Filming in Vietnam as a foreign filming crew

Hanoi, Vietnam Film & Theatre June 12 @ 8:01am

You/your company plan to come to Vietnam to film and there are lots of things you want to know before coming, such as: film permit, rules and regulations, common practices, expenses …

Below I want to share about filming in Vietnam from my personal experiences working with 7 filming crews (from USA, UK, Canada, Poland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Germany) since Dec 2016 together with/as a replacement of one of the best fixers in Vietnam.

First, disclaimer, I only had chance to work with advertisement/documentary filming, not entertainment filming, so I have no experience with entertainment filming.

1. Film permit:

By law, all press activities need to be registered and monitored by Press authority in Vietnam, in which, you need to apply for press visa and press permit at least 10 days in advance to Foreign Press Center (FPC):

When you apply for film permit, you need to provide information of: people who are coming, filming program and location, list of equipments, interview questions, publication and broadcasting plan …

Film permit fee is daily shooting fee, that means if there is a day you plan to film only 15 minutes, you still need to pay for the whole day. And if there is a day at first you didn’t plan to film (for example, you want to use the last day for resting and shopping), but later you decided to film, depend on the content, the film officer will decide if you can film and you need to pay for filming that day.

Film permit fee doesn’t include drone permit fee. If you want to use drone, you need to apply for drone permit with separate fee.

2. Film officer:

Film officer or film commissioner or government minder are term we use to address an officer from FPC accompany the filming crew in the whole time of the filming trip. His presence is mandatory by law. He is assigned by FRC and his name is listed in film permit. You need to pay for his per diem, food, accommodation and transportation (separately with film permit).

His roles are:

+ observe and manage the filming crew to film within the content they’ve registered. (For political reason, to make sure that they don’t make a bad image or include wrong content about Vietnam).

On filming site, film officer also can tell you where you can film and where you can’t.

+ helping and supporting filming crew with local authorities.
Having film permit doesn’t mean that anywhere you go, you will be accommodated by local authorities and they would make it easy for you to film. Most of the time, it looks like the film officer just standing there observing you, doing nothing and sometime speaking on phone, but his phone calls are to speak with local authorities. And if the local authorities are onsite, normally the film officer speak with them the most, explaining about the filming crew.

Normally, there should be only 1 or 2 or 3 people of local authority are onsite (or better – none), but there was a case at Ha Tinh province, we had 10 or more people from different departments of local authorities were onsite. Their presences are usually harmless unless you do something not right.

What to pay for a film officer? His per diem, plus his food, accommodation and transportation.

Normally, payment for film permit and per diem of film officer are made to film fixer. And film fixer will make it to FRC. FRC is an independent financial organization under Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are provided an office, furniture and some fixed expenses, but other expenses such as salaries for staffs or activities of themselves, they need to pay from what they can collect. So film officer can’t totally earn his per diem.

About paying for his food, accommodation and transportation. It really depends on preferences and set up of filming crew. Some filming crew decide that local crew stay in the same hotel and eat together with them, so they will just pay for everything. Some filming crew prefer to eat and live separately, and they would come and pay for hotel of local team by credit card, and give payment for food to film fixer, OR sometime they just give payment for both hotel and food to film fixer. About transportation, normally only need to be mentioned if there is flight involved. All film officers are based in Hanoi, so if filming elsewhere, filming crew need to pay for his transportation to come.

You can’t choose film officer to work with (you also don’t know all of them to choose), but an experienced film fixer who have worked with lots of film officers will make things easier. Generally speaking, film officers are supportive if you do the right thing.

3. Film fixer:

Theoretically speaking, film officer also can play the role of film fixer. He also can speak both English and Vietnamese and also can arrange things. But practically, the person who come with the role of manage and observe the filming team isn’t suitable with the role of serving the filming team at the same time. You could easily tell film fixer to run errands for you, but you couldn’t really tell the film officer to do that.

So, what’re roles of film fixer?

+ Supporting with registration of film permit and drone permit (if any). Normally when you work with fixer, you need to work with fixer only, and fixer would work with FPC.

+ Preparation for filming scene:

- scouting locations: rural-looking place, busy motorbike driving street, identify current address from old address, …
- speaking with people in advance to prepare for filming. For example, if you want to film at a restaurant, you need to speak with the restaurant in advance to ask their permission to film and setting up scene, so they can prepare in advance. Sometime it would involve extra payment if needed.

+ Arrange transportation: normally car, but sometime also boat (for example, if you want to film a boat tour on Ha Long bay). For filming crew, as having a lot of equipment, you would like to have a car with open space at the back (have the chairs folded or removed), so you can take or put in your equipment easily. Some filming crews are big (like 20 people or more) and you would like to have a truck to carry all luggage and equipment, rather than put them in a van. However, due to traffic law in Vietnam, all of these are usually not possible. (Ask me for further explanation).

Film fixer will also try to arrange driver(s) with experiences working with filming crews, since working with filming crew is different with working with tourist groups, however, we can’t promise anything. Film fixer usually doesn’t own cars nor drivers for filming. We would sign contract with car service company to provide car(s) with driver(s), and they arrange for us drivers who are available.

Drivers are usually experienced working with tourist groups more than filming crews. With tourist groups, there is usually fixed schedule for pick up and drop off. With filming crew, it’s not like that, filming time can be estimated, but doesn’t really happen exactly as schedule.

