Actors remain unpaid for MBC’s Night Light and KBS’s Master–God of Noodle
Sigh. I realize that behind-the-scenes dramaland isn’t made up of sunshine and rainbows, but news like this really does tarnish the shiny veneer on the industry as a whole. It’s been reported that actors from MBC’s Night Light and KBS’s Master–God of Noodle still haven’t been paid for their work on the shows. While it’s only been a couple of months since Night Light ended its run, God of Noodle aired its episodes between April and June of last year, which makes it almost a year that they’ve been delaying payment to some of its cast.
Unfortunately, this is far from the first time this has happened, as most of us drama fans who’ve been around long enough know. Just off the top of my head, I recall the off-camera mess in Age of Feeling, and the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of one of Korea’s iconic drama directors. Until dramaland reforms its flawed outsourced production system, we can probably safely assume this will not be the last time reports like this appear in the headlines.
In this instance, the actors who hadn’t been duly compensated for their work recently submitted official complaints to the respective production companies for both shows. Verdi Media, the company behind Master–God of Noodle, owes something to the tune of 300 million won (or US $270,000), and hasn’t made any offer to negotiate or resolve this matter. It’s been reported that the Korea Entertainment Management Association (Korea’s version of the U.S.’s Screen Actors Guild) issued a summons to Verdi Media on April 5 to attend a disciplinary/ethics hearing regarding this issue.
When this story broke on April 7, early reports indicated that C Story, Night Light’s production company, had also not responded to actors’ attempts to contact them. However, C Story has since come out with a statement, saying they were confused by the reports and that while payments have been delayed, they have been communicating with all of the as-yet-unpaid actors. Aside from the infamous use of PPL, revenues from dramas derive mainly from selling broadcasting rights overseas, and with China shutting the door on all and anything Korean with the recent hullabaloo over military/political issues, companies like C Story are finding it difficult coming up with the money to pay production costs.
This whole China kerfuffle means bad news across the industry, because C Story is certainly not the only production company that relies on the Chinese market. It doesn’t help that MBC and KBS are taking a total hands-off approach to the problem, saying that these issues should be handled by the production companies. Bae Kyung-soo, the KBS producer who oversaw Master–God of Noodle during its run, released a statement saying that KBS had already paid all production costs at the outset, and that actors’ contracts were with the production companies. It’s unfortunate, because there have been cases where the broadcasters have stepped in before (e.g., MBC eventually paid the actors in Rascal Sons when the production company’s CEO actually fled the country), but for now, it looks like MBC and KBS are holding their ground.
This is just bad juju all around because you can’t blame any single party for the flawed system. These production companies are operating on so-thin-you-can’t-see margins as is, so if the drama isn’t a ratings hit, more than likely they’ll be losing money. This is why I’m always excited to hear of alternative investments flowing in through the likes of Netflix, weirdly scheduled episode releases notwithstanding, because diversifying the money flow means less dependency on a single source (*cough* China *cough*). But until that becomes the norm, we’ll just have to hope that the industry recognizes the problem and try to reform from within. I know, I’m not holding my breath either.