Shirkers (2018) Movie Script

When I was 18, a long time ago now,
I had the idea that you found freedom
by building worlds inside your head.
That you had to go backwards
in order to go forwards.
That little kids
had the answers to everything.
When I was 18, I had so many ideas,
I hardly slept at all.
In the summer of 1992,
my friends and I shot a road movie
on the streets of Singapore...
that was to becomea kind of urban legend.
That movie was called Shirkers,
a word which means "running away,
avoiding responsibility,
I wrote the script and played the heroine,
a 16-year-old killer named S.
Nobody was making movies
like that in Singapore.
So, we were pioneers.
The film was a time capsuleof a Singapore
that was both real and imaginary.
Back then, the thing I wanted
more than anything was to make a movie.
But I never imagined
it would end this way.
Twenty-five years later, I find myself
on a strange backward journey,
replaying the past for clues.
Okay, I listened to your tape
that you did in your room.
I loved it. I like being your best friend.
You're my best friend.
I like knowing that you're around.
I like knowing that we're connected,
that we're partners in crime.
Make me another tape, please.
I miss you.
I learned to stop thinking
about that time...
to pretend it never happened...
which was, of course, impossible.
Shirkers became a secret history,
shared by a small group of us.
And it would haunt us
and bond us
and tear us apart.
- Whenever you're ready.
- Now.
Jasmine and I were enemies
before we were friends.
You thought I was an enemy, but I don't
know if I thought you were an enemy.
Uh, yeah.
We stayed enemies until we were 14.
When we were growing upin the 1980s...
the state and the family
were constantly in your face.
Singapore was so uptight,
its government even banned chewing gum.
If Americans believethey are exceptional,
let me tell you,
Singaporeans know we are exceptional.
A sweaty little island in 1965,
Singapore became one of the richest
countries in the world by the year 2000.
When Jasmine and I were 14,
we discovered unusual movies
and unpopular music.
And as weirdos, we became best friends.
We came from very different backgrounds...
but we were thick as thieves.
My family was intense.
My parents' marriage was collapsing
even before I was born,
and so I was raised by my grandparents.
When it rained, our front lawn
looked like chocolate milk.
In 1981, my grandfather insisted
on having these pictures taken...
because his beloved house
was about to be torn down.
In 1985, the house was replaced
by this condo.
It still flooded,
but it was no longer chocolate milk.
I was always expected to shine.
Which was exhausting.
I needed a way out.
So, of course, I liked Jasmine's family.
They were warm and undemanding
and didn't careif we built
crazy shrines in Jasmine's room.
We had the God of Theater...
and the Goddess of Scriptwriting.
We showed up at school
dressed up as nurses.
And I challenged the authorities
at the Film Society.
Dear Sandi: We will certainly try
to acquire the films you've requested.
I desperately wanted to make movies.
I gave imaginary interviews
as imaginary filmmakers.
Hi, I would like to share
with you my movie
Magic Fire Brain,
which, uh, is completely original.
There were lots of crowd scenes.
I read American Film
and Film Comment religiously.
But it was impossible to see these movies
unless I got very creative.
I established
a clandestine videotaping syndicate
with my cousin Vicki in Florida...
just so I could watch Blue Velvet.
Jasmine and I devoured
what people around us ignored.
We started writing for BigO,
Singapore's underground rock zine,
when we were 14.
BigO was run by Philip Cheah,
in all his poker-faced glory,
and he would make us tapes
of Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground
and quiz us on them
before he would let us join their club.
In Singapore, you had very strict
censorship across music and film.
A lot of the great classic albums
were still banned.
We saw the revolution that took place
in the UK and in the US,
and we wondered whether
that could actually happen here.
We created elaborate collages for BigO,
which they all hated.
I think we were way too punk for them.
They were a lame boy's club anyway.
So it was always us...
against the world.
Our greatest achievement was publishing
our own zine,The Exploding Cat...
on the photocopier
at the National Library.
Exploding Cat was our attempt
to catalog everything that angered us,
that made us laugh.
The Cat became its own thing.
We received letters
from New York, London...
Paris, Jerusalem,
even prisons in three different states.
Above all...
it was a catalog of us.
my friends,
our tiny island in the center
of the world,
charting our own destiny...
in 1989.
The next story is chapter 39.
Hang on, just one more thing.
Back in those days, I was obsessed
with The Catcher in the Rye...
and Salinger's idea of saving children.
So I trained my baby cousins
to never grow up.
...people talk.
- Wen...
- Yes.
Say something.
I'm going to color.
Or if they had to grow up,
to grow up different.
"Hysterical" was superior to "ordinary."
I hate you.
Even "depressed"
was superior to "ordinary."
You no good mangy mutt!
You're stupid.
A long time ago, in early '91,
we took the filmmaking class,
probably the first filmmaking class
available here.
In this classroom
and the adjoining classroom as well.
So there was a whole bunchof us, you, me,
a whole strange assortment of persons.
Our teacher was Georges Cardona,
a man of unplaceable age and origin.
I think we ought
to make a filmabout the guy
who measures the visibility in Singapore.
He projected himself
to be an American filmmaker,
and was there to teach us,
impressionable 18, 19 year-olds,
about film production in Singapore.
We met Sophie at the class.
She was so nice and stable
and trustworthy.
I wasn't sure
she would make a good friend.
Georges brought the three of us,
Sophie, Jasmine and me
into his inner circle.
