Ghost Stories from Malaysian Production Sets
Updated: Nov 9
A looming shadow in the corner of your eye. A whisper in the silence of the night. Your road tax expired last week and you forgot. It’s Halloween season baby! In production, one would expect to shoot in odd locations and at odder times - this of course leads to a few spooky or unexplainable encounters. Here are a few ghost stories shared by some of our friends that happened on set. So sit back, grab a cup of hot Milo, and pretend to look busy for your boss as you read up on 3 Malaysian ghost stories on set.
The Hungry Ghost
Let’s start with a short & spooky one. Our first story comes from Danial Yap, an Art Director for Grey Matter Art Department. Yap and his crew were working on art for a music video shoot set at Istana Jugra, a 120+ year old palace that once housed the fifth Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sir Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah until his death in 1938. Long disused, the empty throne rooms, royal bath and even ‘forbidden’ garden lay quiet and undisturbed, save for a few tourists or the occasional production. The caretaker of the Istana has always insisted shoots end before Maghreb or sundown. As the director had wanted a night scene, they negotiated to shoot until 11 PM. With most shoots however, delays and setbacks found the crew still shooting past 2 AM!
Around 3 am, one of Yap’s crewmates, let's call him Ammar, was tasked to pick up some supper - Ramly burgers (a good supper for productions!) prepared for the crew over at the production base. With only a headlight to guide him through the pitch black decaying hallways of the palace, he went on with his task, alone. There in that still hallway, from a dark empty room, he heard a whisper of a voice call out his name, "Ammar...". He stopped to check if anyone was there - perhaps a lost crew member? Understandably on edge, Ammar inches closer to the source of the mysterious whisper when suddenly a sharp gust of wind hits him on the nape of his neck. NOPE! He rushed out of the hallway and thankfully made it back in one piece. And yes, before you ask, the burgers were safe.
The Warehouse of the Damned
The next spooky tale involves phantom hands and a little exorcism. This story is courtesy of Sharmila Naidu, a producer for TV & Film which is a much larger beast to tackle (if shooting commercials is a sprint, shooting for TV & film is a marathon). Two separate encounters come to Sharmila’s mind when recounting her experience producing a recent local action movie. Given how recent this production was, all
details of persons and locations have been
changed to keep it discreet.
Sharmila and her team had rented out an old workshop building in Sentul. The building was huge, with multi-story high ceilings and an open layout. Defunct and slightly dilapidated, the crew had their work cut out for them in preparing it to be safe for shooting.
There was already some buzz amidst the crew of seeing shadows flying around the very high ceiling - merely some bats and birds one could say. The locations manager - the person in charge of the shooting locations, however had a very face-to-face (or hand-to-hand) encounter.
One late night when they were about to shoot a scene the Location Manager, ‘John’, was asked to turn off the warehouse lights all the way at the end of the building. All seemed fine at first, as he switched off the first few lights. As the depot grew darker with the fading lights however, a disembodied hand emerged from the darkness to grab John’s arm just as he reached out for the last few switches. Somebody get John to the wardrobe department for a quick change of pants please!
In that same production, a young Casting Assistant was possessed. The shoot consisted of only night shoots. This meant starting production around dinner and ending right before breakfast. Sharmila had a sweet and quiet young lady, ‘Hasmah’ to help out on all things related to talents & actors as a Casting Assistant. One night, shortly after dinner, Hasmah went missing - she wasn't anywhere to be found on set. The Casting Manager had even thought that she just up and ran away from the job - perhaps she couldn’t take the pressures of set life. Hours pass and the shoot goes on. Right before sunrise, from a small thicket of trees near the warehouse, Hasmah emerges. She was dazed and haggard, full of mud and sticks. Worried, the production sent her back home to rest.
Things start to get a little weird as the normally quiet and shy Hasmah returns to set the next day with a completely different personality, complete with a face full of makeup and ‘Main Character’ syndrome - acting as if she was the star of the show. Her behaviour, though weird, wasn’t unreasonable - that is until her mother called. She reached out to production worried about the safety of her daughter and asking for her whereabouts - as Hasmah hasn't come home in the last 2 days! Now a little freaked out, they confront the strange Hasmah. The confrontation grew and came to a point where they had to call on ‘experienced’ crew members to conduct an impromptu exorcism on her. Finally, when she came to, all Hasmah could remember of the last few days was walking into a red house.
