Malaysia has been gaining momentum as an attractive hotspot for filming since the launch of the Film In Malaysia Incentive (FIMI) in 2013, which offers a 30% cash rebate.
In 2017, a separate rebate scheme FIMI Plus was introduced for bigger budget studio-based productions that spend at least 10% of their local spend at Iskandar Malaysia Studios (formerly Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios).
Projects that were shot at Iskandar Malaysia Studios with FIMI Plus include season six of Cinemax’s TV series Strike Back and Simon West’s disaster film Skyfire.
Other big recent shoots include Crazy Rich Asians, which doubled several key Malaysia locations for Singapore, and even parts of Kuala Lumpur for New York. While The Garden Of Evening Mists, a historical drama co-produced by HBO Asia and Malaysia’s Astro Shaw, shot entirely in Malaysia. The production team built a Japanese village set in Perak.
International producers are spoilt for choice when it comes to locations. There are highlands and tropical rainforests, including Lata Berkoh National Park, Raban Lake and the Sungai Palas Tea Plantation; islands and beaches, such as Kapalai island with its clear blue waters and the floating village in Sabah; as well as modern cityscapes, most notably Kuala Lumpur City.
“From metropolitan cities to green paddy fields, the options are endless,” enthuses Lin Vin Tan, rental manager at local outfit Asia Film Equipment, to KFTV. “Kuala Lumpur is a highly convenient place to shoot films/TV/commercials as most cast and crew are based in the city, and all the major equipment rental houses are close by.
“For cities or towns famous for their heritage buildings mostly from the British colonial times, Penang and Ipoh top the list. The UK’s ITV recently filmed TV drama The Singapore Grip in Kuala Lumpur and Penang for 16 weeks, the heritage buildings doubling for Singapore of the 1940s.”
Key architectural locations include the colonial Cheong Fatt Tze mansion and the E&O hotel, both in Penang; Carcosa Seri Negara — the colonial mansions of the British High Commission in Malaya — and St Regis Hotel, both in Kuala Lumpur; and beach resort Four Seasons resort in Langkawi.
“A good thing to keep in mind is that Malaysia is still considered a strict Muslim country where there may be many religious rules in place,” says Tan. “It is a good idea to engage with local production and rental outfits to facilitate a smoother filming process.”
Malaysia doesn’t have a city-by-city government film commission, location shooting permits are usually obtained by building owners, business owners, or the city council. “The process can be relatively easy if you engage with location managers who have already established relationships with local companies,” says Tan.
There are many studios in Kuala Lumpur that can support smaller commercials, films and TV projects, but the only studio that can accommodate a full-fledged Hollywood style production is Iskandar Malaysia Studios in Johor. The facilities include a 5-meter underwater tank, 6 sound stages, including one that has an indoor water tank, and a large outdoor paddock tank measuring 65-by-65 square meters and 1.4 meters deep.
Thanks to its melting pot culture — most Chinese production crew are able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese — Malaysia is a popular draw for Hong Kong and, increasingly, mainland Chinese productions.