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Truong Ngoc Anh and Othello Khanh discuss the overseas Vietnamese filmmakers’ contribution to the Vietnamese Cinema industry for the last 20 years.
Talk Vietnam is an English language talk show on Vietnam’s National Television network VTV 4.

 

 

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Article in Oi Vietnam September 2017 Issue – Cover Story
https://issuu.com/oivietnam/docs/oi_september_2017_on_set/38

 

Behind the Scenes with Othello Khanh

By Wes Grover

The Director’s Cut

 

In October of 1995, Othello Khanh landed in Saigon armed with a Hi8 camcorder and Walkman, a tripod, and a revolutionary attitude. Having just completed a documentary about Mexico’s Zapatista Uprisng, which had him living there amongst the rebel forces, the young guerilla filmmaker’s arrival in Vietnam coincided with the lift of the US Embargo, which effectively markeda new beginning for Vietnamese cinema.

 

Over the past 22 years, he has played an integral role in the development of the local film industry, from producing a mere two films a year to over 50 films with more than 300 screens across the country. Much like the industry itself, Othello’s means of production have grown considerably and we recently met at his studios in Binh Thanh District, where he stands as the founder of The CREATV Company, to discuss the emergence of Vietnamese cinema and the obstacles overcome along the way. As Vietnam’s longest established private production company, CREATV has produced and directed award-winning films, as well as provided consultation services for Hollywood movies filmed in the country, such as Kong: Skull Island (2017) and The Last Airbender (2010).

 

“Only Vietnamese state-owned studios had the rights to production at the time I arrived,” says Othello. “But as the country was opening, the studios needed foreign expertise to operate their services, because on one side there were foreign productions coming to do projects in Vietnam and on the other side, advertising agencies with major clients like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Unilever all had to set up shop and needed services.”

 

Told that his skillset would most benefit the country in advertising and commercial work at the outset, it was at this point that hewas introduced to the technical challenges of early filmmaking in Vietnam. “We would shoot commercials on film and the processing was a bit difficult because the lab had no generator and it would often shut down when you went to process your film.  So instead we wouldgo overseas to process in Bangkok and bring the film back.”

 

As with many other industries here, over time the government’s attitude toward moviemaking would liberalize, giving filmmakers more opportunity. Explaining this shift, Othelloshares, “The government would finance a propaganda film for the state-run studios, but unfortunately they were all at a loss.That’s when they decided to allow private companies to produce feature films. First, we were doing technology transfer for the state studios. Then we were allowed to have our company to do services. Then those companies with services were allowed to make feature films. Then they were allowed to make television programs and later on they were allowed to own TV channels.”

 

Amidst these changes, a wave of local and Viet Kieu filmmakers began to surface. Tony Bui’s 1999 film Three Seasons, the story of an American veteran who returns to Vietnam in search of a child he fathered during the war, would prove a significant achievement, garneringinternational acclaim and earning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival.Shortly thereafter, directors Le Hoang and Vu Ngoc Dang would establish themselves as masters of the local box office with such hits as Gai Nhay (2003) and Nhung Co Gai Chan Dai (2004).

 

However, Othellopoints out that a discrepancy between the international and local audiences soon became clear. “If you make a film for the Vietnamese audience, it’s been proven that it will never have an international audience,” he admits. “Some films were able to do well at festivals, but it’s very limited and also the Vietnamese language is kind of a barrier. Almost 100 million people speak Vietnamese, but only in Vietnam and some pockets of diaspora here and there.”

 

Further elaborating on the domestic audience’s preferences, Irene Trinh, Head of Production and Feature Films at The CREATV Company, observes, “There has been a real shift in storytelling genre, from melodrama to comedy, shifting away from the more serious themes and topics to lighthearted, whimsical, and sometimes farcical situations. Action films are sparse, as are the more serious dramas, as audiences have clearly voiced their opinion at the box office. In the last five years or so, for every four or five comedies made there is one action or drama. It’s a trend that does not seem to wane, but likely to continue in the years to come.”

