In an exclusive interview with Vietnam Tourism, the country’s premiere location managers reveal to us why Vietnam is on the fast track to becoming the next big international filming location.
When it comes to Vietnam’s dynamic duos, creative tag team Othello Khanh and Irene Trinh are high up on the roster. The production professionals have led the vanguard for Vietnam’s growing film industry for over two decades, with Khanh at the helm of The CREATV Company, Vietnam’s longest established private production service, and Trinh as Head of Production, International Service and Feature Films. To add to a list of impressive credentials including, but not limited to, Miramax Films’ The Quiet American in 2002, RAI Uno’s L’Oriana, CBS’ The Amazing Race, ABC’s The Bachelor, and Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, CREATV was tapped for the Vietnamese development of Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island. With the release date of Kong: Skull Island less than a week away, we caught up with Trinh and Khanh to give us a scoop on their experiences on set.
What was your involvement in the making of the new film?
Trinh: CREATV Company was approached by the movie’s Executive Producer Eric McLeod to provide production services for Kong: Skull Island. Initially, in December of 2014, we were first approached by Legendary’s production coordinator about possible locations in Vietnam —and at that time, we had just completed location scouting with another big Hollywood studio and so the pictures were fresh from the latest reconnaissance. They included: Ha Long Bay, Sapa,et c., so the timing worked out well.
On Kong: Skull Island, Othello served as CREATV Executive and I served as the Vietnam Production Supervisor, working closely with Legendary Pictures’ Production Supervisor Russell Allen to prepare the logistics of filming including the final location recces, securing all filming permits, locking all locations, hiring the local Vietnamese crew to support the 200 or so American film professionals, and of course, setting up offices in Hanoi to supervise and manage the entire production from our main base.
Why was Vietnam chosen to be the film set for this blockbuster?
Trinh: I think the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, said it best in his recent interview with TuoiTreNews:
“Vietnam has a powerful and unspoiled beauty. Our movie does not take place in Vietnam, but instead the aesthetic of it is a huge piece of the puzzle to create the look of our story’s fictional Skull Island.
Vietnam is entirely different from any of the other countries we scouted and together we want to fuse several different looks and locations into a living, breathing place that feels, unlike anything you’ve seen before but also seems very real.”
Of the three main filming locations in Vietnam, was there a location that really spoke to the cast?
Trinh: This is from one of the interviews the Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts did: “We came to Vietnam… and were immediately stunned by the surreal beauty of the country, from the mountains to the vistas of everywhere we set foot upon. We believe movie fans in the U.S. will wonder in awe as to where these beautiful places are.” The director also revealed that the scenes to be filmed in Vietnam would be the most pivotal scenes in the film.
For the cast, I think waking up each morning, it was a new adventure, whether in Quang Binh or Ninh Binh’s spectacular Trang An or the magnificent Ha Long Bay—each place was a world wonder. Besides the locations, I think if anything, the people—happy, smiling, generous people—I think that’s what they will take away from their experience of Vietnam.
How was the production of Kong: Skull Island received in Vietnam? What kind of assistance was necessary to accomplish this large-scale endeavor?
Khanh: Vietnam’s government has surely opened its doors to the world and more specifically, filmmakers and storytellers. The Prime Minister’s Office, The Ministry of Finance, Customs and Immigration, and The Ministry of Culture through its respective ICD’s (International Cooperation Department,) along with dozens of other ministries and departments contributed significantly to Kong’s filming success in Vietnam.
On top of assisting with work permit visas and customs clearances for an entire cargo plane of filming equipment and over twenty 40-feet containers of art, machinery and other filming support equipment, Vietnam’s government showed its hand in open collaboration with the filmmakers. Immigration officers went above and beyond, helping to expedite work visas and personally greeting cast and crew when they arrived in Vietnam, escorting them through immigration to baggage claim and into their vehicles.
What do you believe sets Vietnam apart from other filming locations in the region?
Trinh: Location, location, location–we have some of the most pristine, untouched, majestic locations in the region. In addition to that, a depth of skilled talent (crews), latest equipment, etc., and most importantly the support from all of the ministries, especially the Culture and Tourism sectors.
What are the prospects for Vietnam as an international filming location?
Trinh: In the last two decades, Vietnam has emerged as one of the most exciting countries for investment, with two of its major cities being listed in the top 10 dynamic cities in the world according to the World Economic Forum.
Khanh: As someone who’s spent twenty years helping to build Vietnam’s film industry infrastructure, and contributing to its growth both in terms of domestic volume and depth of experience through the key creatives and crews who have grown with us, we can definitely affirm that Vietnam offers breathtaking range. Surreal landscapes and vistas, majestic mountains, rough, rugged terrain—Vietnam’s host of world wonders make it the perfect backlot. It is also important to mention that after the release of Kong: Skull Island, we hope that the industry will understand that Vietnam is the location to not only shoot Vietnam-themed movies but any film looking for unique locations, skilled crews, affordable production costs and friendly government support. We are proud to call Vietnam home and offer her majestic beauty to the world’s big and small screen.
Are there any upcoming films that are set to be shot in Vietnam?
Trinh: There are several war-era films that are eyeing Vietnam at the moment, in addition to films from Canada, the Netherlands, and even Thailand! Imagine that, Thailand coming to shoot in Vietnam! That goes to show exactly how beautiful this country is from coast to coast to coast.
Besides the well-liked Halong Bay and the newly discovered Phong Nha caves, are there other locations with cinematic potential of note here in Vietnam?
Trinh: Clearly, Ninh Binh’s Trang An and Tam Coc are spectacular and as a result were chosen as the main location for Kong: Skull Island. In addition to them, Ho Chi Minh City (“Saigon”) and the Mekong Delta, Dalat (“French era”), Danang/Hoi An (old port, heritage town), Sapa, Ban Gioc, Thai Nguyen, Dien Bien, Ba Vi…Phu Quoc, Con Dao…and let’s not forget Hanoi, Hue—the current and imperial capitals respectively… pretty much all of Vietnam! At every turn, on every corner, there is something that speaks of the old and new worlds, and the seamless combination of the two and as you venture away from the cities, you can’t help but take in Vietnam’s natural beauty. In fact, Vietnam boasts five Cultural Heritage sites: The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (Hanoi), The Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, The Complex of Hue Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary; two Natural Wonders: Ha Long Bay and Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, and one mixed wonder (Cultural and Natural): Trang An Landscape Complex.
Lastly, what are some of your favorite films about Vietnam?
Khanh: “The Lover” (by Jean-Jacque Annaud, 1992), “Indochine” (by Regis Wargnier, 1992), “Ao Lua Ha Dong” (by Luu Huynh, 2006) and “Three Seasons” (by Tony Bui,) to name a few.
Thank you Irene and Othello for chatting with us!
For a quick look at their portfolio, watch the video below:
BY IZZY PULIDO
A Bostonian by way of the Philippines, Izzy Pulido is an avid collector of first-time experiences. She is the host of Street Feast Vietnam, a food-centric web series and regularly contributes to the creative consortium Vietcetera. Find her musings on wayfaring over at thenextsomewhere.com.