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Interview

YOON Seong-ho, Director of the First YouTube Premium Korean Series TOP MANAGEMENT

Dec 17, 2018
  • Writerby SONG Soon-jin
  • View711
“Now is the time to think about the new generation of content production and the methods of distribution”


Having directed the independent film Milky Way Liberation Front (2007), the TV sitcom Read My Lips (2010) and the web series The Cravings, on top of his planning stint on web series I Should Have Killed That Bastard, director YOON Seong-ho has tried his hand at various platforms. This time, he’s teaming up with YouTube. The result of this collaboration is Top Management, the first Korean drama series put out by paid monthly subscription service YouTube Premium. What catches the eye is the fact that, with this title, YOON Seong-ho explores in earnest the Korean entertainment industry that has long fascinated him, as evidenced by his works Read My Lips, Green Fever (2017) and Idol Fever (2017). As Top Management chronicles the growth of idol group S.O.U.L., it delightfully unravels the mechanisms of the Korean idol industry. We met with YOON Seong-ho to talk about his latest work.

Looking at the YouTube Originals catalogue, it appears there is already a lot of documentaries on Korean idols. How did you come up with Top Management?
Top Management is Korea’s third YouTube Original project following the documentaries about G-Dragon (Kwon Ji Young Act III: Motte, 88 minutes) and BTS (BTS: Burn the Stage, 9 episodes), and the first YouTube Original drama series. I joined the project after receiving an offer from Studio 329, which was founded (in 2016) by YOON Shin-ae, the producer of Six Flying Dragons and He Who Can’t Marry, among others. YOON Shin-ae had secured the adaptation rights to JANG Woo-san’s web novel Top Management and was at the time pre-producing the first project with the author. In the novel, a male manager who stepped into the entertainment industry without any particular ambition suddenly finds himself on the fast track as he can foresee the future, eventually becoming an entertainment tycoon, at which points he starts looking back on the past. This is a work with fast pacing that can be read like an Asian heroic fantasy novel, but YOON Shin-ae said that she got a meeting with YouTube once they fleshed out the project to the point where the genders were inverted, with a female manager and male idols. That was just when there was a strong interest around K-pop themes on YouTube. The lack of content employing K-pop to tell a story despite all the video clips on K-pop, as well as this being the story of a woman who overcomes situations by herself, led them to consider positively this project and eventually to greenlight this original series.

There is a total of 16 episodes, and you were free to decide on a running time between 20 and 40 minutes. Is this the result of a careful consideration of the format that would best fit the platform YouTube Premium?
The number of episodes was already decided when we signed the contract with YouTube, and in return we were given carte blanche for the running time. It is said that a longer running time isn’t good for the views, but they told me it wasn’t a problem I should worry about. Actually, there is a lot of 10-minute long videos on YouTube. One of the reasons YouTube Premium produce original videos must have been, “let’s show that we too have the ability to create long-term stories”. I still worried a lot about the running time. If Netflix is a platform on which viewers decide what they watch, YouTube is a platform on which they are constantly drifting. So, at first, I wanted to stay around the 20-minute mark, but cutting down the script proved to be too difficult. (laughs) In the end, the earlier episodes with the necessary background explanations run over 40 minutes, and those in the middle of the season clock in at around 20 minutes. As for the latter ones, as they wrap the story, they are also longer than 40 minutes.


In terms of story, which elements have you changed to fit your own vision?
I wondered, what is the reason I must really tell this story of a manager with divination skills leading a K-pop idol group, and how can I make it legitimate? Had it been a story of a male manager leading a girl idol group, I wouldn’t have paid attention, but having a female manager as the protagonist was appealing. So, I focused on that aspect and wanted to go with a story that follows the progress of a rookie female manager through her encounter with a strong female leader. I established that the CEO of Top Management agency, the male character named Baek Dae-pyo (CHO Han-cheul), would run away from his responsibilities early on, and that the competent female leader Gang I-sa (PARK Hee-bon) would cover his back and run the company. After constructing the characters like that, I felt divination may not be just a supernatural gift, but the ability to predict the future using big data and references. You could say this is a realistic interpretation of divination. That’s why, even though Top Management is the story of a failed idol group going through ups and downs and rising again in the process, in the end this is all about female talent managers laying plans and overcoming obstacles. Having set my sights on this latter narrative, I considered this was a story worth telling.

With Top Management, you are a making your first foray into the global market. What are your expectations?
Among the YouTube channels I like, there is Toe-gyeong, Let’s Take a Pill. He is someone who shows himself performing the choreographies of K-pop songs, so constantly creating new content is fundamental, and he even possesses the organizational skills necessary to create something called “Random Play Dance” where he brings people to dance together. It is some kind of flash mob where he plays a mix of K-pop songs and those who know the song come up and mimic the respective choreographies. He held a Random Play Dance at KCON LA and hundreds of people showed up to dance. Having seen that, I wondered who would watch a drama series on YouTube. YouTube allows us to provide content to a larger audience, but it surely requires to bring out the big guns. On this platform, it is also much more effective to give the impression that we are communicating with individuals than to announce corporate strategies. I mean, in this case, investing more money, time and effort in Top Management wouldn’t guarantee more views. So, we expect a 40-minute episode of Top Management to take a full year to reach the global market. At this time, the first three episodes are available for free while the rest can only be watched by paying subscribers from countries where the Premium service is available. Also, we provide subtitles in seven languages until the 8th episode, but they are only available in English and Korean from the 9th episode onwards. I think that if this point is improved in the future and more people get exposed to the appeal of this narration over time, then we may get tremendous prospects on the global market. I instilled value in the narration, and I’m confident that there are elements that will be appreciated by Internet culture fans.
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