Behind The Scenes: My First Film In Indonesia!

I had just finished breakfast one morning at EDU Hostel Jogja when a lady came up to me. “Hi, you’re Derek, right?” “Yes I am. What can I do for you?” Little did I know the entire course of my life in Indonesia was about to shift directions!

As we talked she showed me a short tourism video on Jogja and explained they were making a new one and needed a bule (Bahasa Indonesia for Caucasian) to cast alongside a female they had already chosen. Of course I immediately said hell yes!

Turns out it was not as simple as just saying yes. I was in the running with four other bule. After an initial photo shoot in the morning (with me looking scruffy and un-showered), the producer Cika returned that evening with Edy, the artistic director, for a second photo shoot and screen test. Those were immediately sent to the director in Jakarta and the two of them departed with a “we’ll let you know tomorrow…hope you get the part” farewell — too which I replied, “Sure, I bet you’ve said that to all the other bule too.” 😉

Lo and behold about an hour later I received a text from Cika that basically said if we were to choose you, we can only pay you X amount. Of course I said fine by me — hell, I would have done it for free. Her response a few minutes later was “Ok, so let’s join us to Riau! :)” Turns out I had gotten the part and didn’t need to wait for confirmation the following day — which was good because I was not sure how I was even going to be able to sleep that night.

Film Preparation Begins

They cast me because the director wanted a rugged adventurer…but I was a little too rugged; Hadn’t shaved in a week, hadn’t trimmed my gnarly Elvis sideburns in two months, and hadn’t had a haircut since who knows when. So the next day Cika and Edy took me to the salon to get cleaned up.

At The Salon
At the salon with Cika.

And This Is The End Result…

My Movie Haircut
Yes, I was literally eating raw cobra organs and drinking blood the night I got the part and then went to get properly groomed first thing the next morning.

I still think I look better with longer hair but after sharing that photo online and receiving hundreds of responses from people all of the globe it turns out the decision was almost completely unanimous: I look better with short hair. And skinnier. And younger.

Next Came The Wardrobe

After being on the road for so long some of my clothes are in, well, not the best condition. Plus I have a severe shortage of nice clothes, as all those were sold back when I decided to live permanently out of a backpack.

So after getting groomed it was off to the mall for some clothes shopping. For every item I tried on a photo was taken and sent immediately to the director in Jakarta, who personally approved or rejected each piece.

Wardrobe Shopping In Jogja

Of course given my size not much clothing in Southeastern Asia fits me. Luckily Cika’s brother is also of large stature so the next place we headed was to his house, to see if there was anything there that I could borrow.

More Wardrobe Choices

The last part — and most difficult — was finding shoes that fit me. I’m a size 50 (14-15 in the USA). Indonesian footwear sizes stop at 43. After my sandals broke I spent two months checking every city and every mall in the country, all to no avail. In the end I had to find a leather-worker and have him custom make me a pair of sandals. But somehow, somewhere, someway the production supervisor Rifky managed to find a pair of shoes from the UK in size 49.

Then Came The Big Announcement

This whole time I knew that I would be starring in the film alongside a female. However I just assumed it was a white female traveler, a tourist. Then a day or two before we departed I was given the news: Riyanni Djangkaru is going to be your partner. Of course I didn’t know that name at the time, but all my Indonesian friends did and they freaked out! “Ohhhhh my God you’re going to be in a film with Riyanni aaaccccckkkkkkkkkkk!! Tell her I said hi!”

Being the Twitter addict that I am, rather than search the web to find out who she was I just hopped on Twitter.

Turns out Riyanni is a famous Indonesian TV star and traveler who started her own magazine a few years ago, Dive Mag, and has now founded a #SaveSharks campaign. In fact one of the reasons the director chose me was because I am also a traveler and he assumed that we would have an instant rapport and be a great onscreen duo. How right he was! Often we were too busy chatting and joking with each other to ever hear the “Action!” cry 😉

The Next Day We Flew Out

Together with Cika, Edy, Antok (director of photography), and Takdir (cameraman assistant) we flew out to Jakarta and met up with the rest of the crew. This included Tata (the director), Rifky (production supervisor), Mohan (screenwriter), among others. From there we — along with a massive amount of gear — flew out to Pekanbaru, on the island of Sumatra.

Baggage Checkin At Jakarta Airport
Baggage check-in; 4am at Jakarta airport. That’s only about half of our gear — the other half is out of frame.

