The Korea Herald


[Room Tone] If I were in charge

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 2, 2024 - 11:09

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Thomas Suh Thomas Suh

As a producer in the film and television industry, it's rare for us not to indulge in some sort of imaginative play. What used to be "cops and robbers" in the schoolyard has now evolved into scenarios such as "If I were in charge.” Because, let’s be honest, many of us -- correction, all of us -- producers believe we could successfully oversee a film and TV studio. In that same spirit, I offer my own take on “If I were in charge of a film and television studio.”

The Korean theatrical film industry faced significant challenges in 2023, with only half a dozen films managing to break even on their investments. Theatrical films are heavily dependent on their opening weekend. And now, with the escalating budgets of blockbusters, these films find themselves particularly vulnerable to the performance of that initial weekend. A film's longevity is essentially decided by the Monday morning following its opening -- an outcome long believed to be shaped by the choice of casting and the market appeal of the featured stars.

In my role as a studio head, I would empower the film department to shift away from the prevailing blockbuster, star-centric approach. Instead, I would urge them to pursue innovative cinematic ideas that can be suited by actors selected not for their marketability or celebrity but for their talent. I am a firm believer that a well-told story serves as the critical foundation for creating powerful cinematic experiences.

In response to the growing importance of the streaming film industry, I would create a “Straight to Streaming” film department with the responsibility of discovering and fostering the next generation of writers, directors and actors. Films from this department would be tailored for an in-home viewing experience, spanning genres, from horror to heartwarming romances.

In 2017, in a conversation with a Korean TV writer, I proclaimed, “Netflix will be a substantial producer of Korean content within 7-10 years.” As it turns out, I was incorrect; Netflix is now the predominant producer of Korean content. Sidenote: that Korean TV writer has since gone on to create a very successful Korean show for Netflix.

As Netflix enjoys its dominance in the subscription video on demand market, as a studio head, I would encourage other global streamers to establish a presence in the Korean market, benchmarking Netflix’s considerable success. I strongly believe that a thriving content market is characterized by many players vying for the most promising of projects.

With the proliferation of on-demand viewing, appointment TV has now been consigned to the past. Except for certain instances like news and sports, it’s a rarity for viewers to be tuned into the same content at the same time.

Recognizing the impact of watching events unfold in real-time, I stand an ardent supporter of live broadcasts. As a counter-response to declining viewership and decreasing ad rates, I would redirect the television department’s efforts towards live TV programming that can be promoted as can’t-miss events, including genres such as variety and talk shows, dramas and potentially even K-pop musicals, all delivered in real time to our viewers.

I vividly recall watching the live episode of ER on NBC in 1997. I refused to believe it was all happening in real time until I noted the Cubs baseball game playing in the background. The idea that Clooney and the cast were performing in real time was as unbelievable as it was thrilling.

As our industry faces shifting audience preferences and market uncertainties, it is the stubborn pursuit of groundbreaking ideas and quality that holds the key to success. If we allow innovation and artistry to steer our endeavors, we not only adapt to the challenges at hand but also set the stage for continued creative excellence.

I extend my best wishes to our current studio heads. Having penned this column, I recognize that their role is a thankless job and a position I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Nevertheless, I stand in community and support; may their good efforts continue to light the path we strive to tread.

Thomas Suh is the founder and managing director of Systeme D Entertainment, a filmed media and entertainment company that specializes in content acquisition, management and production for film and television. "Room Tone," the title of Suh's column series, refers to the ambient sound of a space in which filming takes place. Thomas Suh can be reached at -- Ed.