During his fourth visit to Vietnam, Phillip Noyce encouraged young filmmakers to expand their boundaries and reconsider the importance of marketing.
Noyce spent ten days in Vietnam speaking with film students and promoting his biography "Backroads to Hollywood" authored by Ingo Petzke"”a German film professor.
Dressed in casuals, the 61-year-old director managed to beat exhaustion, heat and humidity, to give a lively address at Hoa Sen University on May 28.
Hundreds of students filled the halls outside the school's small lecture room which was decked out in handmade posters welcoming Noyce to the school.
His talk began with a story about his efforts to raise money for his first film"”at age 18.
After six months or working as a ditch digger, Noyce couldn't manage to scrape together the US$200 he needed to start filming.
Broke and eager to get to work, Noyce came up with the brilliant idea of getting his actors to pay him.
He decided that anyone who wanted to pay the leading role would have to come up with $200. Supporting actors would donate between 50 and 100 bucks.
"Finally, a doctor's son came up with the sum and became my first actor. But his performance was so terrible, I learned my first lesson: you must pay for your actors," said Noyce.
From his opening anecdote, Noyce discussed his new blockbuster formula for making money: marketing and stars.
"Fifteen percent of the filmmaking budget, at least, needs to be spent on marketing and publicity," he said. "Hollywood is really run by those few actors who are on the so-called A-list. In the film market, Angie is like Pepsi; Brad is Cola and George Clooney is definitely McDonald's."
Several students asked what they could do, as young filmmakers with limited budgets, to attract stars.
"You've got to create stars in your films, if you cannot afford them," he said.
Noyce spoke about his efforts to fund his latest project "Rabbit-Proof Fence." The film is set in Australia and tells the story of three aboriginal girls who are taken from their parents and forcibly assimilated into white society.
He described a wide range of advertising tactics he had employed to generate buzz about the film.
An explosion, which they set off in the course of their filming, drew police attention, which brought media coverage.
Rabbit-proof Fence has not been sold yet. To make the product appealing to buyers, he hired three talented photographers to create a photo booklet of the filming.
By the time he'd brought the film to international festivals, the audiences were already aware of it.
Noyce's most favorite poster (L) of a poster design contest for local student to welcome his fourth visit in Vietnam. He said that he will hang the poster in his house.
Above all, Noyce urged his audience to be bold.
"Sometimes, filmmakers censor themselves before others do," he warned, urging Hoa Sen students to push the limits of what could be done"”like post-war author Bao Ninh did in "The Sorrow of War."
Some members of the audience objected that there's little wiggle room in Vietnam's media world.
"How can you make a movie in jail?" asked one student, in response to Noyce's speech.
"Every problem can be negotiated and has a solution," Noyce replied.
All anyone needs to make a good film, he stressed, is a good story.
"You can make a good movie with a bad director or actor, but not with a bad script," he said.
Good stories are everywhere and they can reach out beyond cultural boundaries, he stressed.
Noyce cited, as an example, a local Australian aircraft engineer who'd been blacklisted from his career after he uncovered technical faults in an airplane. The Vietnamese authorities proved he was right and he moved to Vietnam to marry a local woman and open a restaurant and bar.
"His name is Bernie and his story can be great inspiration to any good movie," Noyce said. "If you have no interest in his true story, just stop off at his bistro for a beer," the director said with a laugh.