South Korean actors in Netflix originals need higher pay. The corporate refuses to fulfill with their union

South Korean actors in Netflix originals want better pay. The company refuses to meet with their union

As information of the SAG-AFTRA strike broke in mid-July, Tune Chang-gon, a 51-year-old actor and present president of the Korea Broadcasting Actors Union, was nonetheless ready to listen to again from Netflix, an organization that was proving to be troublesome to get ahold of.

The cellphone quantity for its South Korea workplace was unlisted on the standard web sites, however a number of months earlier, Tune had requested round till he lastly managed to acquire the non-public variety of a Netflix Korea govt. Sad with the truth that the corporate didn’t pay its South Korean actors residuals — a type of royalty paid to credited expertise when a present is reused after the primary airing — he had left a number of calls and textual content messages.

The state of affairs struck him as absurd.

Netflix has an enormous presence in South Korea. But at occasions it felt to him as if the corporate, which outsources all of its manufacturing to native studios, wielded its affect from behind a curtain.

“Considered one of their first priorities when coming into the native market ought to be to determine some channel of communication with teams like us,” Tune mentioned. “However there’s no reply in any respect.”

A person in Seoul walks previous a billboard for the Netflix unique tv collection “Candy Dwelling.”

(Simon Shin / LightRocket by way of Getty Photos)

The actors union, echoing comparable issues from South Korean writers and manufacturing employees, says that Netflix has lengthy profited from a system that underpays supporting actors, and that higher compensation is lengthy overdue.

A Netflix spokesman declined to say whether or not the corporate would meet with the union. In a written assertion, the corporate mentioned it follows all native legal guidelines and laws and that as a streaming service — and never a broadcaster — it’s not required to pay residuals.

When Netflix arrived in South Korea in 2016, Tune and his colleagues on the Korea Broadcasting Performers’ Rights Assn., the union’s associate group that collects and distributes residuals, had held off on approaching the streamer.

“A precondition for that dialog about residuals was Netflix’s enterprise efficiently taking off right here,” mentioned Kim Ju-ho, secretary-general of the rights affiliation.

It’s clear that this precondition has been met — and extra.

Netflix, a $160-billion firm, owes at the least a few of its success to its South Korean originals like “Squid Sport,” which stays its most-watched collection. The streamer just lately introduced that it could make investments an extra $2.5 billion to amass further Korean content material over the subsequent a number of years.

“Netflix has made some huge cash from South Korean content material,” Kim mentioned. “It’s now time to fulfill.”


Union officers right here have been preserving a detailed eye on the developments in Hollywood.

People picket outside Netflix and Sunset Bronson Studios

SAG-AFTRA members picket outdoors Netflix and Sundown Bronson Studios in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Occasions)

Besieged by the most important employee strike there in 60 years, Netflix in all probability doesn’t need one other labor dispute on its palms, not to mention in a market that has been dependable largely as a result of labor prices will be saved low. And because of its outsourcing mannequin, Netflix is just not legally categorised as an employer in South Korea and doesn’t must cut price with unions.

Although Korean tv networks have more and more outsourced a lot of their manufacturing in the identical method, they’ve continued to have interaction with the actors union — and proceed to pay residuals. Even native streamers like Tving or Wavve, regardless of being deep within the purple and trailed by fixed chapter rumors, have met with the rights affiliation to deal with the difficulty.

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“Netflix makes use of the nation’s broadcasting and content material infrastructure simply as a lot as anybody else,” mentioned Yoo Min-suk, coverage director on the actors union. “That’s why we’re saying they’ve an obligation to fulfill with us.”

Removed from merely being one other participant on the sector in South Korea, Netflix is probably the most influential artistic power within the enterprise.

“The historical past of the South Korean trade will be divided into earlier than Netflix, and after Netflix,” mentioned an govt at tv community Munhwa Broadcasting Corp., or MBC, who requested anonymity as a result of he wasn’t licensed to talk to the media. “They’ve introduced in big budgets and snapped up all of the big-name actors and writers and administrators.”

As soon as a drama powerhouse, his firm has just lately discovered itself subordinated to the place of outsourced Netflix provider.