Cecilia runs a video bordello.
My impression of Georges, uh,
first and foremost,
was his eyes, very metallic.
It was almost ice, icy blue.
He spoke in a very slow,
calm, measured tones.
And I just remember, even at that point,
this kind of dissonance, you know,
the eyes seemed so cold
but his demeanor seemed so warm.
And he had this ability
that when he spoke to you,
you felt that you were his sole focus.
Georges was like no other adult
I knew in Singapore.
He liked to just sit
and watch the light change.
He took us to shoot
colorful Hindu festivals
that my family
would have found frightening.
He talked about movies
the way I wanted to talk about movies.
He loved the French New Wave.
And soon, so did I.
When the film class ended
at nine or ten at night...
we would drive around
the island with Georges.
We kept him out late, even though
we knew he had a wife and a baby
waiting for him at home.
And I barked.
Can you hear the crickets?
We went looking for ideas.
We went looking for wild dogs.
Were you rolling?
I didn't know you were into this.
Oh, stop it! I'm not in the mood tonight.
Nice soundtrack.
Hurry up.
We're speaking loudly.
And all the lovers are sort of aggravated
with us and they have cleared the area.
He was my first friend
who was a grown man.
He picked us.
But he let us feel like we picked him.
Those night drives bled into my dreams.
Of course I wanted to make a road movie.
Instead, I went away
to a strange, cold place.
I thought I would find my tribe.
But I had left them.
Jasmine went to New York...
Sophie went to LA...
And Georges stayed in Singapore.
I felt so stranded.
I poured all of myself...
into letters to Georges...
and Jasmine.
Georges didn't write letters or emails.
On very rare occasions,
he sent me tape recordings of his voice.
What are you doing now?
Thinking of going to the US in Easter.
And renting a car,
then traveling through the US...
for all the way from New Orleans
to Arkansas.
He invited Jasmine and me to join him.
There were few things that excited me more
than the idea of an American road trip.
I thought, "Fuck the French New Wave,
we're going to live our own movie."
Sandi Tan, the only child
of a toothbrush salesman
and a worker in a mortuary.
Sandi was parentless from age two.
Jasmine Ng, the eldest daughter
of a mafia kingpin
in Singapore's Chinatown,
and a feeble-minded housewife.
Georges Cardona is 89 years old and mute.
No other info available.
Jasmine didn't see it that way.
In the end, only I went.
I flew to Los Angeles to meet Georges.
He and I drove to San Francisco,
taking the slowest, most scenic roads.
Even back then I knew how it looked.
I was on the road with a married man
more than twice my age.
So I didn't tell anyone.
He gave me signals,
strange signals, late night conversations
where he told me
people thought we were lovers.
And then one night,
he invited me to touch his belly.
I just ignored him.
It disturbed me to even think about it.
And we both pretended it never happened.
Then we drove to New Orleans
where he grew up.
Georges was showing me the South,
with its moss and bugs and ghost stories.
This was the place where he had
transformed himself into an artist.
He told me how when he was 12,
he watched his older brother bleed
to death on their mother's lap.
He told me how when Jayne Mansfield
was killed in a car accident...
her decapitated head rolled over
to where he was in his car.
He told me he was the inspiration
for James Spader's character
in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
Something to take my mind off this trip.
So I was just...
I just...
I just did it on the plane.
Whether his stories were actually true
seemed beside the point.
I loved his storytelling,
and how his stories made time
and place and truth
absolutely porous.
...the dominant member of the party...
I was suddenly staring
at a puddle of blood
in a living room in the '60s.
I was two degrees away
from Jayne Mansfield's head,
three degrees from Steven Soderbergh.
That road trip was significant
for another reason.
I chose Georges as my new best friend.
We talked about making a movie together...
a road movie.
I went back to school and immediately
threw everything into a script.
"S tells her best friend TB
she can save the world when it ends.
Her tools are games,toys,
and her imagination.
She saves the world
in small numbers, starting with..."
In my vision of the world,
there are movers,
there are shakers,
and there are shirkers.
Georges sent me a fax.
It started out with...
the mysteriously-named lead character S.
I wonder what that stands for.
My idea was to do a road movie
in a country
you can drive across in 40 minutes.
We follow this cryptic character,
she goes around Singapore.
She might have been the Grim Reaper,
just picking off these characters
and taking them on this afterlife journey.
Because Sandi had an obsession
with Bergman.
I don't have-- I hated Bergman.
But anyway, go on. Can we start
and you describe the plot?
You as the screenwriter,
this was not a three-act structure.
How could we...?
It's only something that 19-year-olds
could've just said,
"Let's go do it. Why not?"
I finished the script in June,
and we had to start shooting in July
before the school term began
for Jasmine and Sophie.
It was less than two and a half months.
No, pre-production and shoot for a feature
while most of us
were still working day jobs.
Like I said, you were the only one
who was not working.
I remember, um,
that you were
the sort of "chief ideologue" of the trio.
Sophie was the gopher.
was the technical person,
I think, who was, you know,
always fussing with this and that.
We eventually broke
into two camps,
Jasmine and Sophie, who thought we should
wait a year and do it next summer...
versus me and Georges
who just wanted to get the film made.
One of Georges' favorite films
was Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo...
in which the mad Klaus Kinski
commands an army of Amazonian natives
to pull a ship over a mountain for him.
This is one of Georges'
guiding inspirations.
And it became mine too.
You've always beena very
determined andquite ambitious person.
