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Crossing Borders

All Year 3 students from the Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media (DTVM) travel to an Asian city for a documentary assignment in June. As part of the module called ‘On-Location Production (OLP)’, they have three days to find and film a compelling story in an unfamiliar environment within a short period of time.

This year, the team of over 40 students and six lecturers travelled to the Malaysian city of Ipoh from 9 to 12 June. Each lecturer accompanied a group of six to seven students. Most students were looking forward to their overseas trip because they knew it was going to be exciting to work in a foreign land and with a new group of friends.

Siti Nur Aisha Omar and Jesleen Soh were in a group that ventured into a colourful neighbourhood. Although they had heard from their seniors that the project is not easy to complete, they did not expect their own experience to be quite an adventure.

Their group was assigned to Ipoh New Town and they started to interview people and listening to their stories until they narrowed their choices to two elderly residents with what they considered were unique occupations.

Aisha said, “We realised they lived in the same area called Waller Court which is a really run down area with old blocks of flats.”

Having identified the profiles was just one solution to the many challenges that emerged when filming outside Singapore.

Jesleen said, “Planning was also a challenge because we had to continually reshuffle our plan about who goes where, according to the shots we needed, looking at the equipment we have. “ ”

“For me it was the language barrier since the Chinese living in Ipoh spoke Mandarin and/or Cantonese and they would warm up to you if you spoke their language. The heat also was incredible since we had to film under the sun for hours,“ ”added Aisha.

On top of all that, the students eventually found out that Waller Court was an area known as home to drug addicts and gangsters.

The students were under the constant watch of their lecturer, Ms Mary Chin, who “was there to guide us but not there to teach us to think a certain way,” said Aisha.

She added, “I liked how our lecturers gave us the freedom to take certain risks and they are always open to ideas.”

Being open was important in that situation because not everything worked out as planned. In fact, expecting the unexpected was part of the norm during filming and the students realised that knowing how to react was a good learning experience.

Jesleen recounted, “We were waiting to interview our profile behind her house after she finished cooking, but she suddenly left for her shop. Some of us were still deciding whether we should use a reflector for the sit-down interview, when we saw our profile leaving on her bicycle, with the camera people still filming her. Then we started chasing after her. Our profile really kept taking us by surprise, but that was probably the most unexpected thing throughout the whole trip.”

For Aisha and her group-mate Jeremiah Ong, it even got potentially dangerous.

“We were on location taking photos and filming and I guessed our equipment caught the attention of the inhabitants of Waller Court. Some guys were saying stuff at us and we just ignored them. They got annoyed and impatient and decided to throw rocks at us. Luckily, we were not injured but that was a really scary experience.”

Aisha and Jeremiah filming in Waller Court

The students took the ‘authentic’ nature of their location in their stride and saw a bigger picture.

“It was the adrenaline rush that I experienced while filming and also interviewing people and knowing more about their life because when I talk to them, I realise how small my world really is and it gave me new perspective on certain matters,” admitted Aisha.

Jesleen treasured the connections she made with the people she met.

She said “There was once when a few of us were walking and there were people in a car smiling and waving at us, and we realised that it was the people we’ve talked to the previous day. Another thing that really touched me was when our potential profile whom we spent a lot of time filming and talking to, gave me a ginger sweet on the last day of our filming because he had been concerned about my cough.” 

Working as a team in less than desirable conditions also brought the students closer to each other and to their lecturers.

“My classmates are really diverse in character and that may cause disagreement when working with them but in diversity, we also create unity amongst ourselves”, said Aisha.

The trip also provided the students the opportunity to get to know themselves.

“One take away I had was to not be discouraged by my own pessimism. There were a few times when I approached people to interview but I thought they looked disinterested in having a conversation. But surprisingly, they turned out to be really friendly and willing to chat. Another personal lesson I took away from this OLP trip is that even though I have many kinds of phobias, it doesn't mean I am timid. I think there's a Dauntless side to me because I found our documentary filming process, with all of the possible danger involved, quite a thrilling and fun experience, and it's something I'm really glad we've had a chance to do,” said Jesleen.

Aisha agreed. “I feel like I’m just tapping on my potential. I have a lot more to give”.

When the students returned to the hotel, they had work to finish to prepare for the next day of filming. During dinner, conversations were always fun and animated because everyone had a story to share. It was a tiring experience but thoroughly enjoyable.

Jesleen said “It’s not new knowledge but I really felt the warmth of our DTVM family during this trip, in so many different ways. We also saw a different kind of fun and more personal side of our lecturers during this trip.”

The Waller Court group enjoying a well-deserved break after wrapping up their filming

Aisha added “One thing I learnt about DTVM is that DTVM is all about experiencing things and through those experiences, we learn and understand. Those experiences are really valuable since it gives DTVMers an edge that other students may not have if they have not gone through the process of hands on and ‘on the go’ learning.”

Besides completing their film assignments, the group also squeezed in some time for fun. The students put up a storytelling performance at a local primary school. The stories were written by the DTVM students as part of their ‘Creative Story Making’ module, when they were in Year 1.

And just before they flew back to Singapore, the lecturers and students visited The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat for lunch and a tour.


For more photos, visit: On-Location Production in Ipoh