Content creators say forget trends and focus on originality if you want a hit

A forum titled “The Center of K-content, the Storytellers — Different Outlets, Joint Project” (translated) co-hosted by the Directors Guild of Korea (DGK) and Jacops P&D was held at Seoul Hall of Urbanism & Architecture on Friday. [DGK]

What makes storytelling interesting?

In an age when consumers can access and enjoy all kinds of content, whether it be in the form of webtoons, books, films, television series or original series created by streaming services, intellectual property (IP), has become a key prospect among local creators.

IP is a term used in the entertainment industry to describe a concept, theme, characters or other elements that can be adapted into other types of entertainment formats.

In other words, if a creator comes up with a good narrative, it can transcend any medium.

In a forum co-organized by the Directors Guild of Korea and Jacops P&D titled “The Center of K-content, the Storytellers — Different Outlets, Joint Project” (translated) on Friday, creators from different fields unanimously agreed that the creation of successful IP no longer is about timeliness or what's trending. They say success depends on originality.

Director Hong Won-chan [DGK]

According to director Hong Won-chan, who is behind films such as “Deliver Us From Evil” (2020) and “Office” (2015), the process of creating a script for a film almost always faces tweaks and changes due to the investments involved. Hong is also a screenwriter who has worked on “The Yellow Sea” (2010) and “The Chaser” (2008).

“[The narrative] is fine-tuned for the people who give the money to the film,” he explained. “With films, a huge sum of capital and human resources are injected to create something so it is especially crucial for [the creators] to compromise and mediate between different opinions. When I was a screenwriter, I wrote the script for myself without considering who my readers were going to be. But as I started filmmaking, I began to become aware of the readers as I wrote my script — whether that be an audience or the producers [...] In filmmaking, no one can really narrow down whose idea or opinion led to certain changes, because the whole process is subject to countless proposals and decisions. What a director must do is to take them all into consideration and decide what must be done. That is the most difficult part of filmmaking.”

Director Hong Won-chan's "Deliver Us From Evil" surpassed 4.3 million in ticket sales when released in August 2020, an impressive feat during the Covid-19 pandemic. [CJ ENM]

Due to this quality of filmmaking, Hong said that it is difficult to predict what will appeal to audiences. As for “Deliver Us From Evil,” which garnered over 4.3 million in ticket sales — a rare and impressive feat during the Covid-19 pandemic — the script was written by Hong a decade ago.

“The script I wrote 10 years ago came back to me,” Hong said. “Since then, a lot of similar films or content had come out so there were parts I had to edit. As for keeping up with the trends, I discussed it a lot with the producers and my crew.”

Webtoonist and screenwriter Kim Bo-tong [DGK]

Webtoonist and screenwriter Kim Bo-tong behind Netflix hit series “D.P.” (2021) said that it took him years to turn his webtoon into a series due to its setting.

“The offer to turn the webtoon into a film came first, and it came fairly quickly,” Kim said. “The offer came just after I published two episodes, but for a while, it couldn’t start production. All the production companies were intrigued by the narrative of military police, who are merely soldiers fulfilling their mandatory military duties themselves, that were tasked with catching and arresting soldiers who went AWOL. They said that anyone who’s been to the military could relate to the story. However, they also hesitated for the very same reasons, because it was so distinctively Korean. This was before Netflix arrived to the market.”

Netflix original series "D.P." (2021) was written by Kim Bo-tong. It is based on his webtoon of the same title. [DGK]

Screenwriter Han Ji-wan tries to stick to her original narratives rather than adapt IP. If she does base a script on IP, the original creator has to give her complete creative freedom. Han recently wrapped up tvN drama series “The Killer’s Shopping List,” which was adapted from a novel with the same title by Kang Ji-young.

Screenwriter Han Ji-wan [DGK]

“I try to stick to my original content, but recently, I have received proposals from others about IP that might suit me,” she said. “However, I was never hooked on anything. If I write a script adapted from a novel or a webtoon, there has to be a character, a line that instantly hooks me. For ‘The Killer’s Shopping List,’ I was arrested by the novel’s idea that the protagonist can track down the killer from receipts. I only used that element from the novel, and the author gave me permission to write what I wanted.”

When it comes to the various platforms available to creators to publish their works on, they agree that choosing the right one can make or break them.

TvN drama series "The Killer's Shopping List" (2022) written by Han Ji-wan is based on a novel with the same title by Kang Ji-young. [TVN]

“I don’t think it matters anymore what platform you launch your content,” Kim said. “As a writer, I think it’s about choosing the best platform that suits my content and that is able to bring out the content’s originality. The competitive edge of a writer lies in whether or not they can make an impact on viewers through their work.”

“I don’t try to look for a topic that is trending,” Hong said. “I think it’s more important to look for a genre or a topic that I know well, or that I like. If that is reflected well in your story, then people will respond.”