 

Irene, who has produced eight feature films in Vietnam since 2005 and worked with such noteworthy directors as Victor Vu, adds, “It would be wonderful to see Vietnamese cinema be strong enough to bring back the dramas, the thrillers, and the arthouse pictures. It’s certainly big enough to sustain, but how to shape and prepare the audience for its return – that will be the challenge. It should be on the industry’s mind as a whole, as it’s important to have variety and diversity in cinema for it to be called a nation’s cinema.”

 

As film activist who prefers targeting the international crowd, undertaking controversial matters has been another obstacleOthello is familiar with, as was the case with his award-winning 2007 film Saigon Eclipse. Examining the topic of impoverished Vietnamese women marrying wealthy foreigners, not for love but out of desperation to help their families and whether this can be considered a form of human trade, his thoughts were, and remain, that being up front with the government is the best method for both sides.

 

“I believe that if you work well with the People, there’s no problem,” he explains.“If you have a double agenda, of course you will get in trouble. The government has had bad experiences because some people played them by shooting one script during the day and then shooting a different script at night. The script they had presented was not the script used in the film and people lost their jobs.”

 

“For me, I’m very straightforward. It’s too complicated and I cannot have double language because I’m not smart enough,” Othello says laughing. “I spend enough energy trying to find out what I really want to say. So every time we do stuff that may be controversial, I’ll present it from the start and the government will explain their angle.With the censors and the government, I feel like it’s more of a collaboration. Once we’re clear with what we want to do, they’re very helpful and are part of the team that works together to make it happen.”

 

The challenge for directors hoping to hit it big in Vietnamese cinemas, he explains, is also partly the result of a lack of laws in place requiring theaters to designate a certain number of screens for locally made film and, therefore, directors are less likely to take risks when forced to compete with Hollywood blockbusters. “It’s challenging to make successful films in Vietnam because, even though there are more screens now, you only have a two-week window to break through and you’re fighting against films like Superman and Captain America.”

 

“So it’s very difficult for Vietnamese film to grow,” he goes on.“The only way to do it is to have some commercial recipes, meaning the budget should only be around US $300,000 or less. Otherwise you cannot make a profit in two weeks and the only way to make that kind of film is to make a heavy comedy – a slapstick film that will please themasses.”

 

Nonetheless, there are several locally made movies that have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last few years, catering to a growing domestic audience of nearly 50 million moviegoers. Most recently, director Le Thanh Son’s comedy Em Chua 18 (2017) grossed an impressive US $8.8 million, while in 2015 Phan Xine Linh’s Em La Ba Noi Cua Anhbrought in US $4.76 million. From a business perspective, the sheer numbers are an encouraging sign for the film industry, though as a classical cinephile, it’s readily apparent Othello hopes to see a desire for a deeper exploration in subject matter from the audience.

 

“I think overtime people have decided to have access to more foreign films,” he posits. “But, mostly what they call blockbusters. What’s been missing for a lot of people is an understanding and a knowledge about the culture of film. Maybe because of what’s been given to them, they are kept in a kind of infancy. Nobody knows about John Ford, Fellini, Francois Truffaut.”

 

Thinking on the future for a moment, Othello adds,“But now that there is access to everything on the internet and people travel to study overseas and come back, maybe that third generation will start to grow.”

 

 

 

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Check out Creatv Company’s Head of Production, Irene Trinh talk about our production services on Kong: Skull Island in Vietnam.

irene on vtv 4_3 irene on vtv 4_2 irene on vtv 4
VTV 4 – Culture Mosaic – 10/03/2017

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Congrats Amazing Race Canada from your friends at The Creatv Company. Here’s to many more season’s of Canada’s most watched television show!

CTV’s The Amazing Race Canada was the non-news television show that dominated the Canadian Screen Awards 2017, earning five trophies for photography, picture editing, writing and directing achievements. It also won best reality/competition program or series, the night’s final prize.