You just wanted it done at any cost,
and you were willing to just burn things
just so that you could make your own film.
Well, okay,
but after years
of plotting to make a film,
I couldn't just
let this opportunity slip by.
It wasn't as if Jasmine was an expert.
She designed this audition flyer
in her unique style.
Of course nobody could read it
so nobody showed up.
She was furious when we got someone
more conventional to try again.
She thought we were selling out.
Don't worry about it.
It's just gonna be like informal
improvisational kind of exercise.
My left side, my right side.
Yeah, right.
Hold up your number.
The auditions were run
by Sophie and Jasmine.
Basically, the main character
of the film is 16 years old.
Hey. Wow.Let me have a closer look.
Okay, can you just imagine
you're in the car right now...
and you're going around, you're knocking
all these old women down and-- You know?
- Yeah.
- That's all right.
Georges was nowhere to be seen or heard.
Except here.
And so I was the screenwriter,
Sophie was the producer,
Jasmine would be the editor...
and Georges was the director.
Sophie, as our 19-year-oldproducer,
wrote letters in the voice
of an experienced executive producer.
I secured a meeting
with a high-profile person,
and it took me a lot of time and courage,
and before the person arrived,
Georges said to me,
"Okay, now you go into the kitchen.
I'm gonna take the meeting."
That was a very difficult moment for me.
I didn't believe in Georges.
I did not believe in Georges,
but I believed in the film.
Do I yell at Georges
or is it better for me
to remain in the kitchen
and have him secure the deal
so the film could move forward?
And I chose the film.
We were trying
to mount a feature film
on the scantest of practical knowledge.
We had a production assistant
who was 14 years old.
Georges talked Ronnie,
a 30-year-old first time DP
into shooting the film for us.
I got involved as a sound man,
and I volunteered to do the storyboarding.
I have no clue what Shirkers is about.
- Can I say that? Would that offend you?
- No, no, no.
My grandmother played my grandmother
and my baby cousin played my baby cousin.
Her furry little arms
had their own little story.
Oh, I thought, "Oh, great, they're looking
for a nurse, and I'm one."
I've always wanted to see
what acting is all about, you know?
I talked Philip
into playing the crossing guard...
because that's essentially
what he was to me.
When I first heard aboutthe Shirkers
project, I thought, it's about time.
The only sort of independent feature films
that were shot in Singapore
were like the legendary
They Call Her Cleopatra Wong.
There was very little
domestic filmmaking activity, right?
And then we were going to be
the next film after Medium Rare.
Medium Rare was a film
about a Singaporean serial killer
who was played by an American TV actor.
And come on, we can do better than that.
We dispatched an army of location scouts
across the island.
I made sure
they found the mannequin shops...
and the old-timey bakery that I loved
because I knew
they wouldn't be around for long.
Jasmine and Sophie negotiated with Kodak
and the film equipment houses...
and we got all our film
and camera equipment for free.
There remained one last role to be cast:
the heroine S.
I even felt like I couldn't play the role,
'cause it was a non-role.
You wanted to play the role.
Whether it was a good decision
to have cast you in the role,
I think the footage will speak for itself.
"Exterior: S's Street, afternoon.
A lazy suburban neighborhood
with rows of one-story houses,
lawnmower sounds,
cutlery clangs, whining puppies,
and faint sounds of radio fuzzying
with '30s Shanghai showtunes,
track along the fronts of the houses
until camera frame bumps into S.
Our 16-year-old protagonist
enters the scene
with an old suitcase and an old camera."
She is coming home.
S lives with her grandmother...
and her cousin, baby Woo Woo.
They live next doorto her best friend TB.
TB lives with her mother,
who loves to smoke and watch TV.
And her little brother TJ,
who rides around the neighborhood
looking for trouble.
One beautiful day, S gets TB
to go with her to shoot her piano teacher.
When TB gets too busy
to hang out with her,
S goes looking for a new sidekick...
and four more people
she likes enough to kill.
Sleeping on her favorite spot
in the grass,
she meets a visibility inspector
named Rahman and goes home with him.
She abducts his little son, Haryo.
She and Haryo walk around the island
looking for more people to collect.
They spot Cecilia, the nurse,
and her giant dog, Cherish,
and follow them home.
They meet Cecilia's daughter, Monster,
who is epileptic, but who loves to dance.
S is a Catcher in the Rye...
and so they are three.
Together, they meet Montana Bob.
He's a funny dude,
so they follow him home.
Meanwhile, there's the mystery boy
S keeps encountering.
She develops feelings for him,
which means she has to kill him.
That's two down, three to go.
She meets Albert, the self-made man
who built a fortune in sticky tape,
and he's eager to show off
his massive new house.
S meets his wife Mimi...
their son Robert...
and their maids,Portrero and Pacifica.
Robert tells S he's an armchair hedonist.
They go driving.
His friends are all dweebs.
Time is running out.
And S has three more people
to take to the other world with her.
It's not clear if this world is heaven,
hell or a supermarket.
So things happen.
Or maybe they don't.
Because maybe this whole thing
was a dream after all.
Well, because, like,
the plotwas almost immaterial.
- You know, it was a mood piece. It was...
- Yeah.
I don't know.
My script called
for the largest dogin the country,
and Sophie got hold of this
giant wolfhound named Mega.
Then Sophie and Jasmine sneaked him
into the supermarket...
when the manager's back was turned.
