Navigating the complexities of filming on location, especially in areas that are densely populated or at iconic landmarks – think New York City’s Times Square or Tokyo’s Shibuya crossing – can be a logistic nightmare for filmmakers.
With a multitude of variables to consider, many directors and producers opt for the convenience and cost-effectiveness of a green screen.
However, some prefer to shoot on location no matter the challenges, for the sake of authenticity.
That’s the case for the filmmakers of the latest local action flick, War On Terror: KL Anarki.
Its directors Kroll Azry and Frank See knew they wanted to set the showstopping final scenes on the bustling Jalan Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur; for them, shooting on location was the only way to go.
They were sure that this would add a layer of realism that would have been impossible to achieve on a green screen.
To facilitate that mammoth task of filming in the heart of KL’s entertainment district, Kroll and See had the full cooperation of the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) to oversee the closure of roads.
But they were also not leaving anything to chance.
“We built a miniature replica of the Bukit Bintang area, a complete storyboard and planned every single detail even before going to the location,” Kroll said at a press conference in KL recently.
The undertaking needed to be meticulous as everyone knows Bukit Bintang is a popular spot for locals as well as tourists, and its crossroads is easily the busiest one in the city, if not the country.
This meant the crew had to work quickly and efficiently, without any mistakes, to maximise the limited time they had to shoot while they were on location.
“We closed the roads at midnight but we could only start shooting at 1am as we needed to set up the cameras and all the props. And we needed to wrap by 4am so we could pack up all our equipment, and clear the roads,” Kroll explained.
“We usually left the area by 5am before most of the working crowd got on the road.
“So, we basically had only a three-hour window to shoot our scenes every night, which was very hectic.”
Producer Keoh Chee Ang revealed that there were approximately 100 extras, 150 cars and 50 motorcycles used to shoot this scene in order to create the chaotic atmosphere in the city centre.
Kroll recalled: “There were so many people at the location, including the Rela staff and Malaysian Red Crescent volunteers, that I didn’t know who our people were anymore.”
The scene involves a group of terrorists threatening to detonate explosives in the middle of the Bukit Bintang area.
The film’s setting extends beyond the intersection where popular malls like Lot 10, Low Yat Plaza and Sungei Wang Plaza are situated, venturing into the vicinity of Pavilion KL, just a stone’s throw away.
“There were a lot of challenges and there were many things that were difficult to execute. Of course, people who came to Bukit Bintang at that time were not happy... in fact, some were quite angry,” Kroll said.
He recalled an incident whereby a frustrated visitor yelled, asking why the roads were closed when it was the ladies’ night at the clubs around the “golden triangle” area.
“I don’t think I want to do something like this again. It’s crazy,” Kroll lamented.
As the film title indicates, the film explores terrorism acts in Malaysia.
The police anti-terrorist unit, said to be loosely based on a team within the PDRM, has to track down a group of terrorists led by Lang (Qi Razali) that detonated a bomb in a train station in the East Coast.
Now the terrorists are planning a much bigger attack in KL.
It is up to members of the special force – comprising Rahman (Adlin Aman Ramlie), Anis (Farali Khan), Khalid (Aedy Ashraf), Bob (Kahoe Hon) and Zack (Noki K-Clique) – to stop another disaster from occurring.
According to Kroll, who also co-wrote the script with See and Nazri Vovinski, it was crucial that the climactic scene in War On Terror be at an iconic place in Malaysia.
“It was between KLCC and Bukit Bintang because these are the two locations with a lot of people.
“Since we can’t show KLCC being blown up, we went with Bukit Bintang. Also, everyone knows Bukit Bintang – people from everywhere know places like Lot 10, Low Yat and Jalan Alor.”
To make filming even more complex, Keoh said they used real helicopters for aerial shots of Bukit Bintang.
As it turned out, there were some unexpected mishaps.
“The directors wanted the helicopter to fly really low in the Bukit Bintang area to get new angles and make the scenes exciting,” said Keoh.
“Unfortunately, we caused a bit of problem with the commercial tenants in that area because the helicopter flew so low that some of the tents belonging to the small businesses were knocked down, along with their goods.
“There were several parasols that were at the top of Lot 10 that fell too.
“We had no choice but to compensate all the businesses that were affected by the presence of helicopter and film crew.
“But we did it to get the best shots for the film,” he added.
Despite all the challenges, Kroll called it an interesting experience as “every single person in the production team gave their all”.
While there might have been some havoc in the area, no damage was caused by explosives as visual effects were used for the more dangerous scenes, including where the bombs actually went off.
“There are some 681 shots where CGI is added, which is considered quite a lot for a Malaysian film,” said Kroll.
To ensure authenticity of the scenes too, the filmmakers were in constant contact with PDRM that also oversaw the script during its development.
Keoh said the idea for War On Terror had been in the works for some time.
“It was about one-and-a-half years before the film was approved (by PDRM) and we could start filming. Even before submitting the script, we had a lot of discussions on our end, made changes according to current events and finalised the script.
“I would say the script underwent rewriting about four times,” said Keoh.
In the final credit of the film, it highlights several real cases which the special unit within PDRM solved over the years.
Kroll wanted to include this to remind Malaysians that terrorism acts do happen in our country.
“It’s just that the terror acts here, compared to United States, are on a different scale. That’s why the explosion featured in War On Terror is on a smaller scale than in Hollywood films.
“I didn’t want a storyline where the whole of Kuala Lumpur explodes... we’re not making Armageddon,” he said.
“So, in that sense, I wanted to stay in the realm of logic and keep it real when creating the terror for this film.
“For us Malaysians, when five people die, it’s already a major incident. That’s our scale of terror.
“Fortunately, we live in a good, nice country that’s protected by soldiers and the police.”
War On Terror: KL Anarki opened at cinemas nationwide on Nov 23.