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Ko - production in Busan
  • Wanted : Good Screenwriters
  • by Darcy PAQUET ( /  Dec 01, 2010

  • Surely everyone can agree that the screenplay is one of the most fundamental aspects of any film. Occasionally a director or a talented group of actors can turn a mediocre screenplay into a great film (or vice versa), but this is not the norm. The screenplay is the base material from which the director, cast and crew shape a film. In a general sense, good films require good screenplays.
     Dose it follow, then, that screenwriting is a fundamental aspect of any film industry? It seems logical, but if you spend time looking at how film industries are actually structured, you sometimes come away with a different impression. In the case of the Korean film industry, the amount of resources and attention directed towards the art of screenwriting seems disproportionately small. This isn't some dark and well-kept secret: just about every film professional working in Korea would readily admit that this is one of the industry's problems. But systems can be hard to change, even when there is widespread acknowledgment that change would be a positive thing.
     The imbalance in the system can be seen, for a start, in film education. The past two decades have seen an explosion in the number of film production departments in the nation's universities. By the latter part of the last decade there were over 50. They tend to offer degrees in directing, acting, and occasionally producing, but almost never screenwriting. This is not to say that they do not offer courses in screenwriting, as just about all of them do, but students who would like to build a career in screenwriting have limited options. Instead of universities, the most common place to become trained as a screenwriter are a few well-known private institutes, or screenwriting workshops. Often, screenwriters simply learn by doing.
     Universities' reluctance to offer screenwriting degrees may just be a reflection of reality. The truth is, few people in Korea are able to make a living as full-time screenwriters. Even wellknown writers get paid something in the neighborhood of 30 million to 50 million won (around $25,000-$42,000) per film. A more common figure for lesser-known screenwriters is 20 million won ($17,000), and the contracts may stipulate that writers receive less money if the film fails to go into production. These numbers have not really changed in the past decade, during which time Korea's filmmaking system evolved quite rapidly. In contrast, average pay for key crew members such as cinematographers has risen noticeably. A cinematographer may make three or four times as much money as the screenwriter on many productions.
     Why don't screenwriters organize? Perhaps this is because most of the time, in Korea directors write their own screenplays (the figures mentioned above seem less unreasonable when added to a directing salary). The notion of the auteur who develops an original idea, writes a screenplay and then directs a film is widespread in Korea, even for commercial films. You might say that there is a kind of unspoken pressure for directors to write their own scripts if they wish to be taken seriously. There is a more practical side to this as well. For the multitudes of young directors hoping to make their commercial debut, most promising road lies in writing a good screenplay. Being named as the director of your own screenplay is far easier than for a person with little directing experience to be attached to a script written by someone else.
     Of course, there are obvious benefits to having directors write their own screenplays. There is, in a sense, a perfect match between the screenwriter's vision and the director's execution. If a director has a clear idea of how a scene will be shot, then the corresponding scene in the screenplay can be shaped to the director's plans. Conflicts between a screenwriter's intention and contrasting idea by the director can be avoided if directors write their own screenplays. Still, the skills required to direct a film and to write a good screenplay are completely different. When they are both manifested in a single person, this is ideal (Korea's most famous directors Park Chan-wook, BONG Joon-ho, KIM Jee-woon, LEE Chang-dong, and HONG Sangsoo all usually write their own screenplays, and are quite good at it). But it would seem logical that in the majority of cases, you would get a better result by pairing a talented screenwriter and a capable director. Why isn't this being done more often?
     The contrast between the position held by screenwriters in the Korean film industry compared to the more lucrative TV drama industry is striking. For a start, the pay is far higher. Contracts tend to be structured in a way that is more beneficial to the screenwriter, and broadly speaking the system is much more focused on the act of screenwriting. Within the realm of TV dramas, the screenwriter is more generally recognized as the author of a work, and the best-known writers enjoy wide name recognition among ordinary fans. Such figures wield real power. As such it is little surprise that screenwriters who establish themselves in the film industry often end up moving to TV drama industry where their services are more appreciated. If the tone of this article seems despairing, there is another way to look at this issue. The Korean film industry has experienced major changes in the past 15 years, transforming from a weak, disorganized system into something far more structured and mature. Most observers would agree that those changes were necessary and warranted. You might also argue that a lot of the creative energy in Korean cinema over the past decade and a half was given a boost by these developments in production methods and working practices. The dynamic change taking place in the film industry can be felt in the films.
     More recently, as the system has matured, one has felt a little bit of the energy go out of Korean cinema. This is not to say there aren't any good films, or that the most talented directors aren't pushing their careers forward in interesting ways. But the average Korean film feels less fresh than it did five or ten years ago. Because of this, well written screenplays have become more noticeable than they were in the past. Although producers lament that it is difficult to find financing in the current environment, they also readily admit that an outstanding screenplay can very quickly attract investors and make its way to the screen -- one example is the hit film Secret Reunion from earlier this year. Although good screenplays have always been in demand, in the current environment the need for good screenplays is becoming more obvious.
     The time may be ripe, therefore, for this neglected part of the film industry to finally receive some attention. If demand for good screenplays starts to push up screenwriting fees, then more people will be encouraged to try their hand at it. Currently there are very few well-known full-time screenwriters in the film industry, but the situation seems ripe for some to emerge in the coming years. Powerful screenwriters could start to push for changes in the system, as they did in the TV drama industry.
     There is no guarantee this will happen, of course, and if the status quo remains in place then the future looks cloudy for Korean cinema as a whole. If on the other hand more focus starts to shift to the art and craft of screenwriting, we will undoubtedly be able to sense this in the quality of the films. Many people looking ahead into the coming decade worry about the continued vitality of Korean cinema, but here is an area where there is potential for vast improvement. If in five years this magazine is devoting its lead article to an emerging generation of talented new Korean screenwriters, then the optimists may prevail.
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  • Comment
  • Writer :  | 2017-04-22 03:09:44
  • i wrote a korean screenplay . how can i sell it to south korean preducer?