Part personal memoir, part armchair travel book, Bill Zarchy’s Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil takes readers inside the international adventures of working film crews making a living in the fascinating, unpredictable, sometimes dark, and often comical world of the film and video business.
Showdown features 18 tales in all, the rich experiences of a cinematographer whose assignments have taken him to 30 countries and 40 states. Zarchy brings us along for the ride on a darkly funny bus trip down India’s deadly Bombay-Pune Road in “Wrecks and Pissers,” drags us through the disorienting milieu of one of Singapore’s high-tech cleanrooms in “No Worry, Chicken Curry,” faces a surreal Japanese bowling-for-budget match in the title story “Showdown at Shinagawa,” and shares the challenge of filming former President Clinton while dealing with family tragedy in “Dog Years.” And so on, across six continents, over three decades of his work as a director of photography.
Despite the numbing jetlag, cultural disorientation, frustration with clients, and unpredictable weather that are an inevitable part of international film shoots, Zarchy maintains his sense of humor and the ridiculous, and a strong belief in the warmth, candor, friendship, and skills of the hundreds of crewmembers he has worked with around the world. Sometimes he deals with famous people like Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, and Morgan Freeman. Always, he marvels at how personal traits transcend boundaries: crewpeople in Bavaria are a lot like their brothers and sisters in Bangkok.
Zarchy’s first filming trip abroad was a shoot for a Hong Kong-based tour company that took him to eight countries in Asia in 1975. Two years later, he accompanied the band Fleetwood Mac through Japan and Hawaii. Since then, he has shot projects of all kinds all over the world. In the course of traveling and working with clients and crew people from everywhere, he has developed a fine ear for dialogue, a witty style of storytelling, and a keen insight into the dissonance that often occurs when people in other countries emulate the style and outer trappings of American society, within the context of their own cultures.
Showdown at Shinagawa is more than a travel memoir. It is also a book about the film and video industry, a workaday account of doing business in a myriad of locations across the U.S. and around the world. Where many travel narratives detail searches for interesting encounters, environments, and experiences, Showdown at Shinagawa tells of going places with an agenda—a job to do, a crew to hire, a production to shoot. Unlike tourists visiting to see the sights or seek enlightenment, the author and his colleagues deal with the locals in substantive ways, and the results are often poignant, puzzling, or comical—sometimes all three at once.
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