  During the 8-day shoot I paused all of my travel tweets and instead shared nothing but photos, information, and fun stories from #Siak. In fact you can still find tweets from Riyanni and I still dominate that hashtag. We were using it so much during filming that she joked we should have charged for all the “social media promotions” we did for Siak.

  Now the choice is yours: you can either watch the video first and then resume reading the behind-the-scenes details below, or you can continue reading and watch the embedded film at the end of the post.

Day One

The team had hired three drivers to meet us at Pekanbaru airport. With one van full of gear and the other two full of people we made the three-hour trek out to Siak, finally arriving around 11am. Of course there was no rest for the weary. Despite most of us having less than an hour of sleep the night before we were on a tight schedule and began filming within an hour of arriving in Siak. The first annual Tour de Siak three-day bike race was starting that afternoon. Teams had arrived not only from throughout Indonesia but also neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia.

Tour de Siak
The start of the first annual Tour de Siak

Riyanni was running late finishing up her current project so for the first couple days it was just me and the film crew in town. After filming the start of the Tour de Siak we began wandering around town, establishing shots and walking me through the script.

Posing With Locals
Within minutes of arrival in Siak I was posing for photos with locals — and this is before they even knew I was a “film star” 😉

The Eight Immortals
The Eight Immortals mural at Kelenteng Hock Siu Kiong in Siak

Day Two

Saturday morning. Up before the roosters we had an early breakfast cooked up by the chef at our hotel and then continued exploring different locations in and around town. In order to establish lots of the shots I had to walk around and act out the scene while the crew determined the best positions for the camera.

Locations included a coconut plantation, salak plantation (salak is a species of palm tree that produce the delicious snake fruit), traditional home, the local river, and a variety of other spots.

Coconut Plantation In Siak
This was a HUGE coconut plantation in Siak

Salak Plantation
This scene was later scrapped.

Enjoying Snake Fruit
Enjoying fresh snake fruit at the salak plantation while we discussed the scene

That night we filmed the bedroom scene. No, nothing sexy…just me in bed dreaming about Siak. You may recognize this as the “pedas” dream scene from the film. Haven’t seen it yet? Don’t worry, it is embedded at the end of this post.

Pedas Bedroom Scene
Pedas Bedroom Scene
Pedas Bedroom Scene

Day Three

After waking up at 5am we headed for downtown Siak to start filming the scene where I am riding a bicycle through town with the local children. During the first take there were only about a half dozen kids riding with me but word spread quickly as to what we were doing. Soon we had dozens of kids lining up with their bikes for a chance to be in the film.

Downtown Siak
Downtown Siak

The Team
The team…well, part of it. Not sure where everyone else was.

Preparing The Camera
After filming a few takes with the camera above my head, we moved it down below to get the behind the leg shot.

Local Siak Kids
The director Tata and I posing with several of the local kids who showed up to be in the film.

Giving Directions
Here Tata was giving instructions to a few of the local kids.

Local Kids In Siak
After each take kids would crowd around my bicycle where we had mounted the camera to see themselves onscreen.

After hours of riding that bike up and down the streets of downtown Siak, getting shots from every different angle imaginable, we headed over to the local barbershop. Here I received a quick shave. This scene only appears in the full-length version of the film.

Siak Barbershop
Tricks of the trade to achieve a cool-looking blur effect at the edge of the screen.

Siak Barbershop

Given the length of this story it has been separated into two separate posts and the video embedded in the second half. Be sure to check it out: Continue reading Part Two!

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

16 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes: My First Film In Indonesia!”

    • Thanks but I doubt it LOL. However the film is completely finished, 100%. It’s even playing on TV One here in Indonesia. And it’s for that exact reason that I cannot upload the finalized, full-length version….yet. Hopefully I will get permission eventually. After all it’s free publicity for them, right?

    • It definitely was! I’ve been saying for years that I wish I had a couple cameramen following ten meters behind me at all times, documenting the wild stuff I do and situations I get myself into. Now not only did I get that wish but I also got paid for it…woo-hoo 😉

  1. Nice job mate! Love the behind the scenes. Those always fascinate me to no end. If / When you get the final version you have to be sure and post it! Keep it up and maybe we’ll cross paths one day.

    Oh and I’m sharing this post since it’s freaking rad.



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