I faked a seizure...
in order to draw crowds.
So I was the crowd wrangler as well.
Sophie and Jasmine stole
these seniors out of an old folks home.
And returned them
before they even knew what happened.
And we madeall the grown up women smoke.
And smoke.
And smoke.
We captured some startling performances
from friends and strangers.
You were really great
as the Detergent Lady.
I was not really great.
I think you love laughing at your friends.
There was Freda as my best friend TB.
Kaylene as my disabled sidekick, Monster.
And Pohshon as Monster's mom.
You were supposed to take my child away
from me and I was like...
crying because you're gonna
take her away from me for good
and, see, you're making me cry now.
Our passion and our earnestness...
came through.
At that time, I thoughtthat Shirkers...
as it was proposed,
was incredible,
it was way ahead of its time.
This was a period when America
was making some of these movies
with Winona Ryder, I believe.
And I think that to have
a Singapore side of things
and especially when it's fronted by Sandi,
absolutely astounds me.
Did you ever read the script?
Like, did you feel it was childish?
Yeah, but that was the beauty of it,
right? You know that.
You know that.
It was so personal, wasn't it?
Georges came up
with an idea for a set piece.
And it was only much later
that I realized the idea wasn't even his.
My friend Leon was so full of himself,
claiming that every girl
was in love with him.
And so I gave him the kind of fate
I thought he deserved.
In my world of Shirkers,
there were different categories of boys:
the boys I thought delectable,
the boys I liked as good friends,
and as in life,
I made friends with strange men
because I was bold in that way.
One of the most visceral memories
I have of Shirkers
was the scene in the bowling alley.
We spent a whole day shooting.
It involved a lot of emotional energy.
Remember, you know, you're 18, 19.
In the end, I remember asking Georges,
"How was it?
You know, how were the takes?"
And he looked at me and he's like,
"The camera jammed on the first take."
So... we'd shot nothing.
And this was, I don't even know
how many hours in that day,
and I lost it with him.
We had to go back
to the bowling alley the next day
and do it all over again.
- You're going too fast, man. Pull out!
- I can't! I can't!
Why are you chasing him?
You know you're off the case.
The boss is gonna have your ass!
While we were shooting,
our friend Ben was busy
working on the soundtrack for Shirkers.
I knew you from Exploding Cat
and BigO magazine.
At the time, I guess my resources meant
that I would have just had one tape.
A lot of little doodles...
on guitar...
electric, a lot
of backwards stuff, I think.
The first time,
I remember my skin crawling.
It was like I was ushered away
from you guys at Newton Circus.
What I wasn't expecting
is Georges to take me aside,
escort me to his car,
like some gangster meeting
or a policeman meeting an informer
or something like that,
straight out of the movies.
I thought, "Okay, he's going to listen
to the cassette of the stuff I have,"
which I thought was odd because it was
for you guys, but I didn't get that.
He was just threatening me,
sussing me out to see if I had an agenda
and, you know, telling me off that...
"Don't take advantage of these guys"
or something like that.
I was like, "What? Sorry?"
He also tells me
that a far more professional
and established musician
was working on the soundtrack,
which was news to me.
But you left the tape with him.
- Yeah. I thought they were going to you.
- Why?
I didn't know it then,
but Georges took Ben's only tape...
and banned him
from visiting us on the set.
I don't remember exactly
the chain of events,
but things just got worse and worse.
Jasmine started keeping notes
about what was actually going on.
Just read it. You wrote this.
"Everything is bloody uncertain.
Mr. C. has no idea what he's doing,
he has no idea
how he's gonna get the money.
He claims he has a production manager
who worked on Apocalypse Now."
Who was that?
I don't know.
You were there. You were at the meeting--
Obviously that person didn't show up.
How can we continue with this
when I was pointing all these things out?
So it was true.
It was just really you and Georges
who wanted this to happen.
You weren't paying attention
to any of these progress reports.
I was paying attention, but I just thought
we're just gonna wing it.
Like I do.
Because we were doing the work--
doing the legwork,
and you thought you were
just gonna wing it.
You were obviously being an asshole.
You've always been an asshole.
Just as much as you have
the capacity to be really wonderful,
you have as much capacity
of being an asshole.
So maybe I was an asshole,
but I just wanted us to keep going,
no matter what.
There was no time to think.
Georges was shooting us
from a bridge overlooking the track.
I heard the train
even before I heard his warning.
Do you think it was fun for him
to dick us around like that?
Of course. What do you think?
With two weeks left to go,
we ran out of money.
Georges said he needed just $10,000...
or the production
would have to be shut down.
Sophie and I felt we'd come too far
to let this happen.
So Georges drove us from ATM to ATM.
And over the next few nights...
Sophie and I withdrew all of our savings.
We never told a soul.
After shooting wrapped,
Sophie, Jasmine and I
were completely spent.
But we had pulled off the impossible,
we made a movie!
Sophie went back to LA.
Jasmine went back to New York.
I went back to England.
Leaving Georges in Singapore
to process the 70 cans of film
and to tell us
what the footage looked like.
None of us had seen
a single frame of what we had shot.
And so...
I waited.
And I waited.
And I waited.
Christmas went by.
New Years went by.
Finally, a package arrived...
from Georges Cardona.
I hope you're fine.
I hope you managed
to open your bottle of wine.
Don't drink it all at one time.
Listen to classical music. Piano, Chopin,
It's very soothing.
Okay, that's it for now.
