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The duo behind (PLASTIK) on why they are spotlighting plastic pollution

Released on World Environment Day, the short film (PLASTIK) touched the hearts of many Malaysians while raising awareness on the plastic pollution crisis and effects of climate change.

The film, made in collaboration with MeshMinds, is short yet impactful. Shot from the viewpoint of a 10-year-old girl, it reveals the apathy and carelessness in our everyday lives when it comes to single-use plastic and the lack of recycling efforts.

In less than three minutes, it manages to tug on our heartstrings yet make us feel deeply uncomfortable on the plastic pollution crisis that we are faced with every day. The sentimental nature of the film was accentuated by the soft soundtrack, ‘Just A Dream’, composed by Malaysian artist MKNK and performed by JSN.

Although Malaysia has made some strides in combating plastic pollution in recent years, there is still a long way more to go. Hopefully, with Malaysians like director Philip Rom and producer Sean Lin of Studio Birthplace – the duo behind the (PLASTIK) film – the current and next generation will be more vigilant in taking care of our environment.

The projects under Studio Birthplace are in the vein of sustainability as this is an area that the founders are passionate about. The mission is to utilize creativity to create awareness around pressing ecological and humanitarian topics through storytelling in order to cultivate connection and empathy. Their vision is to cultivate a world where individuals and organisations are actively innovating and making choices for a sustainable future, based on the premise that change starts with awareness.

While making the film, the team went the extra mile to ensure that the production process minimally impacts the environment. Leading by example, their efforts included restricting single-use plastics for production value as well as calculating carbon emissions for filming transportation and compensating 150% through tree-planting.

In an exclusive interview with Prestige Malaysia, Philip Rom and Sean Lin spoke about the creative direction being (PLASTIK) and the messages they aim to disseminate:

Why did you choose to shoot the film from the eyes of a 10-yr-old girl in particular? Philip Rom: There’s just something about the innocence, perceptiveness and sensitivity that children possess. It’s an ability I think we tend to lose as we become adults. We tend to become numb and oblivious. A child sees things as it is without the fluff. In the film, the world as seen through Aisya’s (main character) plastic telescope seemed like a fun child’s play initially but eventually turned into something serious. She understands the gravity of plastic pollution even from a young age. Sean Lin: Children are the future, and this is the world that we adults will leave behind for them. She represents a generation where climate change is their biggest challenge. In the story, we see her journey from being indifferent like everybody else, to becoming aware and to driving change. This is also the journey that we hope audiences will experience too.

What was the casting process like?

Philip Rom: We knew immediately that the story hinges on the performance of the cast, especially the lead role of the young girl in the story. So we invested a lot of time in trying to find the right person. Casting was done remotely as we were still in the MCO season during the pre-production stage. There were a lot of potential candidates; personally, it was hard to make. But in the end, I just had to go with my gut feeling and I’m glad that Aisya made (PLASTIK) special. She truly was a talented and great person to work with on set.

How did you come up with the creative direction of the film?

Philip Rom: I was thinking about how we always see images of animals being choked by plastic waste and I wondered what if we see humans in that position. I wanted to show imagery of people consuming and being consumed by plastic. Once we were set with that theme, I worked closely with cinematographer Nicholas Chin and art director Taufiq Kamal to develop the telescope and the plastic quicksand. The latter is one of the challenging aspects. We sourced recycled plastic waste which was thoroughly cleaned to create the climatic plastic quicksand scene. In fact, some shots of the plastic litter were already there before we showed up. We just had to point the camera. This says a lot.

Sean Lin:

Also, during a brainstorming session with MeshMinds, Jody Owen suggested looking through a bottle to see hyperrealistic glimpses into our future, and that eventually became the backbone of (PLASTIK). Fun fact – the title (PLASTIK) with the brackets is a play on the telescopic view through the plastic bottle which we see in the film.

How long did it take to shoot the film?

Philip Rom: The shoot spanned over 2 days. We wanted to maximize using natural lighting as much as possible so we tried to shoot mostly in the morning and evening when the natural light was softer. The weather was kind to us and we’re happy with the results of the visuals.

What are some ways to get the film seen by more Malaysians/children?

Philip Rom: I would love for the film to be screened in schools and be used as a point of discussion on single-use plastic pollution. But anyway for the matter, billboards, restaurants. Anywhere with a screen, so anyone interested, please feel free to reach out to us! Sean Lin: Prestige Online!

In your opinion, how far has Malaysia come in terms of plastic pollution and what more can be done?

Philip Rom: It’s great to see a lot of initiatives and efforts in creating awareness both from the public and private sectors. For example, we’ve done away with plastic bags in supermarkets in the Klang Valley but not as a whole country. I think we need to act more collectively rather than in silos. The other challenge is converting awareness into action. For example, ordering in with food deliveries has definitely gone up and that itself is a source of a lot of plastic waste. While we can’t expect restaurants to completely do away with plastic containers. We can choose to not throw away the plastic container but keep it aside for the recycling bin. It requires conscious effort. But starting small actions will reinforce better habits down the line. Sean Lin: I think the awareness and urgency are quite low. A lot more can be done to educate the population about our consumption habits and their impact. Lots more infrastructure and systems need to be in place for plastic alternatives and recycling. On an individual level, we need to take responsibility to be part of the solution, by first educating ourselves and keep talking about it, being an example and supporting those who are fighting the cause.

What are some upcoming similar projects?

Currently, we are in production on an exciting film for Greenpeace Malaysia about our regional haze problem for their campaign to hold polluters accountable. Aside from that, we have several projects releasing this year, covering topics ranging from the meat industry, deforestation, climate change and sustainable fashion. You can catch them on our social media (@studiobirthplace) and website

Written by: Sharuna Segaren

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