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MDIA students to film narrative in Malaysia over winter break

Dec 11, 2012

William Holtzer, Gretchen Kessler, Habibah Ashari and Kyle Fadeley model traditional Malaysian clothing during their group's final meeting before the group, led by Prof. Frederick Lewis, travels to Malaysia to film a screenplay over winter break. / Photo by Megan Westervelt


MDIA students to film narrative in Malaysia over winter break

By Stephanie Gort

ATHENS, Ohio (Dec. 13, 2012)—While most Ohio University students will head home for the holidays during winter break, fourteen students from the School of Media Arts and Studies will spend the holidays in Malaysia, taking part in a unique cross-cultural collaboration.

From December 15 to January 9, these students will produce a short narrative film called “Home for Hari Raya.”  Media Arts Associate Professor Frederick Lewis has been developing this project with a core group of students for more than two years.

“We’ve been working with faculty and students from the Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), in Shah Alam, just outside Kuala Lumpur,” said Lewis. “The UiTM students have enthusiastically embraced the project. They’ve helped with the casting of actors, consulted on art direction, and they were responsible for securing our two-week rental of a kampung (village) house which will serve as our primary set location.”

To prepare for this experience, many of the OHIO students have taken a course in Malaysian culture with Professor Habibah Ashari, OHIO’s first Tun Abdul Razak chair from UiTM. They’ve been holding weekly meetings and been attending regular orientation sessions with Professors Lewis and Ashari since September. They’ve also raised over $3,000 to help with production costs by working the concessions at football and basketball games, and enlisting the support of family and friends via their Indigogo website.

“This is experiential learning at its best, a real lesson in international producing,” said Lewis. “The students have had to comparison shop long distance and rent production equipment in Kuala Lumpur, and work via Skype with a professional casting director to secure the actors for the starring roles.”

Lewis says faculty and students from UiTM’s School of Film, Theater and Animation will serve in supporting roles and that a dozen or so UiTM film production students will serve as associate producers and work in art direction and on the camera crew.

“It’s the right combination of students,” said Lewis. “You can’t just take fourteen random students without them having certain skill sets. We are very fortunate to have a solid group of seasoned students who will guide the several who are less experienced.”

A Los Angeles-based director of photography and OHIO alumnus Bryan Olinger will serve as the technical supervisor in Malaysia.

A pair of OU students searched for over a year to find the short story that has been adapted into the script that will be shot over a three-week period during Malaysia’s rainy season. “ I wanted them to find a story that dealt intimately with the culture of the country, and the role of women in Malaysian society,” said Lewis.

“Home for Hari Raya,” written by Robert Raymer, an American expatriate and short story writer from Ohio, matched the requirements.  Raymer, who currently lives in Borneo, gave Lewis permission to turn his story into a movie. Raymer has been working with the director/screenwriter of the movie, William Holzer, for the last six months to make sure every detail in the screenplay is culturally correct.

Lewis wants to maximize his students’ immersion in Malaysian culture. Throughout their stay, OHIO students will attend biweekly screenings and presentations by Malaysia’s most distinguished filmmakers. At the end of the trip, once shooting is completed, the group will visit the coastal region of Penang and take part in a home stay program and spend two days living with local families.

“Home for Hari Raya” will be post produced during spring semester and screened on campus at the end of April.