Academy Members Provide Sound Recording Training in Vietnam
In spring 2008, an Academy delegation spent two weeks in Hanoi educating filmmakers on sound recording techniques and practices commonly used in American productions. The trip grew out of a 2007 visit to Vietnam by an Academy delegation, during which it was discovered that Vietnamese film professionals lacked the training and equipment to record synchronous sound, and that this deficiency was seriously hindering the success of the local filmmaking industry, particularly in marketing films outside of Vietnam.
The 2008 delegation included Academy Sound Branch members Clay Davis, Don Hall and Don Rogers, along with Robert Kennedy, a sound technician from Coffey Sound. The training sessions, which included filmmakers from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, were specifically timed so that the sound crews for several upcoming feature films scheduled to shoot in Vietnam in the second half of the year could participate. The results of this relatively small-scale outreach effort were evident in films shot after the Academy delegation’s visit. In fact, as a result of the Academy-led training, the Vietnam Cinema Department (part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) indicated that all films being produced in the country should now capture production sound. Such a proclamation could not have been taken seriously prior to the workshops, which focused on the overall role of sound in movies as well as the nuts and bolts of how to actually capture sound during production.
Basic sound theory principles and the use of various microphone types were covered during the sessions, as was the importance of establishing and maintaining standards in the setting up and actual recording of tracks. “In our very first workshop, it was crucial to explain to these filmmakers why it is important to implement good sound recording and how to use it as a storytelling tool,” Hall explains.
“It was also important to provide the students with a mental picture of the signal flow from start to end, not just what the knobs on the front of the equipment do,” says Davis. The participants were introduced to equipment commonly used in the U.S., and the 27 ‘students,’ broken into three crews, had the opportunity to make recordings both in street situations and on a studio sound stage. These were then played back for the group and critiqued. The equipment for the workshops – wired and wireless microphones, recorders and mixers – was brought to Vietnam by Kennedy.
In addition to the lack of training, production sound recording in Vietnam has been hindered by a particular on-set practice: talking. “Right now, it’s common for Vietnamese directors to talk and give instructions to the actors during actual takes,” notes Rogers. “The actors don’t really rehearse in advance, so the directors speak right through the on-camera performances.” This was addressed during a frank discussion between Rogers and Lai Van Sinh, Director General of the Vietnam Cinema Department.
And so, almost immediately following the group’s return to the U.S., change began in Vietnam, an outcome that far exceeded the committee’s wildest hopes and expectations. “This is thrilling to me,” says International Filmmakers Outreach Committee chair Phil Robinson. “An idea hatched in this room (the Academy’s Board Room) – that we as filmmakers might go somewhere else in the world for a bit of personal diplomacy and to try to aid another country’s industry – resulted in this trip, and has really brought about change. It’s actually startling and quite humbling.”
The workshops were followed by a screening series in which six Oscar-nominated films from 2007 were presented in both Hanoi and HCM City. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton,” “Once,” “The Savages” and “3:10 to Yuma” were selected by the Academy to represent a range of filmmaking styles and genres and for their potential to educate and inspire Vietnamese filmmakers. The films did not otherwise have theatrical distribution in Vietnam. Billed in Vietnam as the second “American Film Week,” the workshops and screenings were organized and presented in association with the Ford Foundation Hanoi office. The Vietnam Enterprise Group also assisted with planning and provided logistical support.
Given the lack of training and proper equipment, and the somewhat guarded attitude of some of the participants when the workshops first got underway, the lasting significance of this visit helped inspire the International Outreach Committee to investigate other countries and regions where the expertise of Academy members might have a positive impact on the local movie industry.