I'll be sending you some stuff.
And so I waited some more.
Summer was approaching again.
And that was when Jasmine thought
she might have to go back to Singapore,
to edit the film.
Just read it--
"He thinks that both Sophie
and I are overreacting...
and falling into unnecessary fits
of paranoia."
Because of where I was working at,
it would have been possible for me
to edit the film,
finish the film, do everything.
I finally received another tape.
First of all, the telephone rang...
and it was, well, it's New York calling.
Your very best friend called today.
At three o'clock in the morning
she was watching TV and she was...
"Can you hear me?
We were wondering how the film is doing?"
So I said, "Who is we?"
She said, "Oh, come on,
we, the people in this part of the world."
So she's truly American, she speaks like,
"We, the people of the United States."
Um, anyway...
So I decided I better make this recording
before any more
strange calls come through.
That was the last we heard from him.
He was gone.
And so was Shirkers.
It really hit me like a ten-ton truck.
That really exhausted--
I think I just, like allthat energy
just zapped out of me in that one instant.
There was a piece of my spirit that died.
All I was left with...
were these fuzzy memories...
of being on the set...
and just waiting.
Is Sandi in the picture?
Camera ready.
Georges took everything.
From deep in the fuzz,
I remembered one final incident.
On the last day of the shoot,
only Georges, Ronnie and I were left.
We drove out to a patch of land
by the airport...
and built a very strange contraption.
It was to make
our young actor Romaino fly.
But there was no such flying scene
in my script.
"How are we gonna get rid of the harness
and the rope?" I asked Georges.
"Don't worry," he said,
"There's computers."
After the long hours spent trying to film
that completely made up scene,
he popped open the camera by mistake.
Or maybe it wasn't by mistake.
And there was no film in it.
Twenty-five years later...
I'm now wondering if he was sending me
a secret message only I would understand.
There's a scene in my script
where Haryo discovers
there's no film in S's camera.
She tells him, "It doesn't matter,
because when you look through the hole
and go 'click' it catches something
or at least your mindcatches something."
You don't need film. Just the action
of doing that helps you remember.
What was he trying to tell me?
"Film or no film,
you must remember this."
Was he role-playing as a director?
Did he just view
this entire filmmaking venture
as this psychological exercise?
We were no longer magical kids
who made a movie.
We were just kids.
Shirkers is such a free film
because you were very free yourself.
It was such a joy
that you were willing to experiment
and express anything on your mind.
But when I lost Shirkers,
I lost that too.
Don't get me in it.
I refuse to be part of this thing.
I became a terrible
22-year-old film critic
at the largest newspaper in Singapore.
And I made them
let me interview my heroes.
A publisher approached me to write
a fictionalized memoir of Shirkers...
but I said I wasn't ready.
In the years that followed,
I said no to interviewers
asking me to talk about Shirkers.
It was something I just wanted to forget.
Exactly five years
after Shirkers wrapped...
a mysterious package arrived
at Jasmine's office.
They were videotapes from Georges Cardona,
which had to mean they contained Shirkers.
I remember, maybe incorrectly,
that it was a very kind
of joyous occasion.
Sophie, me and you were going to come--
It was at my workplace, yeah.
And we were gonna watch these tapes.
Then they all turned out to be...
Was it all just snow?
Like there was really nothing.
And I thought, "How cruel."
I mean, what stakes did he still have
in this mind game?
Give us the material
so we can finish the film.
We couldn't believe
how ridiculous the situation was.
So surreal, so unimaginable.
I was beyond furious with Georges,
but there was nowhere
for me to direct my rage.
So I wrote it all down.
"I envisage some measureof a showdown...
...with pyrotechnics and slick editing."
As far as I'm concerned,
he should disappear deep and far
into the Amazon jungle, where he belongs,
amongst his distinct relation,
the buck-toothed boa.
We forced ourselves to move on.
My baby cousin Yao...
gave me this book of mosquitoes.
But my baby cousins were no longer babies.
You can't see anything.
I made my peace that a chunk of my life
would forever be lost.
And I moved to New York...
to attend film school
at Columbia University.
I know I was doing things backwards.
First I made a movie,
then I became a film critic,
then I went to film school.
But that's what happens
when you no longer have a map.
I spent ten years in the wilderness.
I tried to write that book...
about the making of Shirkers.
But I just couldn't do it.
Instead, I wrote screenplays
for films that would never be made.
Shirkers was now a distant memory.
Then it began sending me distress signals.
I heard these pingswhen I saw Rushmore.
And I heard them again...
during Ghost World.
Then silence once more.
But I knew now that it was alive.
And I knew we had to meet again.
Suddenly, I found myself in my mid-30s,
in Los Angeles, of all places.
I decided to turn to fiction.
Because to write a novel,
I didn't have to wait for anyone.
It's just me...
and my ghosts.
My novel, The Black Isle, was the story
of a young woman with extraordinary powers
who falls under the influence
of a charismatic, but sinister man.
Writing it felt like an exorcism.
But I would be wrong about that.
On September 11, 2011,
I received an email from a familiar name.
It was Georges's wife.
She said Georges was dead.
She also told me she had found
70 cans of film
labeled Shirkers, and that
they were all in perfect condition.
I felt as if a curse, which lasted
20 years, had finally been lifted.
His widow sent me box after box
of things I hadn't seen in years.
Georges had kept everything.
I pulled out some of the slides
that were taken in his studio.