Go home, Hasmah, you’re tired.
An Artist, Possessed
Last but certainly not least, our final story comes from Head Stylist and founder of Nuffsaid, Zulvanny Andiny. Honestly, Zulvanny’s stories could fill a whole article on its own but I'll leave you with just one - a story of an artist, possessed. Zulvanny was a part of a music video shoot for an artist, ‘Jane’. Jane’s music video was set in an old heritage Mansion in KL. Built over 100 years ago, this mansion was recently refurbished, but like the caretaker of Istana Jugra, the crew was advised to end the shoot before 12 AM - if you made it this far in the article, I’m sure you can guess what time the crew finished shooting. What was interesting about this shoot however is that a fire performance was involved. The pyrotechnicians insisted on performing a ‘ritual’ on the premises, to safeguard themselves from the heat. This is when things started to take a turn for the strange.
It started small; whilst the DOP was innocently setting up the camera for a shot, he felt a solid few taps on his shoulder. Expecting it to be his Cam Assist, he turns around, only to be greeted by the dark of the half-lit room he was in. Zulvanny herself wasn’t spared - when they were shooting by the stairs at the ground floor she heard someone call out her name by the glam room upstairs. This was no whisper; this voice was loud enough to be heard from downstairs, about 15 - 20 metres away. Thinking it was the make up team or her intern, Zulvanny walked upstairs to the glam room as the rest of the crew continued shooting downstairs. Opening the door to the glam room, she found it empty. In fact, the entire upper floor was deserted, except for Zulvanny and the source of this phantom voice.
A little rattled but largely unperturbed, the crew rallied on and continued shooting. The Styling and Makeup team, i.e. the glam team, are by their stations in the glam room prepping for a costume change. Jane enters the glam room, ready to change into her next costume. Without warning, Jane’s entire demeanour changed dramatically. She became manic and loud, getting angrier by the minute, screaming about how hot it is. Things got heated enough that tables and chairs were being kicked around. Freaked out, Zulvanny and the glam team began praying out loud to Jane but this only made ‘Jane’ angrier. Jane begins laughing maniacally and her voice changes! A sweet songbird’s voice has transformed into one that was haggard and mad. This ordeal goes on for 30 more minutes - sympathies to the 1st AD.
Finally, a brave Makeup Artist drags the possessed Jane into a changing room and starts praying aggressively towards her. From across the door, Zulvanny and team could only imagine what would be causing the ruckus of kicks, screams and chairs being thrown about in that small changing room. Eventually, things calmed down and a ‘normal’ Jane emerged. Emotionally exhausted but ever the professional, Jane apologises for ‘her behaviour’ and carries on with the shooting - yes, at 3 AM after a long shoot day AND a legitimate possession, Jane still insisted on finishing her shots - what a bloody professional. It was obvious that Jane was still struggling with this uninvited guest in between takes, but eventually the crew was able to wrap up and finally go home at around 6 AM.
Nonetheless, the hauntings didn't stop - a few crew members reported having strange nightmares right after the shoot, with even one or two crew members falling sick. Was the spirit mad at the unwanted ritual? Was the voice that Zulvanny heard beckoning her into the glam room the same spirit that took over Jane’s body? Did you remember to do your road tax, because it’s October already?
Some questions have many answers - one could rationalise these strange occurrences as the wind, fatigue, a frustrated PA. Yet, if you ever get the chance to sit around a table of production crew members or actors, one would be hard pressed to find a table that had not experienced something unexplainable. Production crews often find themselves shooting in old or rarely ventured locations at strange times, often staying there far longer than one normally would, doing things that can range from the mundane to the extraordinary. It is only natural that their paths will eventually cross with the weird and the strange - it is not a question of if, but of when. But remember, whatever you do, don’t forget to bring the burgers back to set, Ammar.
Happy Halloween, my friends - I hope your reflection winks back at you tonight.