Why Filmmaking Is An Even Bigger Gamble Than Starting A Startup | Vietcetera
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May 18, 2024

Why Filmmaking Is An Even Bigger Gamble Than Starting A Startup

As moviegoers, we just sit back and enjoy the show. But for those behind the scenes, filmmaking is a high-stakes investment gamble.
Why Filmmaking Is An Even Bigger Gamble Than Starting A Startup

Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

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Blood Moon Party (2020), Dad, I’m Sorry (2021), Mai (2024), and the series Face Off (2015-2024) have all made a splash in Vietnamese cinema in recent years, each raking in over 100 billion VND at the box office.

Ever wondered if there’s a secret recipe for their success? And with such high revenues, what were the production costs? How are the profits divided among producers, investors, cinemas, and actors?

Tune in to BizFF’s new episode this Monday as we dive into the film industry. Our host Minh Beta and co-host Hương Trần will be joined by director and producer Phan Gia Nhật Linh (Phan Xine), who boasts nearly 30 years of experience in the industry.

This episode promises an engaging chat between a cinema entrepreneur (Minh Beta), a filmmaker (Phan Gia Nhật Linh), and a curious outsider (Hương Trần). What unique perspectives will they bring to the table?

How to know a film project is worth working on

When co-host Hương Trần asked what factors influenced Nhật Linh’s decision to choose a film project to commit to, he replied that the project has to be a story worth telling; otherwise, making the film would be incredibly tough. Host Minh Beta added that this is similar to starting a startup, but potentially more stressful due to the shorter lifecycle of a film.

Director Nhật Linh also shed light on the production costs and how profits are split among cinemas, investors, advertisers, producers, and actors. Co-host Hương remarked that filmmaking is even “riskier” than startups, likening it to a high-stakes gamble.

The director shared that COVID-19 taught him the importance of managing production costs independently. He emphasized that relying solely on investor funding or previous film revenues is risky due to many uncontrollable factors. His upcoming film Trước giờ yêu (2024) is his way of challenging himself to create with a tight budget.

“Seeing a project as a story worth telling is crucial; otherwise, making the film will be incredibly tough,” shared director Phan Gia Nhật Linh. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

How are Vietnamese cinemas evolving?

According to director Nhật Linh, Vietnam now has around 160 cinema complexes with over 1,000 screening rooms. This is a significant growth, considering that in 2006, Vietnam had its first cinema complex, Megastar (now CGV Cinemas), and by 2009, there were only a handful of complexes across the country.

In addition to major players like CGV and Lotte Cinemas, new cinema chains are targeting more diverse market segments. Minh’s Beta Cinemas, for instance, focuses on the middle-class audience and is targeting second-tier cities rather than major metropolitan areas like HCMC or Hanoi. The Beta Group chairman believes there’s still plenty of untapped potential in Vietnam’s cinema market.

Director Nhật Linh agrees, pointing to the Mekong Delta region as an example. Previously, this area had very few cinemas, but since mid-range complexes opened, movie-going has surged. From being a forgotten market, the Mekong Delta has become a key segment for Vietnamese films, alongside major cities.

Do Vietnamese people still want to go to the cinema with Netflix on the rise?

According to director Nhật Linh, most Vietnamese moviegoers are between 14 and 28 years old. This age group is also the biggest Netflix user base. Even though Netflix is booming, cinemas still have their charm for young audiences.

Furthermore, watching a movie in a theater for 2 hours straight without pausing or rewinding is a totally different experience from streaming Netflix. Host Minh Beta likens it to dining: watching Netflix is like eating at home, but going to the cinema is like treating yourself to a nice restaurant meal.

From an outsider’s perspective, Hương offers an interesting take. Netflix develops content based on data and algorithms from its platform. This approach is more about optimizing revenue than about artistry, but it has created many new cultural phenomena and attracted numerous Hollywood filmmakers. Cinemas should consider this when analyzing Vietnamese audience trends.

According to co-host Hương Trần, Netflix develops content based on data and algorithms from its platform. Vietnamese cinemas should consider this approach when analyzing audience trends. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

Vietnamese cinema: Opportunities and challenges

Vietnamese cinema has seen significant breakthroughs in recent years. More films are grossing over 100 billion VND, being screened internationally, and winning major awards.

Vietnamese film IPs have emerged as a way to extend the lifespan of films, with series Face Off by Lý Hải and The Tricky Ladies by Namcito & Bảo Nhân being prime examples. These filmmakers seem to have found the “formula” for box office hits: family themes that resonate deeply with Vietnamese audiences.

However, Minh points out that the biggest challenge for Vietnamese cinema today is the talent pool. Almost every aspect lacks quality personnel, requiring extensive time for search and training. Director Nhật Linh also noted that much of the current top talent in Vietnamese cinema has to be outsourced from other industries.

Host Minh Beta points out that the biggest challenge for Vietnamese cinema today is the talent pool. | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

Therefore, the long-term solution for Vietnamese cinema is to invest in education on a macro level. Director Nhật Linh himself offers courses to share the knowledge and experience he’s accumulated over the years, and Minh hopes to establish a fund to support young filmmakers.

If you could be a character in any movie, who would you be?

Phan Gia Nhật Linh: “I’ve always dreamed of being Batman because he’s cool and rich. I’m also quite introverted and prefer avoiding large crowds, so I like the idea of living a ‘hidden’ life.”

Hương Trần: “I love action and adventure films. So, I’d like to be Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.”

Minh Beta: “I’d want to be Superman because he’s cool, can fly everywhere, and has lots of superpowers.”

Watch the full episode here: