Steve Boggan tells us why he is after your money

Ben Unwin, Steve Boggan, John Hardwick. Pic: Ross Nelson

Steve Boggan, Whitechapel author of critically acclaimed book ‘Follow The Money’ is after your money.

Using ‘Kickstarter’, he has just under two weeks to raise funds in order to finish his latest project which is to turn his book about a month in the life of a ten dollar bill,  into a feature length documentary. Those who pledge will receive rewards for their generosity, including the chance to get their name in the films credits!

The book chronicles the trials, tribulations and trust involved in criss-crossing the USA in pursuit of a ten-dollar bill as it is spent across the country – a journey that covered 3,300 miles. In it he tells the stories of a huge cross-section of Americans, ranging from farmers, missionaries and deer hunters to a blues band, a quarterback and a banker who thought his clients might lynch him. What emerges is a unique portrait of contemporary American life.

Now, alongside friends and film-makers John Hardwick (Channel 4, BBC) and award-winning editor Ben Uwin, Boggan has followed another ten bucks on a different journey, this time covering more than 6,000 miles.

Boggan caught up with East London Lines to tell us how people reveal more on camera and why it was great to have some friends to share his experience with.

ELL: What gave you the idea for the book?

Boggan: Having written the Guardian magazine article about the ten-pound note, I knew I could write an interesting book with expanded themes in America but there were no guarantees – the bill could have passed through the hands of dozens of deadly-dull people or it could have been stuck circulating in one little town.

As it happened, I got lucky; the cast of characters I met were amazing – sometimes in their homely ordinariness, sometimes in their outrageousness.

ELL: After the success of your novel, “Follow The Money” and the adventures and journey you had whilst writing that book, what made you want to explore the task again?

Boggan: Stupidity, mainly. When the film-maker John Hardwick heard about my first journey, I was still in the middle of it, in a miserable little motel somewhere on the outskirts of St Louis.

He emailed me to ask if I would do it again, this time with cameras in tow. Well, I was exhausted, disheveled and not a little confused from all the travel and exhaustion and I replied using the words “No way!” over and over again, punctuated by expletives.

ELL: What happened to change your mind?

Boggan: Then, six months after I got back, I was writing the book and he asked me again. I was having such a great time re-living the experience through the book that I had a weak moment brought on by lots of good memories, and this time I said “Yes”. Then I immediately thought, “You fool…”

To be honest, I thought there was no way this would work with two cameramen in tow – it would be too intrusive, too many people, less personal – so our expectations were lowered by that. To my complete surprise, it worked just as well.

Some people put all three of us up for the night, fed us and all were happy to be interviewed on camera. I put some of that down to the power of the lens, but a lot of the credit has to go down to the levels of hospitality that most Americans will always offer to strangers.

ELL: Did you feel that people opened up more or less in front of camera?

Boggan: You find your needs changing from the page to the screen. If you’re writing a book, you have 300 or so pages in which to tell your story and so you feel the need to get closer, stay longer, really get under the skin of your subject for as long as they have the ten-dollar bill.

When you’re filming, it’s a more intense experience. It would be impossible to film every moment for 30 days and 30 nights. You simply could not edit all of that into a 90-minute documentary. You have to film key moments and it is as if the person you are following understands that – it is amazing how much people will tell you about their lives in such a concentrated period.

ELL: This time round you had the help of John Hardwick and Ben Unwin. Was it different to following the ten dollar bill on your own?

Boggan: Yes, it was very different. First, the loneliness was taken out of the journey. Most nights I would be hanging around on my own in some dingy motel or in the backs of trailers, waiting for people to call to say they were off to work or off to the shops to spend the money, so having company was terrific.

On the other hand, I think I spent more time with the bill-carriers when I was on my own, and I spent more time concentrating on how it would all work on paper. I enjoyed that. I didn’t have to give the same thought with cameras recording the whole thing – it was up to John and Ben to think about how it would all work on film. And they’ve done a fantastic job!

ELL: Finally, who were the most interesting person or persons to stick out in your mind during this adventure?

Boggan: There were lots. How often do you get to meet Native Americans at a pow wow? Or go to a cowboy poetry festival? Or get hassled by a gang of pirates (about 2,000 miles from the sea)? Or hang out with bull riders? I could go on forever.

I think the person I admired the most might have been a guy called Steve Basile. Steve runs a macho sports bar in Austin, Texas, and is openly gay. If any of his customers have a problem with that, they’re free to leave, but they never do and if you spend time in his bar, you can see that he makes a real difference, fostering tolerance every day.

Pledge today to unveil more from this fantastic, true to life adventure story and enable ‘Follow The Money’ to be transported onto a screen near you.

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