|A movie theater in Seoul is empty amid growing fears over the spread of COVID-19, March 18. / Yonhap|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
As the number of moviegoers and ticket sales hit rock bottom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry urged the government to come up with emergency rescue plans so that artists and workers can overcome the unprecedented challenges they face.
The Producers Guild of Korea, the Directors Guild of Korea, the Korean Film Marketers Association and many other related groups called on the government to provide various financial bailout packages, emergency rescue measures and be included in a state-led special sectors for employment support.
"The Korean film industry is sinking into the abyss," industry officials said in a joint statement. "Many firms in the industry have already given up hope and have been bidding farewell to their employees."
The statement acknowledges that the heavy delays in film releases and productions resulted in large scale unemployment among industry workers.
The number of moviegoers plunged to less than 30,000 per day this week, down 80 percent from a year ago. The total number of moviegoers in February marked a 15-year low of 7.37 million due to COVID-19.
The consolidated action came after the government designated four industrial sectors including tourism and hotel accommodation as special sectors to help them maintain the employment of their workers in the midst of the current crisis.
"Not only movie theaters, but the entire film sector has been hit hard. Despite the circumstances, the government has turned a blind eye to the film industry. So we've decided to come together," they added.
The Directors Guild of Korea (DGK) also issued a public statement that called on government to help creators survive the current crisis and help lead it to recovery.
"As the government considers assisting businesses severely affected by the economic downfall created by the COVID-19 outbreak, we hope it provides support to filmmakers who have been temporarily laid off or lost their jobs," DGK said in a statement.
"What we do, as filmmakers, can never be complete without both staff and audiences. We ask them to show their support for movie theaters."
It also pledged the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) to use a film development fund for an emergency financial aid program. In 2020, the film development fund increased 32 percent year-on-year to 101.5 billion won ($82.6 million).
Multiplex operators are hoping that the government provides financial relief for the industry. They asked for loan guarantees to help cover costs while no tickets are being sold and tax benefits to give support to employees.
Meanwhile, KOFIC has set up a task force to support the film industry struggling with pandemic fallout.
The team will disinfect movie theaters and grant payment extensions for troubled film studios and marketing firms.
"It's true that our response to COVID-19 was inadequate because our administrative support system is focused on film production, distribution and screenings," a KOFIC official said.
"We will try to minimize the economic damage to the film industry and seek practical measures to preserve jobs impacted by the spread of the virus and guarantee safe cultural experiences for people."