Sandy Northrop's Diary.
I approached Ambassador Peterson in October, armed with a short proposal, a production reel and a resume detailing my 24 years in television production. My pitch was straight forward: since I was residing in Vietnam, I could capture his routine over an extended period of time. Peterson agreed. Four months later--after some fairly lengthy discussions with the State Department over what could and could not be filmed--I started.
I had worked in the
film business for over thirty years, as an editor, an associate producer,
a producer and director. I was going to be the cameraperson this time
and I was terrified--I hadn't shot a film since using a hand-wind Bolex
for my thesis film at Stanford's graduate program. Friends at National
Geographic had convinced me to buy a Sony's DCR VX1000 digital camera
before I went. At around $4,500 it seemed to me I couldn't lose--even
if it just became a tourist camera. I fell in love with the camera, and,
more importantly, I fell in love with shooting. For years I had been trying
to explain to cameramen exactly what I wanted shot, and batting fifty
percent. Now, I was on my own. The camera's ease of use, its enormous
versatility in low light conditions and the "steady shot" feature
were enormous pluses and I learned quickly.
For equipment, we worked primarily with the Senneheiser shotgun mike that came with the DCR VX1000. On "sit down" interviews we used Azden WR -PRO wireless mikes. During most of the shooting a Kenko Video wide converter remained on the camera. A versatile three-light Dedo kit, which worked in 110 or 220 currency, fit the bill for lighting. The extremely low wattage insured I didn't burn down any locations.
The camera's light weight was another important factor. One day I accompanied the ambassador to the two MIA sites shown in Assignment Hanoi. What the television audience doesn't see is that to get to the first MIA crash location, 972 steps, dug into the side of the mountain by and for six-foot marines, had to be climbed. At one point during the climb I accidentally bumped against the camera and pushed the record button. Later in the editing room, I relived each breathless step up the mountain.
The editing took eight months. (I was fund-raising at the same time.) Fifty one-hour mini cassettes were transferred to Betacam SP tapes and then brought into the Media composer at the lowest possible resolution. The editing was done on an AVID 5.8 Media Composer with 18 G of memory. I expected to have all kinds of computer crashes and equipment problems, but I have had far fewer problems than in the States. The computer is plugged into APC surge protectors. During the entire editing process, there was only one "Fatal Error." With other equipment breakdowns, a call to the local television produced several competent technicians. They not only were good, they charged about $9/hr.
When the fine cut was done, I backed up my Avid bins/lists on a JAZ drive, packed up over 100 tapes and headed back to Washington. The final online, graphic design and audio sweetening was done at Interface Video, Washington DC.
Requests for Visas & Permissions to shoot can be sent directly to the Press and Information Department with a letter detailing your proposed schedule, people to be interviewed and a copy of your proposal or script. Alternately, the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC or the Vietnamese Consulate in San Francisco can forward your request to them. Visas cost $65. Permission to shoot takes eight-twelve weeks, but can take longer. Be Patient.
and Information Department
The Foreign Press Center is responsible for all journalists/ film crews coming to Vietnam. They will meet you at the airport and accompany you throughout your stay. The FPC will get you the Press/Film permit you require, make all arrangements with central and local authorities, arrange transportation and provide a guide/interpreter. Their charges will depend on duration of the shoot and the specific extras you require. Negotiate these in advance.
Cong Minh, Foreign Press Center
Crews and equipment:
Vietnam Film Institute
Shooting in Vietnam: You will be overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people--not to mention their beauty. Avoid tipping for shots. It's not the custom.
Taking Film out of Vietnam. The government will review all your tapes before you leave the country, then seal them with an official stamp. Be sure to allow at least a day for this review or you will miss your plane.