Production of films and TV series across South Korea is being halted as the country undergoes a resurgence of the coronavirus. Companies including industry leaders CJ ENM, JTBC and Netflix have all confirmed disruptions to their series shooting schedules.
The country had seemingly been successful in controlling earlier waves of the COVID-19 outbreak through strict border controls, rapid testing and rigorous contact testing. But since the beginning of August, the number of new confirmed cases has shot up. There has been a seven-fold increase in the past week, and over 300 cases were reported on both Saturday and Sunday. Some 288 new cases were reported on Tuesday.
These have caused authorities in capital city Seoul, where the latest outbreak is centered, to increase restrictions. They have warned that they are considering upgrading the city’s alert status to level 3, the highest level on a scale of 1 to 3.
Many TV production companies have already suspended production, some in anticipation of the increased restrictions, others in reaction to suspected virus cases among production staff.
JTBC, a private-sector producer and broadcaster, has halted two drama series “Private Life” and “Run On.” It is known that at least one staffer on “Private Life” was given a COVID-19 test after being in contact with a crew member from another show, who tested positive.
Korean shows are often produced on very-short turnaround times. “Private Life” was set to air from Sept. 16.
“Following negotiations with production subsidiary Studio Dragon, CJ ENM decided to stop filming tvN and OCN’s dramas from Aug. 24-31 for the safety of the cast and crew,” CJ ENM said in a statement. “Other entertainment programs are also adjusting production schedules and if not, are being produced under quarantine guidelines. We will continue to pay close attention to the situation and make full preparations for safety.”
Production of shows including tvN’s variety program “Seoul Bumpkin” will be halted until Aug. 31. Music channel Mnet’s weekly live broadcast show “M Countdown” will not go ahead.
CJ ENM advised that filming is already complete on tvN’s “Stranger” and “Record of Youth,” meaning that they can air on schedule. Other sources have told Variety that there is now pressure on post-production facilities.
CJ ENM said that tvN’s “Flower of Evil” and OCN’s “Missing: The Other Side” are also affected by stoppages, but it is not clear whether their release dates will have to change.
Netflix confirmed that all its shows in Korea are also stopped, though it revealed few details.
“Complying with the health guidelines of the government and for the safety of our casts and crews, we have decided to pause all production schedules for now,” the global streamer said in a statement.
Korean media report that Netflix shows now halted include ‘Squid Game,” a survival drama with Lee Jung Jae and Park Hye Soo as the lead cast, and “Our School Now,” about a zombie virus attack.
Sources close to Netflix said that it was not disclosing the names of all the shows because not all titles have yet been announced. Also, while some of the affected productions are wholly Netflix shows, others are local joint ventures.
“Since our content production lead time is long, our 2020 plans for launching original shows and films continue to be largely intact. And our content acquisition efforts remain on track and business as usual for now,” said the source.
On Tuesday, Netflix revealed that it has picked up the rights to “#Alive,” another Korean zombie film that was one of the biggest hits after cinemas reopened this summer. Released on June 24, it earned $13.4 million.
It too boasts a timely virus theme. “ ‘#Alive’ tells the story of a mysterious virus outbreak that suddenly spreads throughout modern day Seoul and rapidly grows out of control. People struggle to stay alive when the unknown infection causes victims to eat each other, turning them into zombies,” Netflix said. The film will be available worldwide from Sept. 8.
The resurgent coronavirus has also dented the live theater and movie theatrical sectors. Theater show, “Kinky Boots” has been suspended, while local productions of “Rent” and “42nd Street,” which were both set to close Sunday, had to close down a day early, after performers were in indirect contact with a person known to have been infected.
Cinema box office was already dwindling through last week, and on Sunday cinemas in Seoul began reducing capacity.
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