The island of Borneo will be the subject of a new 10-part series of half-hour documentaries, temporarily titled, Borneo.
But this is not just any documentary. It is said to be the biggest co-production agreement in factual programming between Malaysia and Singapore.
Jointly produced by Malaysia’s Kyanite TV and Singapore’s Beach House Pictures (BHP), Borneo, which is slated for release mid-next year, will shed light on the world’s third largest island’s rich biodiversity and chronicle the efforts by both local and international individuals to protect it.
During a press event announcing the documentary in Kuala Lumpur, the producers did not reveal the show’s budget but described it as “a significant sum.”
“It’s not just about the money but the scale of it, how long we’re spending on the field, the teams we’ve pulled in from everywhere, the equipment we’re using. The editing process alone will take six months,” says BHP managing director Jocelyn Little.
Indeed, the fact that production started last January and is still ongoing. gives viewers an idea of Borneo’s magnitude.
As it is an “observational documentary”, Little shares the long production schedule has to do with letting the stories develop organically: “We don’t set things up, we have to film and see what happens. So we go in and we follow a story. It can conclude in just one week or three to four months.”
She adds the crew members pretty much live in the jungle.
Kyanite TV’s managing director Michael Lim shares that some of the stories explored so far include: following a group of 100 scientists on their mission to find new species and the rare release of a sun bear and an orang utan into the wild after being rehabilitated in animal sanctuaries.
And, in light of the tragic earthquake at Mount Kinabalu, the documentary captured an earthquake simulation training which prepares first responders in the event of another earthquake.
Another interesting story being pursued is the recent crocodile attack in Sarawak.
“You saw the news (of a victim). They found the legs but they’re missing the body. Our team, who is already there, is following the efforts to find the top half,” he shares.
Little adds the documentary digs deeper to uncover the source of the issue: “It’s not just a sensational story of this tragedy. To balance that, we talk about the crocodiles and their environment and why there’s an upturn in fishermen disappearing.”
“The shrimp population is very low at this time of the year and so the fishermen are taking more risks, going into more areas where the crocodiles are, making them rich pickings for the crocodiles unfortunately,” she explains.
As such, rather than looking at it as a documentary, Little says: “It’s an adventure series because there’s a lot of action and drama, and at the same time, there’s the science and natural history element.”
Asked if Borneo is tapping into the docu-series trend like Netflix’s Making A Murderer which features gritty, authentic footages instead of well-shot, picturesque documentaries, she says: “We will have the beautiful shots because where we are is stunning, at the same time, our style will have that authentic voice. It’s the people telling their stories which is what those kind of shows are.”
Also present at the event was Datuk Kamil Othman, director general of the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas), which is providing funding for the documentary.
“In the past, when Finas provided funds to a film or TV programme, we find that the producers still aren’t sure where it will be distributed,” he says.
Kamil says future producers should follow in the footsteps of Borneo, whereby, although still in production, has already been picked up by Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific and UKTV.
He continues: “So now, they just need to focus on the creative aspect, knowing very well that at the end of the day, there’s already a distributor.”