I am German born filmmaker Jan Jürgen. I am writing to you from Vietnam, after documenting the making of a Hollywood classic called, Tropic Thunder.” While the actors and filmmakers try to tell their story of heroism set in the chaos of the Vietnam War, I too will be telling a story. One that has never, until now, been told. A story that I have wanted to tell since I was a child.
Like all of you, I have for many year been fascinated by that most magicalest of all places; "Hollywood." As a boy, I would go to the cinema, and marvel at the people on the silver screen. But even as a boy I remember thinking; "Is there a more forbidding, more sinister side than the glittering facade held up by the powerful arms of the Studio System?”
Of course, this is the question of a child, but that question still follows me today. Imagine my surprise when Damien Cockburn, my former classmate from University, called me on the telephone and asked me to travel to Vietnam and aim my camera at him as he directed his first Hollywood movie. He claimed it will be “the greatest war movie ever” in which many movie stars, including Tugg Speedman, would appear. Could he really be talking about the Tugg Speedman? Could Damien, the awkward theater student I once knew, now be the speak of the town?
This blog, and the documentary I am working on, will address not just these questions, but more. What will follow is a raw, unedited, look behind the fetid flesh curtain known to you and me as simply "Hollywood."
For too long now, false rumors and innuendo have surrounded this most mysteriousest of films, Tropic Thunder. So today I put and end to the speculation. For the first time in documentary history (not because I can’t find a theater to play it, I totally could, but people that run theaters prefer to live in a comfortable, sanitized bubble of lies), I am publishing my findings, free of charge, on the world wide internet. It is high time the public see the horror that I have seen.
What I have created and given you for free, is a masterpiece that is sure to win not just numerous awards, but also your hearts and minds. The awards will of course mean nothing, and if I become a world renowned celebrity filmmaker, so be it. It is the price I am willing to pay for delivering truth to power.
I would like to thank all the people out there who have sent me countless encouraging emails while I made this film, Dan and Carl. Your words meant so much. And to the rest of you, thank you for taking this journey with me. Please, sit back, buckle your seat harness, and prepare to step through the looking glass. Oh, and be sure to bring an umbrella… because you will no doubt get caught, like I did, not just in the Thunder….but also, its ‘Rain of Madness.’
The following footage needs no introduction. The more time I spend with “the family,” the more disturbed I am by what my eyes and camera see. To the casual observer, their behavior would appear to be at best irresponsible, if not totally insane. Though I have been assured by the film’s property department that Lazarus’s hand gun is not genuine, me and my crew can not help but fear for our safety whenever it is present.
I have retired all hopes of rationalizing what I am documenting; my observation has been reduced to that of pure curiosity now. Like the proverbial trainwreck….one can not help but watch.
I am having a hard time understanding why the family of the late Lincoln Osiris continues to play along with Lazarus’s charade. His sons even purchased a barbeque set for the hotel’s balcony, hoping to reconnect with their father over a family cooked meal. It would appear as though his youngest son, Sterling, is the lone voice of reality….a voice that Lazarus refuses to hear. Today I caught a glimpse of the kind of tactics Lazarus would use to maintain the delusion.
Sterling’s reluctance to acknowledge Lazarus as the family patriarch has prompted this bizarre “baptism.”
Having now immersed himself completely in the role, Lazarus has demanded to have the actual family of the real Sergeant Osiris flown from Galveston, TX all the way to Vietnam. Remarkably, Osiris’s widow seems entirely at home in Lazarus’s presence, even allowing him to share her bed. His commitment to the roll is breathtaking.
It was with much anticipation today that I sat down with Army Sergeant John “Four Leaf” Tayback. The man’s harrowing account of valor in the face of death is at the very genesis of what brought Hollywood to Vietnam. I was eager to get a glimpse at his unique perspective.
Four Leaf dodged any question about the conflict, however, after a few minutes into our interview I changed course, and began to ask him about happier times. He began to speak freely of his time as a youth when he took work at a slaughterhouse. He went on and on.. at one point, I realized he had been talking about slaughterhouses for over two hours. … I reluctantly surrendered my agenda.
With less then a week until the cameras start rolling, it is still unclear whether or not the cast members have attended any of the scheduled rehearsals. It appears that the only member of this platoon who’s eager to be here is the young star, Kevin Sandusky. Recently, Damien organized a five day boot camp, in order to encourage realism. Sadly, none of the cast, except for Sandusky, were in attendance.
