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The war with the US may have ended in 1975, but the path to heal the repercussions of the protracted conflict was a slow one for Vietnam. The country missed out on plenty of filming opportunities in the 1980s and 1990s when Thailand was chosen frequently as a double for the then war-torn country, as seen in many high-profile international productions, such as Rambo: First Blood Part II, Good Morning, Vietnam, Heaven And Earth and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Now Vietnam has started to open up, with the 2017 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings held in Danang and the 2019 North Korea-US Summit in Hanoi.

The country is long and narrow, stretching along the South China Sea. From the north to the middle and the south it has a wide variety of natural wonders such as tropical forests, mountainous terrain, rice fields and terraces, and paradise-like islands, most of which are left unexplored and unseen on screen.

For Othello KHANH, owner of The CREATV Company, it's difficult to highlight only one location: “With 2000 miles of coastline and ancient heritage remnants of some of Asia’s oldest cultures, to the world’s largest cave and innumerable other attractions, it's both a visitors’ and location manager's dream come true,“ he says.

In northern parts of the country, “Hanoi’s rich history and unmissable Hạ Long Bay, to the pristine Ha Giang and Ban Gioc waterfalls“, also stand out for KHANH.

James Duong, EP Vantage Pictures adds that Saigon - with all the major studios and gear houses - is always a popular place to film. “It has a mix of modern skyscrapers and beautiful French colonial architecture. You can also reach the forest, mountains, and the sea, all within 1-2 hours from the city centre.“


Recent productions

It was this untapped potential that lured Warner Bros’ Kong: Skull Island to Vietnam in 2015. With the entire cast including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson and Brie Larson, and 120 crew members on site, it is one of the biggest Hollywood films to shoot in Southeast Asia in recent years.

The mythical home of Kong was filmed mostly on location in the northern province of Ninh Binh, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 11th century. Situated about 100 kilometres from Hanoi, the area is known for its karst landscape dominated by hundreds of limestone rock towers, intricate waterways and cave passages.

The success of the monster film has propelled Vietnam onto the world stage like never before. Local tour operators were quick to put together special packages for those wanting to visit the real filming locations that were featured.

Realising the enormous potential of film tourism — in the same way Danny Boyle’s The Beach contributed to Thailand’s tourism industry in the early 2000s — the Vietnamese government is now drafting a new cinema law to better support incoming productions, although tax breaks are not yet readily available.

According to the Vietnam Cinema Department, more than 20 international productions have shot in the country each year for the past few years. In 2018, the list included Disney’s Artemis Fowl directed by Kenneth Branagh and due for release in May 2020, which shot partially in Ho Chi Minh City, and one episode of NBC’s network drama series This Is Us.

More recently, Vantage Pictures serviced a job for The Coca-Cola Company. “We shot in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta, famous for its fertile land and floating markets. We shot for three days capturing the beauty of the river the its people,“ reveals Duong.

Currently, the company are producing a mostly studio build shoot for camera company Insta360. “One of the benefits to shooting in Vietnam is the affordability of local crew, including Art Department,“ he says. “On this job, are working with a challenging budget, but are still able to pull off a global look for this product launch film,“ Duong adds. 

Infrastructure and crews

Vietnam’s film industry is young but growing rapidly, churning out 45 films last year. The development of the local film sector is also being driven by South Korea’s CJ Entertainment, which has set up shop in the country, partly for the local remakes of its Korean titles such as Miss Granny and Sunny, both of which became huge local hits. The local production crews are not (yet) as skilled as those from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, but their willingness to learn and hard-working, friendly natures go a long way to making up for it. Local production costs remain relatively low and a wide range of hotels and restaurants will meet the budget and standard of any production.

The CREATV Company prides itself on being the longest-established private production service in Vietnam. “We are happy to bring you to any location in the country – no matter how off-the-beaten-path or remote – and can advise from every stage of script development; and how to present your content in order to secure the necessary permits,“ explains KHAHN. 

In terms of workplace developments, Vantage Pictures' Duong adds that the film industry has new regulations to provide better and safer working conditions for crew. “15 hours is now considered a regular working day (which is still longer than most other countries) and crew has a hard out at 18 hours,“ he reveals. 

Acquiring permits and dealing with local authorities is a must in any country and Vietnam is no exception, Duong highlights. “Working with a good local production house is important to get all the local permitting done, he says. “Generally speaking, commercial and short form content film permits can be expedited to around two weeks, while crew visas can be acquired within 3-5 days.“ Additionally, Vietnam now has eVisa available to over 80 countries.

Size matters

Located on the eastern edge of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a long, narrow country that stretches along the South China Sea. Two of the country’s largest rivers, Mekong and Red, end at the South China Sea deltas, which are home to most of the country’s population.

First person to contact

Le Thi Thu Ha, Vietnam Cinema Department

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