It was an MBC producer, given particular permission to take outdoors work, who created the Netflix hit “Bodily 100,” a actuality present that held a prime 10 spot within the streamer’s non-English chief board for six weeks earlier this 12 months.

“In comparison with how properly it did, we bought it for peanuts,” the manager mentioned.

At one inside assembly, opinions had been break up concerning the supply, by which MBC would hand over all of the mental property to Netflix for a one-time payout of “just a few million {dollars}.”

However Netflix’s title holds a particular cachet — an imprimatur of worldwide consumability.

“Administration determined that if it’s distributed by Netflix, we’re not strolling away with nothing,” the manager mentioned. “We mainly gave up revenue for publicity.”


Tune acknowledges that loads of good has come from Netflix too.
The streamer’s manufacturing budgets, low by U.S. requirements however giant by Korean ones, have opened up a golden age of status tv within the nation, popularizing science fiction and different genres that had beforehand been too costly and dangerous to placed on community tv. The corporate has created jobs and given Korean content material an unprecedented world outlet.

For probably the most half, actors, writers and administrators are desirous to work with the streamer, given {that a} Netflix look is a novel alternative to burnish one’s private model.

“The issue is that Netflix’s huge manufacturing budgets aren’t evenly distributed — most of this cash goes to the star actors or big-name screenwriters,” Tune mentioned. “For almost all of supporting actors, wages have stagnated or successfully decreased.”

Certainly, the Netflix-led shift towards streaming has been a gold rush for prime expertise — even with out residuals.

A-listers negotiate their very own offers and oftentimes deal with any foregone residuals as baked into their one-time payday, which trade insiders estimate have now damaged $400,000 an episode — about on par with the solid of HBO’s “Succession.”

On the other finish of the spectrum, per-episode charges for supporting actors — who obtain neither residuals nor premiums — begin at about $300.

These charges are primarily based on community tv pay scales negotiated by the actors union earlier than the takeover by streaming. However as a result of Netflix reveals have far shorter seasons than the everyday Korean community drama — the 16-episode miniseries was as soon as the tv commonplace — whole payouts are a lot smaller, in response to the union.

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As well as, Tune mentioned, capturing a Netflix episode typically takes far longer than the one or two days that have been typical for Korean community reveals. “Shoots for Netflix originals, particularly genres like zombies or creature options, are much more labor-intensive,” he mentioned. “Actors are nonetheless anticipated to point out up for nevertheless many shoots it takes to movie one episode with out sufficient further compensation.”

Some corporations will bump up the episode charge if capturing exceeds three days, in response to one producer of a current unique Netflix drama who — frightened of upsetting enterprise relationships — spoke provided that she not be recognized. “So within the case of an actor who’s often paid $300, that may be upped to round $450,” she mentioned.

Nonetheless, in a single grievance Tune just lately obtained from a supporting actor who auditioned for a Netflix unique collection, the manufacturing firm requested for as much as 15 shoots for a single episode — whereas providing solely a rise so small it basically amounted to a number of days of unpaid work.

And since actors don’t obtain any per diems for meals, transportation or lodging, Tune mentioned that many on the decrease finish of the pay vary are nonetheless barely getting by, due to out-of-pocket bills collected over a number of shoots.

In its assertion, Netflix mentioned that bills similar to meal or in a single day allowances are written into their manufacturing budgets, however that these are finally overseen by the manufacturing firm.

“We guarantee supporting actors are compensated at or above native wage requirements, and we work intently with our manufacturing companions to make sure all events are dedicated to the honest compensation and remedy of actors,” Netflix mentioned.


Low labor prices, at the least for now, have cushioned South Korean actors from one other bane on the heart of the SAG-AFTRA strike: using synthetic intelligence actors.

Substituting such “digital twins” for human actors is already occurring, although in additional restricted conditions than SAG-AFTRA’s worst-case state of affairs, by which twins will be animated with such precision that they will totally exchange people.

A man on a vehicle reaches his arm out to another man chasing the vehicle in foot

Filming a scene from “Black Knight,” a South Korean sci-fi collection from Netflix.

