Clubhouse Films: The Two Viet Kieu Producers Behind The TV Ads You See in Vietnam
Clubhouse Films opened their doors in 2012 and has put together a roster of clients that includes Heineken, Sony, Total, Asus, Nestle and many more. From working with well-known local and international brands, Clubhouse Film’s executive producers Chi Minh De Leo and Phan Quoc Viet Huy have established their production house as one of Vietnam’s and Southeast Asia’s most respected production establishments.
Chi Minh, who is half-Italian and half-Vietnamese, was born in Germany. He grew up in Taipei, Vietnam, and France and has been in Vietnam now for 11 years. Phan Quoc Viet Huy, born in France, moved to Vietnam 13 years and hasn’t looked back since. His father was a former South Vietnamese air force jet pilot and his grandfather, the chief engineer behind the Reunification Palace.
For both Chi Minh and Huy, their love for the country and the wealth of opportunities in an underserved industry led them back. The team at Vietcetera got the chance to sit down with both and learn about their vision of building Vietnam’s future through film.
How did you two meet up to start Clubhouse Films?
Chi Minh: We were working in complementary fields, Huy in production and myself in an agency. We’ve known each other for a few years and we both wanted to do something new. We needed a name to start the business and brainstormed for an hour. We found one with an available domain and we were off. Clubhouse was a fun, passionate, sport-oriented name. Sports teams have a clubhouse, bikers have a clubhouse… it’s where people get together and plan great things. We love sportsmanship and having a good time.
What does the media industry look like in Vietnam?
In terms of production, Vietnam is definitely catching up with the rest of the region. We’ve had a more delayed start due to the country’s history but with more and more brands coming to invest here and all the international agencies currently set up in the city we now have some opportunity to produce great advertising work.
Today, you can shoot anything in Vietnam that people used to go and shoot in Thailand. Advertising, TV and film projects interested in shooting in Vietnam are on the rise and with better crews and equipment than in the past, we can do the same than our neighbors. We just need to get the word out there and build trust and confidence with foreign productions worldwide. Work in progress!
What’s in store for Vietnam’s creative future?
Chi Minh: While Vietnamese people are educated and creative, one key ingredient that we’re missing is that millennials need more confidence. They have the Internet and they are informed. But millennials need to take more risk and showcase the country a bit more. 99% of Vietnamese advertising films are done by a foreign director. There are no Vietnamese directors in advertising. Those who do venture in it are feature directors.
While there aren’t any big Vietnamese directors in advertising, the opportunity is also not there. Right now, there’s not a single Vietnamese director with a proper commercial reel to present to a client. So we can’t sell them. On the other hand, there are plenty directors in Fiction, where it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got a reel to sell yourself, you just need to produce a good film. Some are really good, others less. Whoever figures out how to make Vietnamese blockbusters will thrive.
Huy: Overall we’re believers in Vietnam’s creative future and we’re working on being a part of that voice. The future of film production in Vietnam is all about telling stories about Vietnamese people. We are free and creative. What we need to do is spread awareness of the culture and lifestyle of the modern Vietnam as well as the untold stories of our parents. That will put Vietnam on the map.
Any exciting new projects rolling out soon?
Yes! We’re about to roll out a great commercial we just finished for Redbull. We have been very busy recently and we’re lucky that our production work allows us to move from Bangkok one day to New Zealand the next day. It’s a fast paced job that requires a lot of dedication but that’s also what we love about it. In parallel to client work, we are developing features ideas so watch this space.
What were Clubhouse’s first media projects in Vietnam?
Our first job was with Coca-Cola, so we started big. So was our second. Our 3rd job was the biggest campaign of the year, Omo TET. We worked with big brands from the beginning.
What was your big breakthrough project?
Unilever OMO Tet 2013. At the time it was the TV commercial of the year and Clubhouse’s third job of all time. We were pitching against big companies. They gave us a chance. Luckily we already had a bit of a reputation. They knew what we were capable of.
Thanks for the fantastic insights into Vietnamese production! Now on to some for fun questions that our readers are wondering about.
What restaurants and cafes can someone spot you in Ho Chi Minh City?
Huy: Xua Va Nay on 33-37 Nguyen Trung Truc on a little street at the back of Ben Thanh. It’s a casual street restaurant with a great atmosphere. I love being outside.
Chi Minh: No place in particular. I go where there is something going on.
Can you tell us one memorable story growing up abroad that you’ll always remember?
Huy: My parents were refugees to France. Their refugee experience shaped much of my upbringing. I remember when the city organized Christmas parties for the community. All the kids were invited on stage and received nice big gifts. It could be a pair of branded shoes, video games, or fancy toy. We were new to France but my family felt at home and welcomed. Today, when I think about the immigration crisis in Europe, it saddens me. We were welcomed, treated with respect and felt like we belonged yet the situation today is the opposite. I feel for those people and their families.
Chi Minh: I moved around a lot as a kid. It’s hard to zone in on one story. I moved to Taiwan when I was two years old, to Vietnam at 9 and to France at 14. My mom left Vietnam before the war as a student. Her eight siblings all left after the war, and she was the only to eventually come back. My mom was one of the first overseas Vietnamese to come back in 1991. She opened a business center, facilitating American businesses entering Vietnam before the embargo lifted in 1995. My mom was also an Italian restaurant owner in Taiwan. I remember her entrepreneurial hustle and capacity to get stuff done. Remembering her energy drives me to get stuff done as well.
What were some of your initial struggles in Vietnam and how did you overcome it?
Huy: I didn’t have a particularly hard time adjusting to Vietnam. One of the struggles I can point out is that Vietnamese people did tend to over-respect foreigners even at times when it was unfounded. Personally, I was always too Vietnamese when they needed foreigners and too much of a foreigner when they needed Vietnamese. I feel that’s changed now and people are assessed based on their skill levels much more. Overall, I feel super lucky to be here. It’s like being on a train. You’ll always move further the next day. What’s not to like about that.
Chi Minh: When I arrived here 11 years ago now, I was an intern at an advertising agency. I earned almost nothing and started at the bottom. What’s good here is that you can get by without much. You can adapt your lifestyle to how much you’re making. Even as an intern 11 years ago, I could order six liters of beer and two dishes of oc for under 100,000 VND. The prices might have gone up today, but more Vietnamese are earning more than they did before.
Who should I talk to next?
My brother Chi-An and his partner Josh behind the team at Rice Creative.
Vickie at Van Thiep. Her team installs stands in cafes and restaurants around the city, with free postcards and visuals of local businesses.
Linh from VTV. A young local Vietnamese journalist from Hanoi. He tells passionate stories about the Vietnamese diaspora around the world.