March 14, 2019

How to become a Film Director: A Reality Check

March 14, 2019

Andy Nguyen may not become the household name yet, but the editor of the Vietnamese blockbuster “Em chua 18” (Jailbait) has proven to be the rising star in the Vietnam film industry. In his talk at Fulbright University Vietnam, Andy shared with the Co-Design Year students that though the industry might look glamorous, the road to success for him was indeed a challenging one. 

The next inspirational speaker of Fulbright’s initiative to help students gain a diversified perspective and first-hand experience in various fields was Andy Nguyen, the talented young director and film editor of various Vietnamese blockbusters. In his talk, Andy provided the Co-Design Year students an overarching picture of the film industry, its opportunities and challenges. 

Andy is not a stranger in the film industry; in fact, film making is a family tradition. Andy’s uncles, Nguyen Vinh Son and Trinh Hoan, won the hearts of millions of Vietnamese people with productions such as “Dat Phuong Nam” (Song of the South), and “Trang Noi Day Gieng” (The Moon at the Bottom of the Well). 

Following their footsteps, Andy embarked on the film making journey starting with the family’s home video recorder. He later got his degree in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University. Unlike most of the second-generation Vietnamese Americans, Andy Nguyen wanted to come back to Vietnam. “While most of my friends settle down in the U.S., I am reminded that I still have a family in Vietnam,” he shared. 

Andy Nguyen talked at Fulbright University Vietnam

Under the guidance and mentorship of his uncles, Andy Nguyen produced his first short film “A Silent Night” in Vietnam. The film became a big hit. The sixteen-year-old director entered the world stage with the film being honored at more than 30 international film festivals and won more than 10 awards.

The most prestigious ones were the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award – which Andy was the youngest ever to receive, and the Most Promising Student Filmmaker Award of 2005.

He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program. Set in Ho Chi Minh City, the 20-minute film focuses on a developing relationship between a Xich lodriver and a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl from an affluent family.

His ties to Vietnam grew deeper when Andy returned in 2015 and participated in many big productions including “Em la ba noi cua anh” (Sweet 20) and “Em chua 18” (Jailbait) as the film editor. These projects soon became the highest grossing movies of all time in Vietnam.

Inspired by his story, the Co-Design Years students could not help but ask him for some advice in pursuing film-making as a career. Through the lens of the young director, the students learned that the film industry is indeed an appealing but challenging one. 

“It’s difficult to completely trust a young person when a huge amount of money is invested to shoot a film. That’swhy so many directors look old as they are. They usually start the first movie when they’re 30. If this first movie is a failure, they spend two or three years later without another chance,” said Andy.

He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program.
He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program. 

Before thinking about pursuing this career, Andy asked the students to first find out the answers to his questions: “Who are you? What sets you apart? Why do you think you have the taste to be a director?” 

Preparing to take on new challenges is also something students need to be aware of if they want to be a film maker. “You don’t get hired when it comes to movie. You write the idea and you sell the idea. You spend 6 months writing about them for free and hope that somebody will like it. Failure is a common thing,” he emphasized.

Xuan Linh – Bich Tram

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