And there was Kaylene,
the girl who played Monster,
surrounded by my stuff.
Now why would Georges keepeverything...
from Shirkers?
He even wrote this letter
on behalf of the crew.
"At the moment,
the film is in the editing suite.
But we are almost there.
Shirkers will be completed by October,
hopefully in time for Cannes Festival.
Have a nice day."
Georges and his stories were so exotic
that he was very hard to place.
I remember first he started
describing movies from start to finish.
And then he started telling stories
about his own life.
His family wanted to demolish a dam,
I guess, on their property
and make the river flow again.
So Georges built a three-stage rocket.
And his hand got exploded.
He told me about his brotherin Colombia
running into the house
with a knife in his femoral artery
and bleeding to death
on the kitchen floor.
He got arrested, uh...
by the police,
who thought he was a Cuban burglar.
From jail, he called an uncle
in New Orleans
and that uncle said,"Come to New Orleans.
I'll take care of you."
And at one point my foot felt wet,
and I realized he was in tears
at his own stories
and his tears were dropping on my foot.
These were all stories
Georges told Grace
on the very first day they met
in the swimming pool
of the Raffles Hotel in 1985.
And then I thought, "Good God,
he doesn't even know my name."
No longer a child,
Sandi Tan has turned into a detective
who must travel across two continents
to solve this 25-year mystery.
Long ago, I went on the road with Georges.
Now I was on the road again without him,
but not really.
It was so like Georges that he would want
me to chase him down this way.
- Hey. How are you?
- Hi.
- Oh, it's been a long time.
- It's been a long time.
But you haven't changed.
Oh, Sandi, I have been dreadingtoday.
I'm glad to see you.
- Yeah.
- And I want to help you out.
Whatever happened, I have no clue.
I have no clue.
The widow remains so horrified
by her 25 years with Georges
that she didn't want to be named.
I don't even know how he died.
He had a girlfriend who was, like, 21.
Um, not only was she young,
but she was from Belgium...
and a chemist.
And he went to go to bed.
His arteries closed up
and he passed out...
and died.
- He died like that, yeah.
- 'Cause the funny thing--
- He was too young, wasn't he?
- Yeah.
He was actually four years older
than what we thought.
When did you find out
he was four years older?
When we got divorced.
He always told me that his passport
had the wrong date
and the wrong day.
So even his birthday wasn't his birthday.
It was two days before.
But by making it two days later,
he got to be a different horoscope.
He was really a Cancer.
The poetry of that
was just pure Georges Cardona.
Whatever Georges told me, I believed.
I am a completely trusting person,
you know, gullible, whatever.
That's why this is all so hard for me.
Every time he got involved with filmmaking
it was ahorrible experience for me.
- You know, this is expensive.
- You paid for everything, right?
- I mean--
- No, not everything. But a lot.
Wherever he was, as long as we were
together, which was until 1998,
he carried that film with him and he
always made sure it was air-conditioned
and it was like, "Oh, my God."
It was like a cross around my neck.
I think though, in Singapore,
he kept it at the studio that he had.
She and Georges left Singapore
for Perth, Australia,
where he had her sink her savings
into buying him a vineyard.
Which he said he would learn to run
by reading books on the subject.
We had a little room, and it was in there.
That's when I wanted to get rid of it,
because it was taking up a whole room.
When they got divorced two years
after that, he moved to Seattle...
and then to Houston, where he died...
always carrying with him
the 70 cans of film
and boxes and boxes of scripts
and storyboards.
I thought, who does that?
My wife reminded me this morning,
my wife met Georges in 1985.
And her thought was, "I think he must
be in the Witness Protection Program."
I think former students and protgs
of Georges, like you and me,
remain obsessed with him, first of all,
because we're storytellers,
and he's a great story.
I met Georges Cardona sometime
in the late '70s.
I learned through the local media
that Georges had opened the legendary
Lighthouse Media Center.
So I would have been 21.
And we instantly bonded,
instantly there was chemistry there.
I thought, "My God,
I've died and gone to heaven,"
because here he had these camerasand
tape recorders that I'd only read about.
I mean, nobody south
of the Mason-Dixon Line, probably,
had professional Super 8 equipment.
And Georges had that kind of charisma.
I mean, he had this uncanny way
of making adventure happen in your life,
or at least the anticipation of adventure.
I asked the widow...
for a Georges Cardona tour of New Orleans.
Oh, this is where Georges lived,
he lived on the left,
in that little garage apartment.
You see it?
When we first got married,
we both worked for the same company.
I did renderings of mausoleums.
I was a horrible renderer
of mausoleums.
And the place where we had our shop,
it was called the University Section.
What was the name of the shop?
Lighthouse Media Center.
And, um...
now I'm looking for Maple Street.
I think it was where this gray house is.
Maybe it was where this yellowhouse is.
It just looks totally different now.
It was somewhere around here, I can't
believe I can't remember where it was.
How could it have disappeared?
Right here--
We spent hours
looking for the film center
that Georges had set up with her money.
We lost $36,000, but...
I must have been totally...
Maybe I was brainwashed. Who knows?
Georges wrote to me.
We were staying in Cambridge, England
at that point and said,
"I'm going to send somebody to you.
She's a genius.
She's mostly self-taught.
She needs you."
He thought she might encourage me
to write a screenplay,
just as he had once talked her
into writing a screenplay for him.
Just before I met him I had started
writing my first novel,
and he asked me if I would collaborate
on a movie project with him.
