'The Fall of Saigon' filming drops into Houston

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Vietnamese American Society : One Thread

Steve Ueckert: Chronicle Cathy Ha looks over a set recreating the interior of the American Embassy in Saigon at the time of the city's fall, in 1975. She will play the ambassador's secretary in a BBC production marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, parts of which are being filmed in Houston.

The fall of Saigon :)))

Feb. 14, 2005, 9:40PM

By BRUCE WESTBROOK Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

The principal crew was British. The story is set in Vietnam. So naturally, The Fall of Saigon was filmed partially in Houston.

"We came here for your large Vietnamese community and for your lovely weather," associate producer Kathy Fox said with a laugh as rain poured down last week. "But it's still not as cold as England. Houston has been great."

The 90-minute film will air on the BBC on or near April 30, the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, when U.S. forces pulled out and North Vietnamese forces moved in, ending Vietnam's long civil war.

The Fall of Saigon is being produced by Britain's Flashback Television, which was hired by the BBC and a French network. Specializing in historical work such as the History Channel's Heavy Metal, about wartime machinery, Flashback sent a crew of five here and hired many locals for the crew and as extras.

Fox described The Fall of Saigon as "a drama doc."

"We do personal interviews with people who were there and use a lot of archival footage," she said, "but we also re-create scenes focusing on individual stories, to visualize what they describe."

In Houston, such scenes have been shot in part at an old armory building just south of downtown. Using vintage office furniture, old electric typewriters and rotary phones, bare rooms were decorated as offices at the American Embassy and at an American-based Catholic charity in Saigon.

"We're filming scenes about a Vietnamese woman who worked for the charity and waited too late and was left behind," Fox said. "The Americans have left, and she's stuck."

Houston couple Hong Nguien and her husband, Nghia Thai who fled Vietnam after the war are among about 100 Vietnamese-Americans serving as extras. The couple have lived in Houston for 25 years. They chose an option designated by the film company to donate their extras' wages to tsunami relief.

"We heard the call for extras on the radio, and we're having a wonderful experience," Hong said. "First, we portrayed citizens trying to be flown out, then part of a family planning to escape, and now workers at the embassy. We didn't realize how much work it involved. But we love it."

Cathy Ha portrayed an ambassador's secretary. Ha's father was in the South Vietnamese army and died in a concentration camp. She left Vietnam in 1983.

The film's creators said that the re-enactments are integral to effectively telling the story.

"You need this kind of imagery to tell people's personal stories," director Ricardo Pollack said while setting up a shot. "We've got archival footage of the embassy, but if someone tells about coming to work and all their American colleagues have disappeared, instead of imagining it, we try to illustrate it."

Flashback has been paying location fees and employing other Houstonians. Trey Moore of Moore's Militaria provided Marine uniforms and equipment, Fox said, and a helicopter was chartered to stage nighttime rescue scenes.

"It wasn't the true helicopter we needed, which would have cost $74,000 a day, but if you light it from behind, it's still a helicopter and makes a lot of noise," Fox said.

She isn't sure if The Fall of Saigon will air in America, but considering its subject, Fox believes it will.

"I think there's a good chance," said Pollack, who also shot interviews of Vietnamese in Washington, D.C., and Orange County, Calif., as well as exteriors in Saigon itself.

"The Vietnamese in America have been really great, because it's their story," he said. "Some of the extras we've hired were in Vietnam at the time, and some of the younger kids are learning about their history and what it meant. When you're filming those who were actually there, it really comes through."

-- Cheers :) (ChuyenTriHOINACH@aol.com), February 15, 2005


Moderation questions? read the FAQ