Every month, the good folks at Saigon Creative host monthly talks with creatives doing work in Vietnam. I play basketball with George Nguyen, so in between games where I pass him the rock to drain the game-winners (or is that the other way around), we’ll manage to talk shop about people we know in the city.

Saigon Creative’s muse for this month is Jenni Trang Le, who I’ve been fortunate to live with upon her arrival here in 2008.

Her resume thus far: Journey from the Fall, Powder Blue, Owl and the Sparrow, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid (Bi, dung so)! The Rebel, Clash (Bay Rong), Inferno (Giao Lo Dinh Menh), Battle of the Brides (Co Dau Dai Chien), Long Ruoi. Yes, Jenni Trang Le is a Hindu God of sorts–her hands have touched all of these films.

Cotdamn.

Here is all the cool stuff I managed to learn from Jenni about filmmaking and the film industry in Vietnam, bullet-pointed for your reading pleasure:

On challenges

  • What Saigon and the general Vietnam filmmaking community lacks right now is good writers – she doesn’t know why this is the case for the time being (Chim: I think rote educational practices is to blame)
  • Right now, directors are writing their own films, because they have to (google the aforementioned list of films Jenni has worked on)
  • Pretty much everything she has learned about filmmaking had to be thrown out the window once she started in Vietnam
  • Here, you have to be on your feet and go with the flow – there is always a lot of problem-solving

On money

  • Scripts usually sell to production houses for $5,000 on average
  • Saigon is perceived as just making commercial films, Hanoi is perceived as just making art-house films
  • When it comes to filmmaking: Vietnamese folks are very resourceful. One time, her crew ordered a crane that never came, so her crew concocted one using a bunch of clamps and pipes
  • A funding source more filmmakers are beginning to explore is product placement. Of course, filmmakers are usually against this, but according to her: “no money, no film.”
  • Product placement is billed by the amount of time it is placed in the film, not by the prominence of the placement

On schedule

  • The Rebel, shot in 80 days, was being written as it was being filmed, because they wanted to shoot it during the winter – being an action film and all – and it was so delayed, they just had to get started
  • Directors vs. Producers: “I want more time to do something” vs. “No, you have to stop it”
  • Commercial films released around Tet usually don’t bother with subtitles. Art-house films need subtitles since they normally reach international audiences.

On future

  • When people approach Jenni, they don’t approach her about film ideas, they approach her about acting opportunities (“Can I be an actor/actress?”)
  • What is essential for Vietnamese filmmaking to move forward is for filmmakers to stay true to their vision. The ones that stay true and make what they want to make will succeed.

She also made this a while back:

Paraphrased: “I liked the idea of animals speaking many different languages, but ultimately understanding each other. In terms of language, I just used whatever friends I had available, at my disposal, at the time.”

Jenni hasn’t directed her own film just yet, it is in her pipeline though. The next film she is working on is a romantic comedy, coming out in April.

Lastly, not only does she makes films, she makes cupcakes in this biatch! Jenni Cakes, whatchu know about it?!

She makes films. She makes cupcakes. BOOSH!

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