He wanted to make a noir set
in New Orleans,
and he was calling it Night Decoy.
What he proposed
was for me to come to New Orleans...
and he would talk to me.
I would record it,
and then I would go home
and make a film script out of it.
There was a man and two women, uh,
a tough, hard-boiled woman namedAudrey...
and a sweet Asian named Chelly.
And this man obsesses about Audrey
and is...
videotaping her
without her knowing in her apartment.
There was a constant feeling
of Peeping Tom- ism to Georges.
He never came on to me, personally.
I think Georges was good with women
in another way.
I think he could get from them
what he wanted,
and what he wanted wasn't always sex.
He got me to work on his dreams
for probably four or five years
instead of writing my own stuff.
It's always been a mystery.
Good Lord. How...
Uh, how did I become an intern?
He had this really uncanny way
of helping you
feel like you could achieve
your dream project,
but then when you got closer
to achieving your dream project,
he felt the need to sabotage it.
So I wrote this slasher film
called The Last Slumber Party.
And it was meant to be
kind of the culmination,
the graduate school
of the Lighthouse Media Center group.
Georges was the director
of photography, but also...
the guru.
So years later,
I had some discretionary income
that I could put back into my filmmaking.
So I ordered all the film negative
from Motion Picture Labs in Memphis,
which is where Georges had sent the film,
and Georges had an ongoing relationship
for years with these people.
Except that some of the negative
was missing.
I have a feeling that Georges
did something with it.
I can't prove it, but it certainly
would not be inconsistent
with other things that he had done.
I know it's terrible
to feel a twinge of joy
at someone else's misfortune,
but hearing this made me feel less alone.
The widow and I continue to search
for remnants of her life with Georges.
It's a nightmare driving.
Been this way already and I can't find it.
You all might not realize how happy
this makes me
that I can't even remember where it was.
I hoped that by driving around
with her I'd get closer to him.
But all she had were dead ends.
He had this perverse need
to create a mythology.
To speculate as to why
Georges would go around
claiming that he was the inspiration
for the protagonist inSteven Soderbergh's
Sex, Lies, and Videotape...
I worked on the crew
of Sex, Lies, and Videotape,
with mydear,
beloved best friend Larry Blake,
also part of the original
Georges Cardona mafia.
and Georges felt jealous,
threatened, left out, entitled,
that two of his protgs
had this association with this film
that had become a cause clbre.
We all worked on this film
that won the Palme d'Or.
And it's entirely in keeping with
Georges's personality and character,
as I understand it,
that he would concoct such a story.
When we were trying
to get hold of him over the years,
like, there would be no trace.
The only thing that's on there
is this missing persons...
That was, to me, the most bizarre thing,
to see him smoking,
'cause I never saw him smoke.
And he never smelled like smoke.
- Yeah.
- That's so weird, he smoked.
I think it's funny that she was
struck by the sight of him smoking,
and not by the fact
that someone went online
and put up a Missing Persons page for him.
You know, what was real
and what wasn't, I have no clue.
- He did say his mother was French.
- Was she?
- I don't know.
- But you met her, was she French?
Well, I couldn't speak to her,
she only spoke Spanish.
He never told me he was French.
I would have remembered that.
I mean, he told me
that he was born on a ship
that had departed Germany
en route for Colombia,
departing Germany
because his father was German.
And I just accepted that as gospel
for the longest time
until one day, I was having a conversation
with his niece Catalina,
and she started laughing.
I said, "Why? What's so funny?"
She says, "He told you that story too?"
He was born in a little mountain village
in the hills of Colombia.
There was always a sense
that he was not just self-conscious
about perceptions of his class,
but also his ethnicity.
He was always very vague
about his ethnicity.
The last time
I actuallyspoke with Georges...
was sometime in the early '90s
and he had already moved to Singapore
and I was still here in New Orleans.
And as was invariably the case,
Georges began talkingabout
a dream project that he was concocting.
And he wanted me to be part of it,
and it was making this movie in Singapore.
"Come to Singapore,
you'll be my right-hand man.
We'll do this feature film in Singapore."
The pattern that emerges is that Georges
would feel threatened
by his protgs being successful.
And the way that he dealt
with that threat was to take action
by absconding with physical manifestations
of these people's dreams.
You know, in your case it was film,
in my case it was film and equipment.
Other people, it was also film,
soundtracks, whatever.
Steve and I are now forever bound,
not as fellow victims,
but as fellow detectives...
and therefore, friends.
I had one last shred of Georges:
an old letter from Georges's mother
with a return address in Arabi,
outside New Orleans.
It's beautiful.
The widow tried to talk us
out of going there.
I can tell you Arabi is not pretty.
Arabi is horrible.
So, of course, I had to go there.
It's not raining now so it's good.
Do you need this, the matte box?
And this made me think
of that scene in Blow Up,
when David Hemmings returns
to the scene of the crime...
only to find nothing.
After unpeeling Georges Cardona
layer by layer,
I realize there's nothing there
but movies.
There were characters
he wanted to emulate.
And there were characters
he pretended to be.
But the one who was closest
to who he really was...
was Nosferatu.
Trying to become immortal...
by feeding on young people's dreams.
Georges Cardona had his own
very bizarre love, right? For Shirkers.
I thought that when he absconded
with all of the reels
that it would just be strewn outside,
and the humidity
would basically eat up the film,
and that would be it.
But he loved those reels.