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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:

CREATV 2016 RECAP from The CREATV Company on Vimeo.

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.

http://vietnamtourism.vn/things-to-do/filming-scouts-othello-khanh-and-irene-trinh-talk-kong

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Our production ” STING Trust ” lead by Executive Producer Daniel Gordon Jones reaches close to 5 Million Views in less than a month.
“Although it was a complicated shoot in PepsiCo’s high tech factory and a stadium, the final tvc beats our high expectations, mainly because we had a great client and agency to work with.” DGJ
Client: Pepsi Co.
Agency: JWT.

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At the close of another year we gratefully pause to say THANK YOU.
It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with you this year.
Best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season and our sincere thanks to those who have made our progress possible. We appreciate your loyalty and goodwill.

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We have the pleasure to introduce our new commercial Executive Producer: Daniel Gordon Jones. With decades of experience in advertising agencies and in the Vietnamese Market, Daniel joins our group to reboot the commercial production department.

Daniel J. Gordon Jones

22 years in the creative, media & marketing industry. Building world-class teams producing world-class work. Emphasis on cut-through, creative campaigns, resulting in ROI, profitability & growth for brands. Worked on over 50 ATL campaigns including Lipton, Vinamilk, Heineken, Coors Light, Saigon Special, San Miguel, Honda, Nokia, Perfetti, Wrigley, Nutifood, Wonderfarm, Abbott Labs, TP Bank, BIDV, HSBC, ANZ, Bluescope Steel, Mobifone, SFone.

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Vietnam recently stepped up to the occasion serving as a location on the Legendary Pictures “Kong:  Skull Island.” Speaking to Thanh Nien News (Vietnam’s largest news agency), Director Jordan Voght-Roberts said “[he] chose Vietnam as a filming location as he wanted to offer audiences something new and different, adding that the scenes in Vietnam are among the important ones and would be as stunning as scenes in The Lord of the Rings.”   Ninh Binh Marsh here-s-our-first-behind-the-scenes-look-at-kong-skull-island-929258

And prior to that, Studios such as Warner’s and Paramount extensively surveyed the country for their upcoming productions.  Vietnam is certainly a different place.  Much different from the Hollywood backroom stories told about a certain English Secret Agent filming in Vietnam’s legendary Ha Long Bay, a World Heritage Site almost twenty years before. vlcsnap-error404

America and the World’s impression of Vietnam has changed significantly since the last of the Huey’s took off from the roof of the burning US Embassy building on that fateful April 30, 1975 day.  And while films like The Quiet American was entirely shot throughout Vietnam, long gone are the days where Vietnam would only serve as the backdrop of war.  Though of course, it can and still serves as such, for example in the 2013 war era made for television movie Oriana for RAI Uno. vlcsnap-error674

We, at The Creatv Company, have been privileged to have service-produced both Kong:  Skull Island and The Quiet American.  We also service-produced Oriana, and in addition to those, we’ve been blessed with regular visits from The Amazing Race (and its various franchised versions) along with ABC’s The Bachelor and Warner International’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads or Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern just to name a few.

 

Image via Warner Brothers
Image via Warner Brothers

It may sound like we are bragging here, as we’re definitely name dropping just a little, but the reality is this, Vietnam has plenty to offer, to both the large and small scale production.  So while we may not have tax incentives (please remember, we are still a developing country!), we do have breathtaking landscapes and vistas, majestic mountains and rough, rugged terrain, but also world wonders’ that make us the perfect backlot.  What we lack in tax rebates and incentives, we make up for in low labour costs! vlcsnap-error023 Add to that, and as proven on Kong:  Skull Island, Vietnam’s government has surely opened it’s 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.  With assistance with work permit visas and customs clearances for an entire cargo plane of filming equipment and over 20 40’ containers of art, machinery and other filming support equipment, Vietnam’s government showed its hand in open collaboration with the filmmakers.  Immigration officers assisted the people charter, helping to expedite work visas, and even greeting them as they arrived on the ground from Immigration through to baggage claim and into their vehicles, ready to hit the road for what promised to be stunning scenes not yet experienced on the big screen.

