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Star producer Na Young-seok reveals secrets to his success

Man behind ‘3 Meals’ also spills what goes on behind the scenes

Apr 02,2015
Na Young-seok, one of the hottest and most successful entertainment show producers, says he has never been trendy. Instead, as someone who grew up in the countryside, he says he is attracted to things that have rural and analogue elements. By Kim Gyeong-bin
Viewers were bewildered when producer Na Young-seok first appeared in a cameo role on KBS reality TV program “One Night, Two Days.”

At the time, celebrities dominated these types of shows, but the producer won the audience over with his personality, as well as the innovative ideas he came up with to make the program more exciting.

After transferring to entertainment company CJ E&M, Na has come up with a series of hits such as “Grandpas Over Flowers,” in which four actors in their 70s are followed backpacking in different countries, and “Three Meals a Day,” where celebrities must fend for themselves in a rural setting.

The programs captivated viewers with their simple yet emotional concepts.

“One Night, Two Days” on KBS
Star producer Na found a moment to talk about his programs with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

Q. It was interesting how Cha Seung-won, Yoo Hae-jin and Son Ho-jun seem to fit into specific roles in “Three Meals a Day.” Did you plan this?

A. I never plan ahead and did not intend for this to happen. I just focused on showing the original personalities of the cast.

Actor Cha’s cooking has become the talk of the town, so much so that some people don’t believe he has no help from the show’s crew. Is this true?

“Grandpas Over Flowers” on tvN
The show’s backdrop is a fishing hamlet, and even the fishermen don’t know what they will catch. Cha had to cook what he could with the prepared ingredients. He cooked 70 percent of the dishes on the show. We sometimes ask him to make unexpected food such as bread or fish cakes. When he baked the bread it really surprised me.

Humorous subtitles seem to have been another key to making the show such a huge success. Do you agree?

Five to six junior directors on my team come up with the subtitles. Of course, I edit them after they finish, but their popularity is down to the directors. If viewers like the background music and subtitles, it’s all because of them.

What do you think are other factors that contribute to its popularity?

There are rest times in the show. I tried to show the stars at night and make viewers listen to raindrops on a rainy day. There were even scenes shown from the point of view of a dog. One day, director Lee Jin-ju asked me to film the town through a camera on the dog’s neck. I could tell it actually had their own life and world from this experience.

The program is appealing because it’s unique. Was it inspired by your personality?

“Three Meals a Day” on tvN
I’m not a geek who has a special uniqueness, yet my background growing up in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, might have given me a chance to develop this.

The village where I grew up was surrounded by farmland, and I assume it makes me like the ambience of country scenery. I’m the perfect opposite of trendy and sophisticated people.

So you think having grown up in the countryside affects your work?

Of course it has influenced a lot of my work. When I planned the reality show “Grandpas Over Flowers,” many rising stars were discussed to take the leading roles, but my heart told me to work with the elder actors. They look old and have this audacity, but their warm hearts fascinated me.

What is your strength as a producer?

I have specialized in reality shows, which enables me to take a story from anyone. For instance, I can make any story from the reporters and cameramen if I spend three to four days doing it. Everyone has their own personality and their view on life, which naturally creates stories when they are put together with other people.

The spinoff of “Three Meals a Day,” set in a fishing village
Do you have any preference when you choose people for your shows?

I like grown-ups who have years of life experience. I especially respect people who have a solid point of view on the world and act straightforwardly.

I don’t like people who try to manipulate themselves into something they are not to appeal to viewers. Some celebrities think about how he or she will appear on screen and act how they want to come across rather than as who they actually are. This adds up to nothing.

Who has inspired you the most on all your shows?

Every single cast member has a virtue I can learn from, but Yoo Hae-jin was the one I wanted to take after the most. He always considers others. Inside he is very strong, which makes him keep to his own way. I want to be like him when I get old.

Ok Taec-yeon and Son Ho-jun are younger than your usual stars. Why did you include them in your shows?

Although Ok is a member of a K-pop group and is young, he has his own personality and shows this instead of acting the way he thinks the public wants him to act. Son is a person who persistently works hard, which has been proven in “Three Meals a Day.” He created a balance between Cha and Yoo, who have their own marked individuality.

The episode of “Grandpas Over Flowers” set in Greece premiered on March 27. What should the viewers know before they watch the show?

There is not a big difference between the new show and the previous series except that actress Choi Ji-woo will appear in it. The fact that nothing changes could make the audience bored since the same traveling concept keeps being repeated, but I did not want to make any changes to the show. The role of Choi as a porter definitely switched up the atmosphere, though.

Aren’t you anxious about it being successful?

The viewer ratings can always decline. I don’t want to make a fancy reality show where I just think about the ratings. I want to keep my tone when I make a reality show.

BY JEONG A-RAM [estyle@joongang.co.kr]


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