Malaysia and the Mentors – Part 3/7

48hours malaysia begins!

In March 2014, 4 kiwi filmmakers were shipped to Malaysia to mentor a group of universities through Malaysia’s first ever 48hour filmmaking competition as part of NZ week. See Part 1 and Part 2.

When we left, I was in the depths of University Sarawak in Kuching, the small island about an hour’s flight from Kuala Lumpur. The students were assembled. Two teams. All facing me and a projector screen with a countdown on it.

Kuching University Sarawak 48hours
Two film crews gather, twitching and nervous but excited

Wednesday 10:54am

Announcement of the start went down an absolute treat! The teams (Skywar and Xpress) clapped and laughed and cheered when they were awarded their numbers and assigned genres. They gasped when Dan made the rules clear even though I’d spend the last day explaining these…

Team Skywar got Thriller and Team Xpress got Road Movie. As soon as we said goodbye to Dan and the KL teams, they hurried off to start brainstorming. Aliff the head lecturer and most accomplished English speaker expressed his many concerns, he seems to be letting the pressure get to him after almost an hour.

The students have not settled on ideas yet. They’re sitting in big circles in their beautiful air conditioned atrium plotting and discussing. I feel confident for them.

Team Skywar (top left) and Team Xpress (bottom right) brainstorm their ideas
Team Skywar (top left) and Team Xpress (bottom right) brainstorm their ideas


The pressure is not getting to them. The writers are writing, the directors are prepping, art department and camera are getting gear ready, and I’m wandering between the two groups asking if they need help. Which they don’t. I am tethered to this massive university though, and walking around in the sweltering heat is exhausting. I’d love lunch or a coffee but I’m not sure it’s quite that easy. They have a fruit stall … oh it’s on the other side of the lake, about thirty fives minutes walk. Aliff is still panicky but I’m sure he’ll calm down once he realises the students are onto it. He feels responsible for everything they do.

The rules.
The rules.


The students are killing it! We have two interesting and well thought through scripts. They both aim to turnover their first shot at 5pm. I went for a walk through the university and almost collapsed from the humidity so sat by the lake and read my book for a while. I tell ya, I prefer this ‘mentoring’ to competing. So far I’m impressed by the students initiative and hope they can keep up their energy and amiability with one another. Wondering why I haven’t had the urge to do a shit yet as I had a big greasy breakfast and lunch. I need fruit juice and coffee.


We’ve decided to take a break. Aliff agreed that we’d both go home and let the students work their magic then return around 8pm to see how they’re going. In that time, I’ve hit the gym for an average workout, sweated it up in the sauna, put my phone on charge for the third time today and went out to the most popular seafood restaurant in Kuching called Top Spot. I’m really living the high life. I had chilli king prawns with rice and vegetables and a watermelon and orange freshly squeezed juice. The entire experience cost 40 ringgit, the equivalent of NZD$13. Amazing. Now I’m stocking up on coffee so I can stay up late with these teams!!

Top Spot Kuching
The incredible spread of Top Spot in Kuching boggled my mind because I could afford it – a world first


Team Skywar are shooting their first scene. Team Xpress are shooting their third. The footage looks amazing and the leading lady in Skywar’s film, Kalai, is gorgeous. Put a static shot of her on the screen for seven minutes just smiling and looking at the screen and I’d be happy. Aliff is panicking more than the students which is creating a really nice juxtaposition as he is looking casual in shorts and a tight tee. Compared to their ideal time plan, hey are behind which is to be expected, and I’m seeing a lot of time being wasted by the usual pitfalls (arguments) but if they get enough footage to edit with they’ll be able to make up for it with sound and music.

Kalai, the beauty of Skywar's horror film
Kalai, the beauty of Skywar’s horror film

Thursday 12:23am

Team Xpress are doing okay. Not a lot of communication in either teams which is always the way with beginners. I’m tired and starting to feel gross as I’ve been sweating all day but Aliff insists we stick around for shooting despite the students not asking us anything and their general indifference to our presence.

Team Xpress's lighting setup
Team Xpress’s lighting setup


Back with Team Skywar and they’re starting to fade. People are slumped on desks, lying on the ground, sitting on the floor leaning against the walls, falling asleep. They have four shots remaining in this scene so I’ve suggested they send their post production team home to sleep, and consider shooting their final scene tomorrow while the editing is happening. Most of my suggestions are falling on ears that are untrained in English.

Around take 40, the tears came due to emotional fatigue
Around take 40, the tears came due to emotional fatigue


We are still shooting. Oh yes. I am still here. Eighteen hours into the competition. We’re shooting in a tunnel with a light and everybody is in remarkably good spirits considering. It’s raining too.



Back at hotel for a three hour nap then breakfast then back to set. The world is spinning.

Coffee. Fruit. Happiness.
Coffee. Fruit. Happiness.


Woke up at 9am and had a rushed blurry shower then hurried down a breakfast before my pickup with Yusry. At the uni I found Jerry editing Skywar’s film in the upstairs editing room. He has assembled all seven shots they’ve filmed – perfect. I helped him lay atmos in and a couple of sound effects. Because he doesn’t understand English very well, and I speak no Malay, this was a very fun exercise.

Editing with a foreign language speaker. I really felt for him.
Editing with a foreign language speaker. I really felt for him.

Aliff turned up and put in his thoughts. He emphasised the bad lighting and awkward angles instead of commenting on the edit and I got a bit annoyed by this. What’s the point in lamenting what’s been done? Despite lacking footage and story, it’s a cool little film that we can make effective with sound effects and creepy music. Saffwan, the AD of Xpress, sent me a picture of them shooting. They’ve written their film with night and day scenes so they have something to do today. Very clever. I look forward to seeing their edit. I have an overwhelming feeling of deep appreciation for my collaborators back in NZ. I txt the guys and told them that no matter how frustrating it is editing with each other, I now have the experience of editing with a non-English speaking amateur student. Communication is so key.