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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.  We’ve serviced productions under 10K and we’ve serviced productions 200M and everything in between, we are proud to call Vietnam home and offer her majestic beauty to the world’s big and small screen. vlcsnap-error450

Images courtesy of Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers

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Executive producer John Brunton had one question when thinking about bringing The Amazing Race Canada to Vietnam: could this faraway land of jungles and rivers provide enough technical support for his large crew and contestants?

Yes, was the final answer, but there was a road block or two along the way. Viewers can see for themselves starting with Tuesday’s episode of the show on CTV at 8 p.m. The nine remaining two-person teams race from Calgary to Vancouver then across the international dateline to Hong Kong and finally Vietnam. The first stop there are the vital commercial waterways of the Mekong Delta.

As always, the location was scouted in advance. Brunton’s fears that individuals might falter in the tropical heat were well founded. Temperatures soared close to 40 C during the race in May. Two crew members and two team members needed medical attention.

Brunton insisted the local authorities provide enough electrolytes at each location to keep everybody properly hydrated. “And we got electric lights!” he says, roaring with laughter.

Language problems aside, Brunton says it was important to bring the race somewhere that was “dramatically different” for Season 4. Last season saw teams visit Argentina and Chile as well as India.

The challenge, however, is that in a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous, safe exotic locales are in short supply. Viewers who lived through nightly Vietnam War TV reports in the 1960s and ’70s will now see it as a safe, conflict-free destination, whereas terrorist targets such as London and Paris seem risky.

Brunton checked with the producer of the American version of The Amazing Race, Bertram van Munster, who gave the destination a big thumbs-up. “Then there’s the other factor: what’s affordable? What are the labour costs?”

He found a local contact “of very high integrity, not always the easiest thing to find,” says Brunton, who has dealt with authorities all over the world.

“You have a culture in Chile where the law is very strict,” he says. “If you ever tried to bribe anybody, you could go to jail.” With other jurisdictions, says Brunton, it’s hard to get anything done “without a big roll of dough in your pocket.

“We knew from the outset that this was a pretty reasonably honest place to do business.”

Still, it is communist country with a conservative regime in place. But the red tape was worth it, says Brunton, who saw an opportunity, in the wake of Canada’s generous Syrian refugee efforts to reflect upon a “boat people” story from decades earlier “that is so central to who we are now.”

Jon Montgomery was already well-versed on the virtues of Vietnam. “It’s my parents’ favourite place to visit,” says the 37-year-old host.

Montgomery spoke from a thatched-roof river resort overlooking the swift-flowing delta. Teams will have to board one of the many water taxis docked out front and explain they want to go to the floating market. You can buy everything from live eels to caged rats at the market, the latter fit for frying, according to the locals. Tuesday’s episode will also feature duck herding in the blazing Vietnam sun as well as frog harvesting. A drum dance at a temple is also on the agenda.

Vietnam packs its own culture shocks as teams travel two hours by bus north to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for the following week’s episode. Players crammed into buses and sat next to commuters carrying baskets full of fish. “One of the weird things you wouldn’t see back home,” said one team member afterwards.

Once you arrive at Ho Chi Minh City, you can buy “banh mi” — Vietnam baguette sandwiches — for 33,000 dong or a little less than a toonie. Simple, concrete vending stalls stand alongside highrise, North American-style office towers and hotels, with McDonald’s and KFC locations almost as numerous as the swarms of scooters that dart around pedestrians like schools of fish.

Week four will also bring a stop at a local street vendor with an unusual menu: larvae, crickets, centipedes, two live coconut worms and a bat.

That was hard to swallow for at least one team member.

“Their legs kept getting stuck to my teeth,” she said afterwards. “I threw up in my mouth and had to go through it all over again!”

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Vietnam, Brioux was a guest of the CTV network.

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/television/2016/07/11/the-amazing-race-canada-heads-to-vietnam.html

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