Just the word “Hollywood” itself conjures up visions of movie stars, Oscar nights and huge blockbusters.
It’s believed that films can be an interesting and fun way to learn about the US and its culture.
So today, we talk with Charles Jensen from California, who has a special connection with Hollywood, to learn about the cinema culture of the US.
A: Yes, I live between Los Angeles and San Francisco and my father is Al Jensen, who worked in Hollywood and had two Academy Awards. That’s really cool and thus, I have a great connection with Hollywood.
Q: Really, what did he win for?
A: There are film awards that are specifically for sound, best soundtrack, best actor, best director and so on - those are things that you saw on TV.
My father actually won two awards for scientific achievements in films, one in 1996 and one in 1999. He was given the awards afterwards but he still had a chance to go to the Oscar nights and he knew everyone there.
My father designed a video assist system. In the past the director had to wait for the cameramen to finish filming before he could take a look at it to develop the film.
But now the director can sit in a high chair and look directly into the screen, which connects to the camera. That’s my father’s invention. But he just passed away last year.
Q: Is every US movie made in Hollywood?
A: That’s a common misconception. So in Hollywood, there are a lot of stages that you can go inside, preparing the set and the actual filming. There are also lots of developing or business firms or the actors that are based in the area.
But obviously they do go to locations to film, like if they are about to film in a desert, they are going to locations with a desert… so that depends on the movie.
Q: Does that mean you can meet some famous actors and actresses in Hollywood?
A: Well, I can’t guarantee that you can meet some stars but surely up in Beverly Hills, there are locations where you can usually see some Hollywood actors. I have a friend who lives in the area and they do run into some celebrities from time to time. There is also the Walk of Fame.
Q: But why do you think there are centers for certain type of activities in the US, Hollywood for making movies for example?
A: I am not sure why. Maybe it’s easy for everyone in the same business to stay in one area so that they can meet. There are cities that are hubs for specific movements, like Nashville is for country music where you can run into Taylor Swift for example.
Everyone who is working in stock market will stay in New York because the New York stock exchange is there. The US is really big so it doesn’t make sense if you live in a Mid-West state if your work is based in New York. It’s so far, it’s like from Hanoi to India.
Q: Can you name some of the popular genres of the Hollywood movies?
A: I’m not a Hollywood historian but I think it would be better to spilt up Hollywood not into genres but into ages like the pre-colored, the age of black and white film, the Golden Age, or the Silver Age.
It was based on how Hollywood changed. Now people are more into making superhero movies and it’s really taken over Hollywood in the past 10 years or 20 years.
Q: Do the changes come from technology advancement?
A: Yes, for example color made a huge change to Hollywood and cinema. Or once the computers came in or when the idea of blockbusters came up and they started making huge special effects films, everything changed.
Perhaps those are necessary for the better, sometimes it’s good to see explosions but sometimes story can get lost. Some people love Hollywood but some people don’t like Hollywood anymore because they think there are too many sequels and they are getting tired of seeing the same thing over and over again
Q: You just mentioned blockbusters term, can you give more explanation to that?
A: Blockbusters are movies with a huge budget, special effects and public anticipation.
Q: Who would categorize a movie as a blockbuster?
A: I would argue it’s the same people that categorize many other things in America: the media. They will tell the public: “that’s a blockbuster because they’ve spent like 150 or 200 millions making it”. So a lot of people would see the movie. But huge money was actually spent on marketing, not on the movie.
The marketing campaign can be massive. For example if there is a new Captain America movie, you can see a lot of signs and banners, even in Vietnam. People will be excited over the Avengers coming.
Q: Are there a lot of cinemas in your neighborhood? Do you often go to the cinema to watch movies?
A: My hometown has about 1 million people and there are 6 or 7 big cinemas. But it’s really expensive to see a movie in a theatre in the US compared to Vietnam. It’s 10 or 11$ for a ticket. If you do a 3D, it’s gonna be 15$ and if you have a family of just 2-3 people, it’s gonna cost you up to 60 bucks. It’s a lot of money to go and see a movie. But one thing I really miss that has died as part of American culture is the drive-in movie.
You could just drive your car in and sit and watch the movie. It was a huge parking lot with a giant screen. You tune into a radio channel, which is the sound of the movie. You tune into the radio frequency of the movie and you can just sit there in your car watching the movie. It was really fun when I was a kid.
Q: But why did such an interesting thing die?
A: I don’t know but I think because people find it more comfortable sitting at home and watching movies on TV. I also think the cinemas are eventually running into troubles as more people in American can buy massive screens at home and can literally watch almost every new movie coming out.
They now just go to the cinemas because they want to see the movie before everyone else.
Q: So what kind of movie do you like best?
A: I like crime movies or noir films, either about the criminals or the policemen who sometimes have to cross the line to catch the criminals. I really enjoy those the most.
Thank you Charles for sharing with us some interesting stories about Hollywood and US cinema culture!