The Filmmaker: Commercial Work and Passion Projects
Can you introduce yourself?
I am a filmmaker working at RICE & Partners. I am involved in various steps of filmmaking: From research and idea development to directing, shooting and editing. Beside the usual days at my laptop in the office, my filmmaking journey has brought me high up into the terrains of Northern Vietnam and down to the roaring seas near the Gulf of Thailand.
What factors influenced you to step into the filmmaking industry?
It was multiple influences at different times. The symphony my father conducted in his early years; my grandfather’s black & white panoramic photo of pre-75 Vung Tau; a long forgotten documentary series made in early 2000 by HTV TFS exploring the Mekong river from Vietnam’s end to its source in China… This collection of memories influenced me to explore creativity before actually I learnt how to create moving images and sound.
What are the main differences between making films and making commercials?
In the context of my job at RICE there are plenty of differences… Most commercials require ideas (concept, set piece, character, look, etc) to be made quite specifically in order to meet briefs from the client, which happens before me and the filmmaking team can even experiment. On the other hand, documentary films allow me to experiment with new topics and techniques from the start – as long as there is an interesting story angle and a potential supporting community.
What makes a great commercial?
In my opinion, a commercial is great when its content carries relatable cultural context and is told as a story, that’s when people get hooked and feel connected. If the team put strong emphasis on ground research (asking communities the right questions) and writing a good story, the visual treatment can be adapted depending on how generous the budget is.
How do you balance working for clients and working on your own passion projects?
To balance commercials and my own projects is to keep myself busy. Whenever there’s a time gap between commercials I force myself to engage in any form of creativity, I go out to explore new topics in the community, then I observe the surroundings to find interesting mediums for the topic. An example of this process can be seen in a video I did for Vănguard zine for their 4th issue. The topic was an underground art zine, so I featured various characterised materials in order to give the audience the feeling of flipping through the zine.
I’d also like to mention that the perk of working at RICE is being able to films that support communities, which is a shared passion among filmmakers and producers. It’s great because of course I want to make great films in terms of story and technique, but also because I am challenged to make the film in a given time in order to co-living with commercial schedule. Passion projects really demand time efficiency.
What was the most challenging scene you have had to put together? How did you manage it?
It was a scene for a fish sauce commercial in which I had to capture the image of live anchovies fresh from the ocean. We struggled to access real fishing boats due to cultural beliefs, the rough sea, long dark nights, motion sickness and the low chance of fishing success due to the stormy season. Miraculously, we got the footage we needed the next morning and brought home the greatest experience.
Where do you draw creative inspiration from?
I learnt that creative inspiration partially comes from personal life experience, so in fact I mainly draw from interactions with others. I also always observing different walks of life and events, from personal to societal.
What’s your favorite quote about filmmaking?
More like an opinion I always agree with… filmmaking is one of the most complex art forms in which every aspect of a film is contributed by a separate team effort (i.e. writing, directorial, cinematographic, audio, design, etc). Therefore, having the right attitude to work among each other is just as important as skill when it comes to pulling off a good piece of film.
Can you tell us about a valuable lesson you have learned?
I think it’s to not let go off the craft no matter how challenging the revisions seem. Client’s feedback and suggested revisions range from reasonable to… subjective, and can often challenge my vision. I learnt that instead of doing what is directly asked, I should find out how the client wants their video to function and use my filmmaking knowledge to make it function the way they wish.
What are your top three movies and why?
I don’t do top listing but most recently watched Groundhog Day for its screenplay, The Apprentice (written & directed by Boo Junfeng) for its character development, and Mad Men for its acting.
With your experiences, can you share something about filmmaking with young people who are passionate about making films?
Nowadays, with the easy access of technology & social media platforms, snippets of filmmaking activity and the number of films in general seems over-saturated. Chances are that filmmaking can be misunderstood as social status goal instead of a craft. I think filmmaking is a lifetime development where dozens of attempts are possible failures, criticism and lessons to be learnt. Other than those, the burst of happiness when making a film is when the image, graphics and pre-mix sound come together in a sequence and I hit play for the first time, despite knowing there will be always be criticism ahead.