One Region, Different Worlds

Increase in Global Casting Creates Learning Curve for Producers

Management agencies should familiarize themselves with the differences in film production systems when working with cast members from different countries, an industry professional at UNIJAPAN’s “Asia Casting Forum” said Tuesday.

Based on his experience co-producing a film with Japan, Jonathan H. Kim, who produced the Korea-Japan co-prod Virgin Snow, explained that his Asian partners are often not aware that Korean film actors get paid per film rather than production time.

“Often the production time in Korea can go over a year,” he said. “And since they’re paid for a title, they try to charge as much as possible, whereas Japanese or Chinese actors get paid by production time and can shoot two or three films a year.”

Director-producer Solon So said the film industry in China is booming with global castings at the moment, particularly Korean TV celebrities — much in the way Hong Kong kung fu movies in the ‘80s utilized Japanese artists. So added that China currently faces a “dearth of actors,” but that more schools to train actors, choreographers and action stars are being established around the country.

The language in which a film is being shot is often considered the most pressing issue when an actor appears in a foreign-language film. In Hong Kong and China, this has been less of an issue because of their use of dubbing, which allows the foreign actors in Chinese-language films the freedom to speak in their mother tongue.  

“When actors speak in a second language, their acting skill drops,” said So, who produced the Japan-set Shinjuku Incident. “So we would ask the actor to speak in their mother language and dub it into Chinese. The film’s key point should not be on the language.”

Shin Sugimoto of Japan’s Amuse mentioned the example of Chie Tanaka, a Japanese actress who mastered Chinese and is now actively working in TV dramas and commercials in Taiwan.

Kim explained the difficulties in encouraging local management agencies to expand the network outside the region.

“I get many requests from Chinese companies to introduce Korean actors who are popular in the region, but most Korean management companies are very small and individually managed,” he said. “They don’t really know about the global market, and they’re losing many opportunities because of their fear. In fact Korean actors are so expensive that we love to import Japanese and Chinese actors.”  

Kim is currently working on a Pan-Asian movie set “somewhere in Asia.” Each actor from different countries will speak in their own language and have subtitles with all of them.

“It’s been my dream to make a co-produced film between China, Japan and Korea, and it’s been a failure every time,” he said. “I agree with Sugimoto that Asia needs to make their own film and export it to the Western world. But we have to secure our own market first.”

Global casting inevitably involves issues of co-production.

“In Japan, people realize that they can no longer exist as a self-contained market,” said Sugimoto.

“People are finally becoming aware of this, because the ancillary market has hit barriers. We are looking to the examples of China and Korea and incorporating overseas marketing from the planning stage.”

Industry habits and attitudes in different regions also become a problem in global casting.

“Korean actors are well-pampered. For example, we provide a van for our actors when they move around even if it’s not on the contract,” Kim said while describing an incident in which a Korean management company recently required a private jet for an actor and his friends when he was invited to a film festival. “A lot of times, Japanese companies invite Korean actors and they’re surprised by what the actors request.”

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