Film and Televison (in Laos): Recognizing the Difference

On Set
Sadly, the cinema-going culture of Laos has all but disappeared over the last twenty years. There was a time when cinemas seating up to five hundred people or more showed a variety of films in the larger cities across the country and going to the movies was an exciting form of entertainment for Lao families.

From about 1960 until 1985 the bright lights of the cinemas could still be seen illuminating the streets and attracting crowds of enthusiastic moviegoers. But the advent of technology such as Video and DVD, however, has brought about a sweeping change, ushering in the era of the home-movie culture. The development of Lao television stations and moderately low pricing of television sets has helped television become an essential entertainment medium for every household. Unfortunately, this has meant that cinemas have largely been neglected.

Now days, when referring to film or cinema, many young people mistakenly believe that the films of the past were more like TV dramas from neighboring countries which aired on certain dates. This, of course, was not the case and in reality, the difference between film and television drama is as great as the sky and the earth.

Television as a medium began with the purpose of airing advertising as the primary means of income. Most programs are shown daily or weekly and over many months. Productions may air quickly in accordance with current trends but if a program gains popularity, the producer may be allowed to film a longer series in the future. If a program is unpopular, however, the producer is expected to wrap up production as quickly as possible and the program is removed from the air. Television programs are also designed for a different type of audience; viewers may be doing housework whilst watching, or could be interrupted for any reason. Because of this, television programs progress slowly so that viewers who miss a few episodes can easily catch up.

Large production takes a lot of time, and in order to save time there are some essential steps that must be taken. Filming with two or three cameras at the same time is a common strategy. This will depict the same scene from various angles and allow the editor a greater choice of footage. Other details are also important, such as camera angles, lighting, or direction. Directing sometimes means arranging actors in unnatural ways but this is often necessary when producing a piece for the screen.

Scripts vary depending on storyline; however melodramas and period pieces are popular in Laos. These types of productions feature characters, themes and formulaic stories that are used over and over again (such as tales of secret romances or jealous lovers) and which appeal to ordinary people. Such stories tend to satisfy viewers who rarely encounter excitement in their real lives.

Set 2

Film, on the other hand, works differently. The purpose of film, from a business standpoint, is to make ticket sales. Quality movies will attract larger audiences, and sell more tickets. Film audiences are expected to devote their entire attention to a movie in order to understand the storyline, which will conclude within about two hours. There are many genres of film and the most popular in Laos are dramas and melodramas, comedies and mysteries.

Film production requires a large initial investment and a solid business plan is vital. A good sales strategy is equally important, and producers must plan for release on video or DVD with the expectation that viewers will watch the movie again in their homes or on television.

There are still a great many differences between film and television drama which we will investigate further in another article.


Hello Laos Magazine This article first appeared in Hello Laos magazine, a production of Lao Art Media.

By: Anousone Sirisackda
Translation: Cameron Darke


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??????: Anousone Sirisackda
??????: Cameron Darke