BY Joan MacDonald | Jul 26, 2013 10:56 AM EDT
When Kim Jong Hak, who directed "Faith: The Great Doctor," was found dead earlier this week, some of the actors who appeared in his drama felt guilty. The actors recently filed a complaint against Kim and the production company because the cast and crew had not yet been paid for working on the historical time-travel drama, which starred Lee Min Ho and Kim Hee Sun. The actors filed a complaint for fraud and embezzlement, citing outstanding salaries that totaled approximately $500,000.
It turns out that they were not paid because the director was deeply in debt. Despite having directed such huge hits as the drama "Sandglass," the director's financial problems had become worse over the last few years.
The average cost of producing a drama episode runs now about $250,000. Given the high cost of producing, many broadcasters now purchase shows from independent production companies. Independent production companies have more writers on staff, which can result in a better quality of production. But when broadcast companies buy from independent companies, they only pay half the production costs, leaving the independent companies to raise the rest. This is done by finding sponsors and placing products within the drama. However, in a historical drama, there are few options for product placement. If a show does not generate positive ratings, it can quickly spiral into debt.
That is what happened with "Faith" and was probably the main reason that the actors were not paid.
Kim could not raise the rest of the funds required. While he was responsible for finding outside funds, some say he was also a victim of the system, which makes it riskier for independent companies. Kim worked on "Faith" for three years and the project attracted his star cast. But the drama fared poorly in the ratings and the salaries required by the stars put the production over budget.
After the director was charged with embezzlement, the police filed an injunction that kept him from traveling to China where he was working on a new drama. In his suicide note, Kim Jong Hak cursed the prosecutor.
"I hope you apologize to the citizens who love dramas," he wrote.
The cast of "Faith" was heartbroken to think that their attempts to get paid had somehow led to the director's death. Actress Kim Hee Sun was especially distraught at the director's wake because she signed the complaint on behalf of other less famous actors.
According to the Korea Broadcasting Actor's Union, "such tragedies will continue to happen unless the system that benefits only broadcasters is changed."
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