“Five Year” will be shot in Korea as a K-drama with a local cast and crew, and the parties plan to distribute the first 16-episode season on Korean television and in the rest of the world on Viki. The series, based on an original story by “Walking Dead” creator and Skybound CEO Robert Kirkman, is billed as an intimate portrayal of a family facing the end of all life on Earth because of a deadly meteor set to hit within the next five years.
Skybound and Viki, owned by Japanese Internet giant Rakuten, expect to the series to run five seasons over the course of five years. Filming on season 1 will begin later this year; the companies have yet to select a Korean production partner for the project.
Execs said talks on the “Five Year” deal began at the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit last fall.
David Alpert, Skybound president and co-founder, said he and Kirkman have long been fans of Korean films and TV shows. “We’re thrilled to be launching what we hope is the first of many collaborations with the Korean entertainment industry,” he said. The “Five Year” story “highlights the intense interpersonal moments that Korean dramas capture so well, and sets them against the epic backdrop for which Skybound has become known.”
Added Kirkman, “This has been a story I have wanted to tell for quite some time, but David and I wanted to make sure it found a proper home where it could grow and breathe creatively. Looking at what Viki has done in not only the dramatic series space, but transforming the way viewers consume and translate media, we knew immediately ‘Five Year’ had found its home.”
Production budgets for K-dramas range from $4 million to $35 million per season, according to Viki CEO Tammy H. Nam. The cost to make “Five Year” will be “somewhere in the middle” of that range, she said.
“Five Year” is the second original series produced by Viki after “Dramaworld,” a 10-episode miniseries set in L.A. and Korea with a multinational cast and crew slated to debut in mid-April 2016 on Viki.com. “Dramaworld” is a co-production with China’s Jetavana Entertainment, EnterMedia Contents and Third Culture Content.
Viki’s service provides international TV shows, movies and other premium content, offering both free, ad-supported streaming and subscriptions. The site’s content is subtitled in more than 200 languages by a community of fans.
The dramatic tension in “Five Year” will arise from the impending apocalyptic doom, according to Alpert: “It’s about how people feel about the fact the world is going to end… There is no Bruce Willis we can put on a rocket ship to blow up the meteor.”
Alpert acknowledged that there will be challenges with the project; for one thing, neither he nor Kirkman speak Korean. But, he said, “It was really exciting for us to get the chance to work in a new medium, with great creators.”
Compared with “Walking Dead,” the vfx in “Five Year” are expected to be more modest. The series is not fully scripted, and the first season still needs to be translated into Korean, but Kirkman and Alpert have outlined the five-year story arc.
Nam said Skybound’s deal to work on a K-drama with Viki is “a testament to the massive global popularity and quality of Asian programming.”
“Viki is a conduit between Hollywood and Asia for fans all over the world,” she said.
“Five Year” will potentially be available to stream for free, depending on decisions on windowing, Nam said. As far as shopping the series to TV networks in the U.S. or other territories outside of Korea, that’s a possibility, she said. “But I think creatively David and Robert were interested in creating a genuine Korean drama, that’s the No. 1 intent,” Nam added. “There are millions of Korean drama fans around the world.”
In addition to “Walking Dead” for AMC, Skybound produced series “Scare PewDiePie”, which launched earlier this month as one of the first original productions for the YouTube Red subscription service. The company also produced “Gone,” the first narrative virtual-reality series available on Samsung’s Gear VR headset. Skybound’s first feature film, “Air,” starring “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou, was released in August 2015.
Pictured above: Skybound Entertainment’s Robert Kirkman and friend.