A driver with experience working with filming crew would be much easier to work with. Sometime car would be an object for filming, or filming would happen inside the car or through car window, and driver need to adjust with that. For example, when we filmed langurs, we told the driver to drive slowly and silent in the forest. When we detect langurs, we told the driver to stop and turned off the engine, everyone kept silent and only the cameraman and camera assistant approach closer to the langurs to film.

+ Translation for interview. Help to arrange filming scenes, communicating with all related people.

+ Help to rent extra equipment which filming crew didn’t bring with them. Help to hire extra people if needed (sound man, person who help to carry things

+ Asking for signature for release forms.

+ Give food recommendations: filming crew doesn’t always have time to research about food, so fixer usually need to give food recommendation based on preferences and budget of the filming crew. These usually aren’t stated, but fixer need to ask or observe or use experiences to recommend. Some filming crews have people prefer different things: a person doesn’t eat pork, another doesn’t eat beef, another doesn’t eat spicy, … some filming crews prefer open space over closed space. Though filming crew comes to film and not to eat, giving filming crew good experiences is one part of work of fixer.

+ Researching information online. Giving information about weather, traffic, …

+ Help to make small payments. Due to credit card and foreign currencies aren’t widely accepted everywhere, filming crew from abroad may not have VND or small changes all the time, fixer can help to make small payments and filming crew will reimburse afterward. Sometime fixer also help to gather bills and put into excel file.

+ All around no name tasks: help to buy USB, batteries, things …

+ When filming crew need to split into 2 teams, normally film officer would go with the team which have more chance to meet local authorities (such as shooting beauty shots/city shots), while fixer goes with the team which need more speaking and arrangements.

+ Adapt with changes: the work of the fixer would be easier if everything stays as planned but most of the time, it doesn’t. Changes can happen because of many reasons:

- Things don’t happen as planned: flight delayed, queue up at the airport take much longer than expected, weather change, member(s) of filming crew got sick and couldn’t work …

- Director/creative team change their mind.

- Some VIP/stars aren’t easy to work with.

Last minute plans and ideas are always hard to deal with and arrange, but anyway, a fixer always need to be aware of those and make the best out of the circumstance.

4. Others:

+ When your team arrives at the airport, normally film fixer & officer will come to meet and pick up you of course. But please note that Noi Bai airport is no longer allow people with signboard to stand in door of arrival hall, must stand outdoor. So I usually write name of the filming crew on a half of A4 paper (A5) and try to stand indoor.

+ Sim card with 3G: must buy at airport to avoid registration (wasting time).

+ Exchanging money at airport is also recommended for rate and convenience.

+ Airport is usually not allowed to film, specially when it’s closer to National Holiday when airport is crowded and reach to highest security level. (You can stay in the car and film via the window, though).

+ Cash withdrawal is limited to 2 million VND/time, with withdrawal fee is 50,000 VND/time.

+ Weather is unpredictable, and forecast isn’t usually precise, so if you have option 2 in case it rains, please include in the filming schedule.

Anyway, filming is intensive. What audiences watch for an hour may take one week to film. However, filming is still a joyful and interesting experience. It tells stories.

(to be updated)

1) Definition: Fixer here means to support press-related activities in:

research, contact, communicate, interpret, apply for visa, permit, arrange schedule, transportation, arrange equipment, people like sound man/drone operator, etc upon to the demand of the correspondent/journalist/production firm.

Correspondent/journalist can be professional or semi-professional.

2) Legal basis of press activities in Vietnam:

Decree no 88/2012/ND-CP and Circular no 84/TTLB.

Authority to manage: Foreign Press Center (

3) Attention to foreign correspondent/journalist/production firm:

FPC then will release the permit for you and assign an officer (also called government minder) to go with you in the entire press process.

Because of that, you need pay for expenses like: film permit fee, per diem for film officer, airfare, accommodation and food for film officer and drone permit if you would use drone.

There are correspondents/journalists/production firms would like to do press activities without reporting to authority, but if there would be someone who will ask and check, it would cause trouble.

The press activity without permit or wrong permit will be fined and/or punished according to decree no 159/2013/ND-CP. Beside, the permit allows you to enter many places easily and freely.

The government minder who go with the team is usually kind and helpful, sometime he can be flexible to help the team. Beside government minder, sometime local police may also come (under common clothes) to check the press activity, but they wouldn’t make any trouble. The job/task is to do so, but they normally don’t do anything inconvenient for you.

About register process, form to register, related fee, you may write me an email for more information. Currently, there is not any legal document about fee for press activity. This fee is collected upon request of Foreign Press Center.

Normally the permit/quotation is only valid within province/city which you request.

4) Work of a fixer:

+ Work with correspondents/journalists/production firms (hereinafter called Client) to verify/clarify what need to be done.

+ Provide necessary information being asked or even not being asked to support the press activity (i.e: sunrise, sunset time, weather, currency, transportation …)

+ Sending quotation to Client. Collect payment from Client, and make payment to other parties on behalf of Client.

+ Do research and scout to identify locations, people. (i.e: rural-looking place, busy motorbike driving street, identify current address from old address, …)

+ Arrange transportation to pick up at airport, transport during press activity and send to airport upon requirement of Client. (Normally, Client book hotel/accomodation by themselves). Select a car which not only good for people but also need to have space for equipment. Select car rental service which is familiar with press activity, they will know better what to do, since sometime they themselves are also included in the movie/news.

+ Help to rent equipments, include drone. Need to select drone operator who know about forbidden spaces of drone to avoid inconveniences. It’s better to select experienced drone operator who is confident in controling drone. Negotiate on behalf of the Client to have best price.

+ Mind about weather, sweating, traffic time, cultural practice.
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