Around 7 years ago, I was sitting at Ascension in the Design District with Rob Allyn, the former Dallas political consultant, who was telling me about his new movie idea. That Allyn was working on a film was already something of a novelty. If you follow local politics at all, you know Allyn’s name. The firm he founded still dominates the local political landscape. Allyn left that firm a while back to reinvent himself as a filmmaker. During that time Allyn had managed to produce a string of action films shot in Indonesia. But his new film idea was a different beast.
As Allyn described his film about 19th century British explorer James Brooke, who fought pirates in Borneo and became king of the indigenous head-hunting tribes there, images of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo flashed through my mind. To make that movie, the famous German director drove his cast and crew into the Amazonian jungle where his lead actor went mad and members of the crew died after the director forced them to drag a boat over a mountain. The idea of shooting a film about Brooke in the juggles of Borneo sounded like a similarly madcap escapade, and I told Allyn I wanted to write about his movie. I’d be lying if part of the allure of following the film’s production wasn’t the pure adventure of the thing and the chance that, like Herzog, it might all go up in flames.
We lost touch. I figured Allyn hadn’t managed to convince enough people to invest in his lark of a film. But then, last September, Allyn texted to say they were about to begin shooting the movie, called Rajah, in Borneo. Before I re-pitched the story to Tim, I checked the airfare. Remarkably, it was only $850 or so, which I figured wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. The flight would be long, especially given the time-constricted travel schedule, but it also required a couple of long layovers in Singapore, and, having watched more than a few Anthony Bourdain episodes set there, that didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.
I got the thumbs up, packed my bags, and headed to the other side of the world. The story about what happened next appears in the March issue of D Magazine and goes online today.