Malaysia has been working hard to entice international film productions in recent years. With the development of an extensive new facility from the British film studio Pinewood, a raft of new government tax incentives and a friendly attitude toward foreign productions, the country is steadily becoming an appealing location for filmmakers.
Within Malaysia there is already an established film industry which produces an average of 20 films and around 350 television shows annually. It also hosts its own National Film Festival and there is a national film commission, The National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS).
Pinewood Malaysia was the main base for series 1 and 2 of the major historical drama Marco Polo, produced by The Weinstein Company for Netflix. Some of the bigger productions that were recently filmed include, Blackhat (Michael Mann) as well as Roy (India).
Indian Summers, from UK-based production company New Pictures for Channel 4, doubled Malaysia for India in their two series. The epic TV period drama series centres on the end of colonial rule in India and was being shot entirely on Penang Island, using locations including Crag Hotel and the Woodside Bungalow in Penang Hill, Suffolk House, the town hall, botanical gardens and the state museum.
In April 2016 filming began in Malaysia on Foreign Bodies, a major UK-made 8 x 45 drama for Channel 4 offshoot E4. The show centres on a disparate group of travellers as they make their way around Asia.
It is anticipated that the number of international productions filming in Malaysia will increase in the coming years after the introduction of the tax relief legislation introduced by the government, although there have already been a number of high-profile films which have used Malaysia as a partial base for filming.
If you are planning to film in Malaysia, it is first necessary to contact the government in order to inform them of your production plans. It is often necessary to acquire a ‘local sponsor’ who will act as an intermediary.
- You will need to present the following details:
- An application letter from the company
- Letter from Malaysian sponsor
- Information about the production company or filmmakers
- Synopsis of the planned production
- Planned arrival and departure dates and flight information
- Details of any crew members and copies of their passports
- List of production equipment which will be brought into the country
In general, it is relatively easy to acquire permits for specific locations, though it has been suggested that Bollywood productions are often treated with a more receptive attitude because of the connection between the Indian and Malaysian film industries. One location that has been known to be complex to arrange permits for is the Petronas Towers.
All foreign filmmakers need to apply to PUSPAL, “the Central Agency for Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes” under the aegis of the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, to obtain approval before filming in Malaysia. Foreign film producers must appoint a production services company registered with FINAS to facilitate filming application procedures in Malaysia. The Malaysian production service company must have a valid and existing FINAS production license. This license can be applied through FINAS under the Licensing Department. Alternatively, producers can contact FIMO for advice and guidance to apply for PUSPAL filming approval.
Britain’s Pinewood Studios have a development near the Southern Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, called Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios.
The extensive facilities include:
- 100,000 sq ft of film stages (ranging from 15,000 sq ft to 30,000 sq ft)
- 24,000 sq ft of TV studios
- Full range of post-production services
- Workshop and production office space
- Backlots for outdoor filming with 30 acres of natural forest
- Interior and exterior water filming tanks
In 2010, KRU Studios built a new 15-acre site comprising state of the art production and post-production facilities and backlots, which provides services to both local and international film, television and advertising industries.
The capital city of Kuala Lumpur is made of up a mix of both modern and colonial buildings. Most of the historic architecture can be found in the Old Town; this includes Merdeka Square, the Sultan Abdul Samad and Jamek Mosque. Notable modern architecture includes the Kuala Lumpur International airport, the Petronas Towers, the Malaysian Houses of Parliament and the Kuala Lumpur tower.
Ipoh is a large city north of the capital Kuala Lumpur. As an administrative base during the British Colonial era, the city contains many striking colonial buildings such as the Ipoh Railway Station, the Town Hall, St. Michael’s Institution and the Anglo-Chinese School. The city is also surrounded by limestone caves and around these are built many beautiful Chinese temples, such as the Sam Po Tong.
In the south of the country, on the border with Singapore, lies another prominent city, Johor Bahru. The city is close to Pinewood’s new expansive Iskandar Malaysia Studios and contains a number of locations which may be of interest to filmmakers. These include historic and religious sites such as the Sultan Abu Bakar mosque, the Johor Bahru Old Chinese Temple and the Sultan Ibrahim Building. There are also modern structures, such as the Terbrau Highway and the Johor Singapore Causeway, which connects Johor Baru to Singapore.
Areas of natural beauty:
The countryside of Malaysia contains many stunning landscapes for filmmakers, such as the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, the numerous lakes such as Raban Lake, protected national conservation areas such as Lata Berkoh National Park, fishing villages, rainforests and rice paddies.
The Malaysian coast and islands also boast miles of sandy white beaches. Some notable coastal areas include then Maiga, Bodgaya and Kapalai Islands.
The loveliest time of the year for filming would be during the dry season. For instance, the west coast Malaysian peninsula has a dry season from November to April, drizzle rains from April to August and a wet season from September to November. Additionally, the east coast Malaysian peninsula has a dry season from April to October as well as a wet season from November to March. Conversely, Malaysian Borneo receives high rainfall throughout the year with heaviest rains from October to March.
Malaysia offers a great depth of remarkable locations. Examples include:
- Kuala Lumpur
Standard film equipment is easily available in Malaysia. For the most part, the country uses Arri equipment and cameras. If any specialised equipment is required and is not available, then it can be brought in from other popular regional film and television centres such as Singapore or Bangkok.