The Vietnamese film industry knows little about making money, Hollywood legendary film instructor Dov Siemens said frankly at an interview following his arrival in Ho Chi Minh City last weekend.
Dov Siemens (left) - Photo: Tuoitre
Widely known in Hollywood for his teaching techniques, Dov Siemens comes to Vietnam this time to instruct more than 100 Vietnamese filmmakers and students in a 3-day training course.
Dubbed “Mr. Hollywood” by the American MovieMaker magazine for his popular short courses where he teaches film professionals across the US, Dov said he does not teach art because the work of producing and selling films is more important.
To Dov, after all, film industry is a show business, not a show art, he spoke bluntly.
Despite being a foreigner, Dov said he knows several talented Vietnamese overseas filmmakers such as French-Vietnamese Tran Anh Hung with his award-winning trio The Scent of Green Papaya, Cyclo, and The Vertical Ray of the Sun.
More recent independent works including The Buffalo Boy or The White Silk Dress have also been known internationally.
Art films targeting a niche market aside, commercially-successful films are becoming more common as the Vietnamese economy has been growing in recent years with more and more cinemas being built.
However, profit is a problem for Vietnam’s film industry, as best filmmakers, actors and directors there do not enjoy much pay, which only comes at around US$1,000-$1,500 per person for each movie, Dov observed.
“I know it sounds shocking but the film production process in Vietnam resembles 99 percent that of Hollywood because you already have a system from producing to distributing and screening.”
The biggest differences, he said, lie in the government’s policy towards developing the industry.
Another difference is the ratio of cinemas over population as Hollywood boasts 15,000 cinemas for its 300 million-strong audience and while Vietnam has a mere 150 theatres to serve its 80 million population.
Ticket price for a Hollywood movie is also 3-5 times higher than that of Vietnam.
“Therefore, I think you have to get rid of the thinking that you are making films to compete with any other countries.”
“Just focus on your city or country and try to make profit from your film here.”
“You have all that is needed to produce a movie, you just haven’t shown any potential in making actual money from it,” he said.
commercial success is an important indicator to a producer like Dov Simens as filmmaking is not an individual activity; it involves a group of people working together.
A film producing both critical and commercial success is always better than an artistic film that doesn’t earn any profit, Dov said.
In case of failure, it is really hard for filmmakers to find partners for their next projects, he warned.
However, Vietanmese filmmakers enjoy many competitive advantages, as the low production cost and payment for staff in the country makes it easier to produce a profitable film.
A USD100,000 – 500,000 budget would be an ideal number for a made-in-Vietnam movie, while in Hollywood, the figure has to reach USD10 – 100 million.
Marketing and PR campaigns have to play a strategic part in the whole process, he stressed.
The natural and beautiful landscape of Vietnam also adds another plus point to its film industry, the producer said, as it is what Hollywood can’t artificially create even with millions of dollars.