KINDA HOT: A book about Saint Jack

Info, news and a kind of diary covering the publication of a book about the making of the film Saint Jack in Singapore...

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Location: Bedok, The East, Singapore

Author, Lecturer, Screenwriter, Film Critic & Historian... Email me!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tracking them down

(Peter Bogdanovich, Monika Subramaniam, Robby Mueller and Ben Gazzara hanging out at a now-obliterated eating spot along the Singapore river - this was actually a scene in Saint Jack, and Bogdanovich got so ill from the shrimp in this photo that the film had to shut-down for a day.)

Getting press for an upcoming book is no easy task, even in a place as close-knit as Singapore... and since nothing has actually been published yet, I'm not going to hex myself by announcing anything, but a few journalists have read the book now and I've been feeling the faint trickle of positive feedback. And more importantly no one has hauled me up on anything erroneous, but all in good time!

The book should have been in the shops by now, but it isn't, so if you are in Singapore and want to buy a copy as soon as you can, all I can do is say - Come to Borders on Saturday at 2pm, you can buy the book and get a look at me. As an extra incentive: at least two major crew members from Saint Jack will be around as well, one of them had a largish speaking role in the film. I'm calling some more of them up today, so there may be a bit of a reunion.

The question I get asked quite a lot is about the 'research' - did it go as well as I expected? Did I find all the things I wanted to find? And this leads back into the story of writing the book. Well, after I spoke to Bogdanovich I felt that the whole episode had a bit more flesh, but Bogdanovich had also repeated a fair few anecdotes I'd already read in other interviews. He gave me some great detail about the origins of the project - Orson Welles, casting, the Playboy case with Cybill Shepherd, etc, but of the period in Singapore he was much more sketchy.

My search for other crew members was crude and simple - checking their subsequent credits on IMDB, and Googling them for personal websites. And suprisingly this gave me a few immediate results. Jacques Steyn, the chief lighting guy on Saint Jack, and now a cinematographer in his own right, has his own website, and was really quick to respond to my email. We arranged a time to speak, and I remember Jacques telling me that thinking about that time after my email had brought back "a million memories"... some of which he shared with me in vivid and animated detail. This confirmed to me that Saint Jack was an amazing experience not just for the main players, but for all the foreign crew, most of whom were very young... and Jacques's description of life on the set was enormously compelling - it was hard work but also pretty fantastic. I was getting more than a little seduced by the world of Saint Jack.

Not long after Jacques, I interviewed Gregg Barbanell, who had worked on the film doing post-production sound. Gregg's name isn't on the film, rather the company Mag City is, but miraculously, IMDB listed Gregg by name, and also had his email address. Gregg replied within hours, and a few days later we were talking. Gregg's memories were most specifically of Bogdanovich, and they were mostly negative... Gregg tells these stories with incredulity even today which made them pretty funny. Mostly it was PB's cigar-waving arrogance, something that's well documented all over. Looking at Gregg's credits, which are pretty awesome, I realised that the process of talking to all of these crew members and technicians was opening up my naive eyes to the massively collaborative enterprise of filmmaking... for the first time I was really getting a sense of how all of these people function together in making a film, and how little recognition they get.

Each time I interviewed someone I added another layer to the tale, a fresh perspective, or a whole load of new facts and info about some aspect of the shoot I hadn't even considered. But, I still hadn't spoken to any of the Singaporeans involved in the film, and it was imperative that I did. It did't matter if I tracked down every single European and American person involved - I had to have that local voice. To be honest, I was worried. I spent hours on the Yellow Pages website, trying to find phone numbers, some looked promising, but led no-where. I realised that because the foreign crew were mostly still working in The Business, they were much easier to track down than the locals. I was wondering whether it was possible to pull this off without the aid of Private Detectives...

To be continued.


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