The concept of pre-production for dramas was an unthinkable word in South Korea. Clear limitations on production costs and a competitive edge (reflected in viewer reactions) often made this impossible. For miniseries, production would start about two months before the confirmed scheduling.
However, it wasn’t as simple as diving straight into filming. Considering factors like casting, scouting for locations, and set construction, the pre-shooting period was just about a month. As a result, it was customary for broadcast stations to be lenient toward incomplete scripts. Dramas with a solid first half and a messy second half were often the result of this rushed process, making them typical examples of front-loading.
“What should I do…?”
Writer Choi Eunsuk repeatedly clicked her pen’s button. It was a habit that she displayed when thinking about her work or facing difficult decisions. Her mind was as intricate and complex as a canvas splattered with various colors. And who could blame her?
– “Writer Choi, it’s better than we thought!”
Just a few days ago, she heard a voice over the phone. It was the voice of the PD Yoo Myeonghan, who was as excited as if he had discovered a treasure. He was known to be more meticulous than most veteran directors, even during his days as an assistant director. This diligence allowed him to secure a director position in just seven years and finalize his show’s scheduling.
– “Yeongguk is seriously amazing at acting! It wasn’t a lie when we said we felt something during the script reading! So, here’s the thing.”
During the script reading, they truly felt something every time the child actor spoke their lines. It felt like the young Kim Hajin from the script had come to life.
– “What if we let Yeongguk do the emotional scene in episode 3?”
It was an absurd suggestion. The emotional scene in episode 3 was challenging even for adult actors. Choi Eunsuk knew it well, as writing the scene had been emotionally taxing for her. Another reason for her hesitation was that viewers weren’t fond of child actors’ performances. The significant differences between adults and children in terms of their tone and articulation were noticeable.
A clumsy display of emotions could tarnish the show’s previous evaluations if they weren’t careful. That’s why the intense emotional scene in the third episode had to be performed by an older version of Jang Yeongguk, not the child actor. There was no way PD Yoo, known for his keen filming instincts, wouldn’t be aware of this.
– “Trust me and give it a try. Writer Choi, the final decision is up to you. Park AD will bring the footage to Seoul personally tomorrow.”
Choi Eunsuk lowered her head and looked at the tape in her hands. It was a copy that had been hastily edited, focusing on Jang Yeongguk from the raw footage taken at the scene. The logo for KBC Busan Broadcasting Corporation’s documentary was still there, faded though it was. Editing must have been difficult, even if it was still KBC since it wasn’t their headquarters.
“Let’s watch it.”
There’s nothing to lose from watching.
How well could a child act, even if they were said to be good? She couldn’t forget her excitement when she saw the script reading, but acting while focusing on the screen and moving was different.
She couldn’t help but be objective in evaluating acting. She wasn’t the director; instead, she had to take responsibility as the main writer. This was particularly true for acting in broadcasts, which had to cater to viewers beyond the screen, unlike the theater, which was closer to the audience.
[Can I really grow up like this, as an only child? When I get old, should I sell fish like my mother? No, I won’t do that. I won’t stay here even if I die! Can’t you just say it? Am I shameful to you? If I’m so shameful, why didn’t you just abandon me! I can’t stand this. I’ll break free from all these stinky things―!]
Choi Eunsuk leaned forward. The video was still raw, unedited, without cleaned-up sound or other enhancements. However, the child actor’s lines were delivered as if they were etched into her ears, not missing a single syllable, especially in that scene.
“Throwing fish at the mother?”
As a writer, it was an action and movement that she couldn’t have anticipated. Was it the PD’s doing? Having known Yoo Myeonghan since his AD days, she was already quite familiar with his directing style. He was a man who moved with meticulous calculations.
Undoubtedly, the actor’s interpretation of those lines can only be seen as their personal expression, not someone else’s directing. Choi Eunsuk found herself absorbed in the child actor’s performance on the screen, having forgotten even to click her pen. How much time had passed? By this point, she couldn’t see even the faintest traces of dust.
[My mom says that when your shoelaces come undone, it’s because someone is thinking about you.]
With a soft thud, the pen in Choi Eunsuk’s hand fell to the floor. No writer didn’t have concerns about their script. Almost every waking moment, save for a bit of sleep, was dedicated to crafting better sentences and scenes.
That’s why many writers didn’t like ad-libs, feeling as though their scripts and characters’ values were being belittled. However, the child actor’s ad-lib struck Choi Eunsuk’s heart without mercy. The actor showed that they saw the world beyond the script. It was only then that she realized.
“The script said so, that’s why.”
The boy’s words during the script reading were true.
There were more than a few things to worry about during night shootings. From setting up the lighting to considering the surrounding civil complaints, even the sound work had to be thorough. The fatigue of the shooting staff was no joke, and they were bound to be on edge due to the strenuous workload. On a day like today, when the supporting actors made frequent mistakes, it created an atmosphere where everyone felt like they were walking on thin ice.
“Let’s take a quick ten-minute break, everyone!”
Eventually, PD Yoo threw off his headphones and stood up from his seat. The atmosphere among the film crew wasn’t good. It was as if the sky was about to fall any minute due to the continuous NGs caused by the supporting actors’ mistakes. Actor Park Suyeong went into the waiting room without looking back.
“Hyung, are you alright?”
Supporting actor Song Jeongseok brushed his face with both hands. This was his first drama role since leaving the theater. However, it wasn’t as easy as he had hoped. He was endlessly happy when he found out that the boy who had helped him before was the main child actor in the drama. He had vowed to show off his acting skills.
“Yeongguk, I’m sorry. The shooting is getting delayed because of me…”
Song Jeongseok was aware of the bitterness of being a supporting actor. If the PD were to call out an NG, it would feel like walking on a thorny path for the supporting actor, as there’s a possibility that their scenes could be entirely cut from the drama. Song Jeongseok, who returned to Yeongdo to learn the Busan dialect and even lived in an inn, had an insatiable thirst and desire to act like anyone else.
“Hyung, don’t blame yourself too much. You were aware of the camera’s path and moved well. Your voice projection was good too. I could see that you tried to erase the tone you used in the theater. But that’s not the problem.”
“Who do you think your character is?”
Song Jeongseok overcame the common problem often faced by actors transitioning from theater to screen. However, the problem lay elsewhere in understanding his character. Unlike theater, drama supporting roles were merely extras without any background story, playing roles such as passersby or drunkards. They have no character history to understand.
Song Jeongseok was once a great actor in his past life, but now he’s just a nameless supporting role. He couldn’t help but feel the anxiety that came with such a position, as I had experienced it myself. Anxiety caused one’s shoulders to hunch and tongue to go numb, and eventually, it would feel like the world would go pitch black before your eyes. Just as Song Jeongseok in my past life had advised me, perhaps I could offer some counsel too.
“You can’t just think of your character as a drunken man causing a scene to the mother tidying up the fish stands. Look at his clothes, accent, and props. Why do you think the script says he’s holding a half-empty soju bottle?”
“Well, he probably has no money, and maybe he picked up a discarded one?”
“You’re half right, half wrong. In this era, there was originally a mortuary in Yeongdo. Many died from getting caught in rough currents, and some desperate refugees even jumped into the sea. As a result, there were always half-empty soju bottles near the dock. They would be scattered around to appease the spirits of those who died at sea and to serve as a deterrent for those intending to jump into the water. It’s saying that if you die, someone will be this sad for you.”
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