(Kim Jin-young / Netflix)

On “Black Knight,” a South Korean sci-fi collection that Netflix launched in Might, a neighborhood digital actuality firm referred to as Reproduction scanned 10 of the principle solid members to create digital twins that have been used for high-risk motion scenes or to retroactively insert a key actor in a scene.

Whereas the know-how remains to be too pricey for issues like close-ups, the final word objective, mentioned chief technique officer Shane Jeon, is creating it additional to exchange human actors affordably.

This state of affairs, he added, would nonetheless depend upon a framework of knowledgeable consent and honest compensation for using actors’ likenesses.

“However will probably be a really, very very long time till that day is available in South Korea,” Jeon mentioned. “The price of hiring human actors right here is far too low cost for that.”

For voice actors, prospects are much more rapid and dire.

In contrast to Hollywood, the place SAG-AFTRA has mentioned that its voice actors are protected by union contract provisions that restrict the reuse of recorded performances for synthetic intelligence functions, no such settlement is in place in South Korea.

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The union says that its members who’ve labored on Netflix voiceovers — that are additionally outsourced to native studios — report that contract signings are hurriedly carried out on-site in a method that appears meant to sidestep issues of consent.

“All of the Netflix contracts have been actually lengthy they usually have been all in English,” mentioned one voice actor, who requested anonymity for worry of shedding work. “There was by no means sufficient time to learn by it rigorously. And even when I did object to one thing, it could simply imply that I wouldn’t be taking the job.”

The one clarification the staff would give her as they flipped by the pages, she mentioned, was that each one of her rights have been being transferred away.

“There’s an enormous worry that if a giant firm like Netflix units a precedent by deciding to undergo with AI voice actors, our jobs may simply vanish in a single day,” she mentioned.

In April, the New York Occasions reported that “a current Netflix contract sought to grant the corporate free use of a simulation of an actor’s voice “by all applied sciences and processes now identified or hereafter developed, all through the universe and in perpetuity.”

The voice actor believes the contract she signed mentioned kind of the identical. However to today, she has been unable to personally confirm this as a result of her requests for her personal copy have been rebuffed by the third-party studio. Union officers say they’ve additionally been stymied.

“I nonetheless haven’t been capable of see a Netflix contract with my very own eyes,” mentioned Choi Jae-ho, secretary-general of the voice actors chapter.

In its assertion to the Los Angeles Occasions, Netflix mentioned that, though English contracts are the usual throughout all their markets, the corporate is just not conscious of any occasion by which signed contracts have been withheld from voice actors who signed them.

People walk past Netflix posters

Guests on the twenty seventh Busan Worldwide Movie Competition in South Korea on Oct. 7, 2022.

(Ahn Younger-joon / Related Press)

A spokesperson for Iyuno Korea, the native associate that handles most of Netflix’s voiceover work right here, mentioned {that a} Korean model of the contract is supplied at any time when requested and that the corporate is “engaged on an up to date format that features each Korean and English concurrently all through the contract for ease of reference.”


In the meantime, Tune and Kim have saved themselves busy making ready for the assembly with Netflix that they consider will finally come.

They’ve pored over SAG-AFTRA’s residuals construction, which determines an actor’s residuals payout from a number of elements, such because the variety of subscribers of the streamer airing the present.

The union has plans to suggest a brand new wage scale that may impose minimums primarily based on a manufacturing’s whole finances.

“However for now, our solely request to Netflix is that South Korean performers be given the identical residuals phrases that U.S. actors are getting beneath SAG-AFTRA agreements,” Kim mentioned.

Steeped within the new realities of worldwide streaming, by which international content material is serving as a buffer for Netflix towards the strikes in Hollywood, the union can be considering the bigger implications of the battle.

“There may be undoubtedly widespread floor that may be discovered between us and SAG-AFTRA,” Tune mentioned. “It might be useful for comparable organizations representing actors all over the world to have interaction with each other, to construct up a way of solidarity. I feel that’s necessary.”

He mulled over whether or not to jot down a message of assist.

Perhaps, Kim urged, they may even fly to Hollywood and ship the greeting in individual — and whereas they’re at it, knock on Netflix’s door.

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