This is the 13th in a series highlighting women and their accomplishments in the various facets of the Korean entertainment industry. ― Ed.
It's no walk in the park becoming a television producer in Korea.
First, one must pass a test that can take at least two to three years of studying ― and often more than one attempt.
Then it's a matter of companies having vacancies, with thousands of applicants vying for as few as four positions a year.
Variety show producer Kim No-eun says it was luck that helped her get her start at MBC seven years ago. She passed the test on her first try and went on to work on various shows with the broadcaster including "Sunday Night," "Radio Star" and "Music Core."
Today, she works at JTBC ― where she's been for three years ― and currently produces the popular talk show "Ssul-jeon." She said being a producer requires not only good writing and communication skills, but good health as well, since the work schedule can be very demanding, something she often warns new producers about.
"When a new PD (producer) comes in, I tell them it's not too late. You can leave now. There are a lot of good careers out there and I don't know why you're trying to do this," she said with a laugh, before admitting that it's really no joke.
Work schedules for many variety shows often only allow for breaks once every few months and come with long nights at the office. Most shows operate on a one-week cycle, meaning they plan, write, film, edit and broadcast one episode within a week. Shows that film outside of a studio are even more difficult, since they involve scouting locations and then transporting cast and crew for the filming.
While working on "Sunday Night," Kim said she would get a break maybe once every three months, a far cry from her current schedule with talk show "Ssul-jeon," which allows her two to three days off a week.
Kim said that that is why it is so important that one is physically ready for the job. It's not uncommon for new producers to make it through all the tests only to quit after landing their first job because they are physically unable to cope.
That said, she mentioned that she enjoys the unpredictability of shows that film outside the studio. She said it was something she wishes she could do more of, even though she enjoys the stability of working on a talk show.
She also faces the demands of managing the talent, as well as coming up with new ideas every week and figuring out how to present them in a way that keeps the audience interested. "Ssul-jeon" has a panel of hosts that discuss current events and social issues, so Kim said they have the news playing at all times to find material.
"If you want to become a PD, you have to write well, because you have to be able to communicate what you're thinking. And when you think about it, a broadcast programme is all about expressing what you're thinking," she said.
Much like the hosts, Kim said the production team of "Ssul-jeon" also finds a lot of things to laugh about, and their meetings often have a "joking atmosphere," which still provides results.
"There are a lot of things to laugh about, and it's hard to find a job where you laugh a lot on the job. We'll just talk about useless things, but in the middle of all that, we'll find an item," she said.
And though variety shows have their challenges, Kim says she prefers them over dramas, which can bring fame to producers but can also end careers. If a producer has one failed drama or messes up on one episode, they will find it difficult to find more work, since each episode could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together.
That doesn't mean big mistakes don't happen on variety shows, but Kim said she had seen only one major screw up that led to one of the production staff getting fired.
The floor director of a programme she worked on accidentally recorded over four hours of studio filming with a guest for an episode that had yet to air. She said they had to go to the guest's home to apologise and refilm everything, expanding it from one episode to two in order to make up for the mistake.
"It's the only time in seven years that's happened. And one of my seniors who has worked for 20 years as a producer said that's the first time he's seen something like that happen. The FD, he can't work in broadcast anymore," she said.
And while her current show is seeing success, Kim said the predictability can get boring, which is why she is ready for something new. She would like to do an outdoor show, or work on a hybrid show that meshes together new genres, such as a mockumentary.
But regardless of how much she enjoys her work, her advice is still the same: "There are a lot of career tracks, so don't become a producer."