On the heels of success, stars go it alone

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On the heels of success, stars go it alone

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Top stars in Korea are gaining independence from their management companies and setting up shop on their own. In some cases, the actors-turned-entertainment-executives dabble in production and in others, they become managers for other entertainers.
The forerunner is hallyu star Bae Yong-jun. Bae owns his own company, BOF. Considering his personal income tax alone last year was 9.75 billion won ($10 million), it hardly seems like an exaggeration to call him a walking, one-man enterprise. His 2005 profits were 32.9 billion won. Last year, actor Lee Byeong-heon became the president of BH Entertainment. Eric, from the vocal group Shinhwa, said goodbye to his management company and created Top Class Entertainment.

The entertainment community’s recent shift
The days when major management companies paid hefty sums of money to stars in order to get them to sign are gradually disappearing. There is even a term, “star boutique management,” that refers to stars leaving big companies to create their own.
The first top star to create his own management company was Cho Yong-pil. The singer has been running Pil Management for some time now. A younger star, Lee Seung-hwan, followed with his company, Dream Factory, and Seo Tai-ji created Seotaiji Company.
Among actors, Lee Young-ae is thought of as a pioneer. She left her former management company, A Stars, 10 years ago and with only one manager to help her, she has been managing herself through her small-scale company, Door Entertainment, ever since. She has received offers of up to 2 billion won from companies who want the actress to sign, but she has said no to all so far. If Lee maintains a small-scale yet sturdy enterprise, Bae Yong-jun and Jang Dong-gun (Star M Entertainment) have taken a different route and created bigger companies that include more than one star. Bae used his own money to create the company, and Jang gathered investments through a lawyer who is a personal friend.
Park Shin-yang left Sidus HQ and created Synergy. Kim Jung-eun and Shin Dong-yup have announced that they are also planning to go solo. Last September, Lee Mi-yeon also left Sidus HQ.

Why go solo?
The reason behind this shift seems to be a combination of desire for independence and resources.
“Equipped with experience from major management companies, stars are beginning do their own thing,” said Yun Min-hoon, the president of Focus Yuyu Entertainment. “It’s not so much that they are unhappy with the profits they are making in their former companies, but that Korea is following in the footsteps of film industries in Hollywood and Hong Kong,” he added.
In Hollywood and Hong Kong, many stars have created their own companies, verses the Japanese-style management in which companies keep a firm grip on their stars. Those setting out on their own include Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood and Jackie Chan.
In Japan, entertainers have less power and receive monthly salaries from their management companies. Stars in their 20s usually get less money than stars in their 40s as a result, but the deal is sort of a secure “life-time employment.”
Kim Jung-eun, who announced that she was leaving her management company last September, said, “Each system has plusses and minuses but I like the fact than if I become independent, my voice gets heard on all the decisions regarding my career.”
“Financial affluence is helping these ‘one-man’ stands,” said Song Dae-hyun, the president of One Road Entertainment (actor Gam Wu-sung belongs to the company). “In many cases, investors approach these stars and propose an enticing ‘only for you’ deal, in which they present an idea for a company that will focus on them alone, instead of sending out the message that the actor is ‘one of many.’”
Making like Bae Yong-jun
The phenomenon is receiving mixed reviews from the industry. Former management companies are arguing that the quest for independence is threatening the stability of the entertainment industry because actors are crossing the line into management and production.
On the other hand, there are those that view this as a positive step in which stars can obtain more control and power over their careers.
Some say stars are benchmarking Bae Yong-jun without much thought. “Bae Yong-jun is a born businessman. He has been operating a production company called Rom since 1999. People who just follow his footsteps without careful consideration can get into trouble,” said Bae Gyeong-ryul, president of Oriental Forest and the actor’s former manager.
However, many view this as a refreshing trend.
“If people don’t get too carried away, obtaining one’s own company can be a positive thing for both parties,” said Yang Geun-hwan, a representative director at BOF.
“A certain portion of the responsibility also lies with management companies that did not do enough to earn the trust of the stars,” said Yun Beom-jun, a director at Namu Actors (which includes actors Kim Tae-hui and Moon Geun-yeong.
“I think it is time for the management companies in Korea to question their operation and reflect on themselves.”


By Kim Beom-suk JoongAng Ilbo [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

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