introduce new formats and genres by having filmmakers produce drama series.

Netflix is also slated to release serveral series by Korean filmmakers, including “The School Nurse Files” by director Lee Kyoung-mi, featuring Jung Yu-mi, and “The Squid Game” (unofficial title) by director Hwang Dong-hyuk.

By Choi Ji-won (