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Vietnam Film studios face challenges amid pandemic

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A movie theater in HCMC is cleaned for coronavirus prevention, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.


Despite paying a deposit for the director and performers, Vo Thanh Hoa’s film company had to terminate a project worth VND20 billion ($862,068). The outbreak has had a significant impact on 89s Group, Hoa's film, and television production firm, especially during the four-month lockdown period in Ho Chi Minh City ending Oct. 1 reported e.vnexpress.net.


According to the director, the company has only produced nine short episodes since the beginning of the year, compared to 40 films last year. During the same period, revenue fell from almost VND36 billion to around VND3 billion.


The film ‘Chia Khoa Tram Ti’ (Rough translation: The Hundred Billion Key) he directed and co-produced with Orange Films, was supposed to be released on April 30, but it had to be postponed.


Several film studios are in the same boat.


BHD has postponed the screenings of four films: Ly Nha Ky's ‘Bi Mat Tien Duong’ (Secret of Paradise), Luau Huynh's ‘Nguoi Tinh’ and ‘Tim Han Vet Seo’ (The Scarred Heart), and Ham Tran’s Maika and ‘Co Be Den Tu Hanh Tinh Khac’ (The Little Girl from Another Planet).


Three more significant film projects have been pushed back. Ngo Thi Bich Hien, CEO of BHD in HCMC, said: "When the fourth epidemic struck, we were just getting back on our feet. All operations were halted because of the shutdown. Because the data is too large for technical staff to handle at home, even post-production operations are done in moderation."


Jung Tae Sun, general director of CJ HK Entertainment, stated the number of CJ films in cinemas declined by 30 percent from January to September compared to the same period last year, and by 60 percent compared to 2019.


In the last four months, revenue has been essentially non-existent. Because they had been delayed for too long, some projects had to cancel their screenings.


Galaxy Play has over 15 exclusive movie projects in the works, but all were put on hold for four months.


From the end of May, the Mar6 studio halted all unresolved filming projects, including ‘Tu Dai My Nhan’ (Four Great Beauties). "Many of the company's partners are now bankrupt, according to director Namcito, making it difficult to resume normal production," he explained.


"This is usually a busy time for the entire company. I don't think I'll be able to shoot again till next year," he said. "As a result, the release date isn't fixed, and a number of our other projects have been postponed."


The "freeze" of production, according to producers, has drained the company's contingency funds. Twenty film producers noted in an official dispatch to the government and HCMC People's Committee on Sept. 21 that restoring operations in a short time would be challenging, and many people are at risk of losing their jobs.


In a May dispatch to the Prime Minister, four film distributors, Thien Ngan, BHD, Lotte Cinema, and CJ CGV, stated their screening and distribution revenue has been nearly zero since February, despite continuing to shoulder the costs of facilities, employee salaries, and benefits. According to Thien Ngan's spokesman, the company loses tens of billions of dong per month.


"In this circumstance, both major and small enterprises could go bankrupt, resulting in the film industry's eventual downfall."


Movie producers are trying many short-term solutions to cope. To support its 200 employees, BHD has had to reduce part of their salaries with their consent. Mar6 has played it safe by closing the company and cutting staff to wait for the return date. ABC Pictures decided to operate online and streamline their human resources to adapt.



Visitors at a cinema in HCMC's District 1, May 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran


Studios hope that returning to production would save them from the risk of bankruptcy. They hope that from Oct. 15 the Government will allow studios to work if they have proper Covid-19 control measures such as: online pre-production, downsizing of staff when filming, PCR testing before filming, quick testing every seven days, or making sure all crew members have been vaccinated and tested negative.


The studios also plan to do production in less populated areas like film studios, inactive eco-tourism areas, and empty residential lots.


A representative of Galaxy Play said that since their employees have been fully vaccinated and are qualified to work, they are preparing for production in early October if allowed. They will immediately embark on 15 postponed projects. In addition, during the pandemic, they took the time to research 15 new projects for 2022, out of which three will enter pre-production.


Director Namcito of Mar6 said: "If we are allowed to produce, we still have to consider the epidemic situation. When it is safe and stable, we will decide to shoot. This is a big project that requires filming not only in Saigon but also in other provinces. I don't dare to shoot now. If I must delay it, the damage will be huge."


HCMC resumed most activities last Friday after over four months of imposing different levels of social distancing. However, cultural, artistic, religious, religious events, rallies, bars, spas, massages, beauty services, on-site food services, theatres, discos, and karaoke services remain prohibited.


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