We all fell in love with the film
in different ways,
and his was like, I don't know, man,
it was like necrophiliac.
He might have loved our reels,
but he threw
all the sound recordings away.
Shirkers was returned to us a mute.
I'm seeing everything, first time.
More than 20 years later.
There you are. God, look at you.
You know, you guys were adorable.
Okay, I really...
When I saw the footage,
I just thought that, "Gee whiz,
this film should've been finished."
It would have been a rallying call
that it's okay to try anything.
You know, Shirkers is like the ghost
in between the lines of books
written on Singapore film history,
and for me, Shirkers
has this very palpable absence.
And I have this voice going, "No,no, no,
Shirkers needs to be there."
For years,
I felt like a crazy person
talking about this film that didn't exist.
But I was vindicated.
Everyone I remembered being fantastic
was fantastic.
And I was as rotten as I thought I was.
There were so many surprises
in this time capsule.
The fashion choices of the era.
Jasmine defiantly chewing gum
after gum was officially banned.
And then, there was the landscape
of a Singapore
I had let myself forget.
Jasmine didn't come along
on that road trip
that Georges and I took before Shirkers...
but years later, we took another one.
I was taking her back to New York.
Maybe not the same New York she once knew.
But she wasn't the same person
anymore either.
Why do they make it look
like it's cardboard?
You Americans, so wonderful.
I was getting married in Paris,
Paris, Las Vegas.
Hey, here we go. There they are.
Oh, yeah.
The light's not on.
- Hey?
- The light's not on.
Look at this. I step out
of my own wedding...
Is the video...?
...and instantly begin yelling at Jasmine.
You are not a camel.
It's not heavy.I'm holding it.
She was right.
I was an asshole.
I wanna be the Elvises!
It's so good!
Jasmine had just made what is still
the most adventurous movie
ever created in Singapore.
Let's rock!
Of the three of us, Jasmine is
the only one who still lives in Singapore.
And she's the noblest of us by far.
And this is to raise awareness
for the screenwriters, yeah!
- Like that?
- Like that.
Say, "Writers unite!"
- Writers unite!
- Yeah!
She fights Injustice
wherever she sees it.
We still grab lunch
whenever we're in the same city,
and we still ambush our friend Yek Keak
who never leaves his home.
Yek Keak!
You guys, come on in.
Uh, and then we'll probably cut.
Because we have to clear the studio room
and reset our blocking.
Whenever you're ready. Rolling?
But whenever Shirkers comes up,
even after all these years,
we descend into the same circle of hell.
This is so typically you that you're gonna
put everybody under the magnifying glass
and put everyone in a little glass tank
terrarium except yourself.
That's how you always
do these things, you always--
- Like what? Like when?
- All the time.
Because this is likefor your amusement.
How many times can I keep telling you
that it was extremely annoying
and it was extremely disappointing
and it was extremely draining
and that it was the relationships
that drained
and not the production itself
that exhausted us?
Thank you.
This 23-year battle...
um, is a double-edged sword for me,
uh, you and Jasmine and I
are bonded in a way
that I don't share a bond
with anyone else.
I don't have to talk to you every day.
I don't have to talk to you, you know,
on a regular basis,
but there is that instant sort of
very visceral and emotional connection.
You gave me this notebook
when you arrived.
So I have I have not seen this
for 23 years.
- This is your notebook.
- This is my notebook.
So I'm analyzing
and breaking down the script
for, like, symbolism
and metaphor and allusions.
This notebook
contains the kernel for my profession,
unbeknownst to me.
"Scene seven, interior,
S's house, afternoon."
Quote: "The toys would be physical
manifestations of her personality.
They must reflect, HER"-- in all caps.
"Is she seeking immortality
through her dreams?"
See, even then, I was digging,
right, for subtext.
I'm gonna be chair of the department
actually in the fall for three years.
You? You're gonna be chair
of the department? Wow.
You should've said...
So you're the chair of Film?
- Yeah.
- Vassar?
It's like I'm the next senior person,
but anyway...
So, yeah. So what's next?
Making this film, I've come to realize
that Georges's ghost
will never truly leave me.
And I've learned to think:
"That's okay."
Let's wait for the other side.
And see what it brings.
For more than 20 years,
Ben talked about the soundtrack
that Georges stole from him.
Finally, one day I said,
why don't you just play it for me?
You have this affectiontowards
the film because of the time in your life.
You know, we laughed about it,
we cried about it,
we bitched about it.
It's strange
because it doesn't exist as a film,
and yet it does.
Right? It exists here for me
and exists here.
And so what you're doing
is not bringing Shirkers back to life
but giving it an afterlife...
and back to us.
It's more
than a physical time capsule.
It's not just scenery
and disappearing buildings,
but it's also people in those places.
I know I'll never get
all of my friends in the same place
at the same time ever again.
Let's do the F again.
But here they all are...
with me.
"Exterior, highway, afternoon.
The sound of wind."
Hey, look.
In all golden afternoons
there are movers,
there are shakers,
and then,
there are shirkers.
Have you ever stopped living
In a photograph?
Will you ever stop living
In a photograph?
You're a selfie queen
But that don't mean anything at all
Did you get enough likes
To get you through your day?
Do you have to post more
Till you get your way?
Have you been like this
Your entire life?
I think I'm gonna leave my cell phone
At home today
And I hope you call
While I'm away
When I get home and see
I'll just let it be
Let's do the F again.