I realize that some of you may have somehow gotten the false impression from my posts that it was all just fun and games over there in Malaysia - jumping off into the abyss, taking world-class painkillers, hanging out with the nurses on my ward and all - but that would be a mistake.
Before my accident we actually did some serious work there and learned a lot about the local film scene.
Ahmad Idham is one of the most prolific and successful directors of Sinema Malaysia - the contemporary Malaysian film industry.
A young man, he has already made something like twenty features as director and producer and often co-writer, which, as he explained when we visited his set in a nature preserve that housed an old-school style Malay village one evening, he films on a strict 20-day shooting schedule. Usually this means 20 straight days of filming, but once in a rare while he does allow his crew and actors an occasional day off, but only if the weather or locations demand it.
His work is exclusively horror genre films, often ghost stories steeped in local legend, myth and cultural traditions. His cast consists of young people in their 20's - the most popular boy and girl star in Malaysia today were filming the night we were there - but as Idham explains, the life expectancy for a star's career in cinema is quite short there, typically ten years more or less, and after thirty they have moved on to different careers as the audience has moved on to newer fresher faces.
Having myself worked on Hollywood films of full crew and huge scale and much lower budget independent films, I was still surprised and impressed by the economy with which Idham manages to organize his productions - even Roger Corman would be envious of this guy!
With a crew of not more than 12 - 15 people who are all hired on a daily basis depending on the needs of the scenes to be shot that day, he shoots two or three takes at most of each camera set-up and often gets the work done in an 8 hour shooting day. But this was not a Dogma-style production made only with available light and a hand-held camera - there was a crane and dolly track and light stands and hair and make-up on set - it was just a very small crew doing multiple jobs who had worked together for a long time and operated with maximum efficiency to get a full-length 35mm film in the can for pennies.
Ahmad confessed to us one particular quirk of the Malaysian industry - the actors there get paid by the number of scenes they are in, not on a flat rate or a daily or weekly fee based on the number of days they work.
As a consequence, savvy producers and screenwriters have developed a habit of writing long "omnibus" scenes in which different characters and story lines are all developed and advanced at once. Must make for an interesting read - a feature script with like 15 or 20 scenes in the whole movie. The director and script supervisor and editor all have to keep a keen eye on the coverage so these "all-in-one" scenes can later be repurposed and resequenced for the montage.
I haven't seen any of these films yet, but I am curious to see if one would notice this unusual technique.
And I admire the scrappy spirit of an independent producer who has found an audience and carved out a sustainable niche within the economic scale of his local industry.
(The drawing is my poorly sketched copy of the dvd cover of one of Ahmad's horror flicks - the old shrunken head in a glass jar!)