With every day that passes, Damien’s vision for Tropic Thunder continues to be crushed like a common junebug. Earlier this week, I was puzzled to learn he was casting the rapper, Alpa Chino, singer of the hit song, “I Love tha Pussy,” for the role of Motown, the black 19-year-old from Detroit. Having no acting experience, it would appear as though Mr. Chino’s urban marketability has landed him this role.
Once on set, Alpa Chino seemed uninterested in the film entirely. Rather, he found every available opportunity to promote his line of Bust-A-Nut energy bars and Booty Sweat energy drink. I find it hard to contain my disgust. Four Leaf Tayback’s memoir is a haunting story of selflessness. The very thought that its cinematic incarnation will be used as a marketing vehicle for some sort of pep drink makes me ill.
As more and more American crew arrive in town, I am beginning to sense an uneasiness among the local with this Hollywood “occupation.”
Last night, while purchasing some post cards in the giftshop, I overheard a woman’s shriek coming from the hotel bar. Upon further investigation I discovered the movie’s special effects and stunt coordinator, Cody Keith Underwood, pouring shots down the backside of, what I can only assume were prostitutes. Other hotel guests were appalled; leaving the restaurant rapidly. When a hotel employee approached him to calm the situation, I could not believe it when Cody actually threw money at the man, exclaiming “It’s MY per diem, bitch! I can do whatever I want with it!”
The next day, I caught up with Cody, who remarkably had been drinking just five hours prior to a major pyrotechnic exercise. His continued ignorance and arrogance is awesome.
Damien’s patience seems to be growing thin. Though no one will confirm them, rumors have been circulating that there are enormous creative differences between Damien and the studio. Additionally, I have recently learned that long ago Damien lost the casting battle, and that virtually none of the casting choices have been his own.
These growing pressures, and his contempt for certain cast members, seems to be taking their toll on our poor director. This was starkly illustrated when I sat down to interview Damien and the films lovable emotional center, “Fats” played by Jeff Portnoy. The character of Fats has several scenes that require enormous dramatic talents. Portnoy however, seems to be treating all scenes, including the one I captured here, as fodder for his childish and moronic jokes.
I was finally granted an interview with Kirk Lazarus. He has been living in Saigon for over 4 months prior to shooting. Much has been made about his transformation from a white man to an African American, and for the first time a documentary crew was allowed to see behind the curtain of his deep method style of acting. I was told never to address him as Kirk Lazarus, but by his character name, Sergeant Lincoln Osiris. Furthermore, I was told that even if I did address him by his actual name, he genuinely would not know who I was referring to. This indeed proved correct.
I arrived and was utterly stunned. There was no way I could have prepared for the transformation, There was no trace of Kirk Lazarus, the blonde, Australian tough we have all come to know from his films and the tabloids… Instead he had transformed into a African American, Vietnam Veteran. It was as if I was looking into the eyes of another man altogether. It took me several moments to get my bearing before I could begin the interview.
My first question was how he began this process of transformation.
It seems already there are significant problems facing the Director. American superstar Tugg Speedman has arrived on set, and is not seeing eye to eye with our Director, Damien.
Today in rehearsals, Tugg arrived troublingly unprepared. He seemed more concerned with the clothes he would be wearing on film, rather than the films more important themes of courage, heroism, and loss of innocence. Several times in rehearsals, he has shown a shocking inability to learn even the simplest of lines. He frequently seems to oversimplify and undermine the story’s tenderness. During a break from shooting, Tugg called Damien into his trailer, where his ineptitude became even clearer to all present. Damien was at a loss for words. I am growing more skeptical of Mr. Speedman’s abilities as an actor.
Ho Chi Minh City. I awoke early due to jet lag. The smog is thick, much like the mood of this city. Damien arrived at my hotel room before 7am and seemed eager to show us around. He was mistakenly under the impression that we were there to film just him exclusively. He is an interesting subject though. He seems vain, preening, and is by turns both extremely arrogant and overly optimistic. We set out around 10am for the ‘battlefield’ location. Once there, he showed me and my small crew around the hulking sets and walked us through how he envisioned the movie. However, after a few minutes he insisted we begin to film him. It was only after shooting this piece of footage, that I began to see the scope and the challenges that awaited him in the very near future.