By Alix Norman
This is the story of how Ghost in the Noonday Sun – a glittering, star-studded silver screen production, shot in Kyrenia in 1973 – disintegrated into chaos at the hands of one man. And how, 43 years later, The Ghost of Peter Sellers, a documentary about that ill-fated production, is all set to dazzle the world… with our help, that is.
We begin with the original production, Ghost in the Noonday Sun. The summer sun beats down as cast and crew amass for what promises to be a smash hit. Young, up-and-coming director Peter Medak, hot from his success in Academy Award nominated The Ruling Class, has just turned down a major motion picture to work with his friend Peter Sellers on Ghost. Their vehicle is a hilarious romp, a 17th century pirate comedy set in Algiers (Kyrenia Castle having been deemed perfect for the job) and filmed largely at sea…
And that, says Peter Medak in his Director’s Notes, was just where things started to fall apart: ‘Everything started going wrong days before shooting began – the Greek captain delivering the pirate ship to Kyrenia’s magnificent seventh century harbour was so drunk that he crashed the ship into the quay instead of the narrow strip of water…’
Meanwhile, Sellers – suffering the effects of yet another traumatic break-up, this time with Liza Minelli – had arrived on the island much the worse for wear and exhibiting every sort of strange behaviour imaginable. Bizarre outbursts, attempts (some successful) to fire the producers, and insane demands became part of the norm. At one point, he even faked a heart attack so that he could sneak back to London for tea with Princess Margaret, caught out only when a photograph of the pair made the front page the following day.
Ghost in the Noonday Sun rapidly degenerated into pure farce: everyone at odds, firings left, right and centre, scenes cut completely or unfilmable due to the nature of shooting at sea… And right at the centre of this chaos was Peter Sellers, the lead actor, clearly doing everything possible to sabotage the film. It’s hardly a shock to discover that Ghost was never actually released. But what is surprising is that, 43 years later, its director Peter Medak is directing another film, a documentary based on the events surrounding the original disastrous production, entitled The Ghost of Peter Sellers.
Produced by Vegas Media, The Ghost of Peter Sellers takes a very intimate look at that doomed-from-the-start production. Director Medak is back at the helm, revisiting original cast and crew, along with local fixers, Hollywood agents and other members of the film industry who worked – and were affected by – Sellers’ fits of genius and madness. But though Medak has taken on the role of director, the original idea for the documentary came from Paul Iacovou, Managing Director of Vegas Media, and the man behind The Ghost of Peter Sellers.
“Like most, I’d never heard of the original film,” Paul explains. “It was only when I asked about an old photograph of Sellers in a friend’s office that I began to realise what an incredible story this was: a whole Hollywood production with all these stars had been shot right here on our island, and yet no-one had ever heard of it.” Fired up, Paul began his research, realising along the way that “this huge thing had happened here: a document of Cyprus in the 1970s – of Salamis and Kyrenia and Ayia Napa. It was simply incredible that nobody knew about it! What better way, I thought, of putting Cyprus on the map than making a documentary about the original film?”
The project began on a relatively small-scale: Paul financing it himself with the help of a few investors, and keeping costs to a minimum. But as work progressed, he began to think about “getting Medak himself involved. But how do you contact a huge Hollywood director?” he asks rhetorically.
His luck, however, was in: one of Paul’s emails had reached Medak himself, and the director was instantly intrigued by the project. “We had hundreds of hours of conversation; he agreed to come to Cyprus, and even suggested he took over the direction of the project himself, free of charge,” says Paul, as if he can hardly believe his luck. “Well, from that point on the project started to take off. Not only do we now have the original director at the helm, innumerable fantastic interviews with many of the remaining cast and crew already in the can, and the right to use the archive footage from Ghost, we also have access to some amazing people in the film industry” – Michael Caine, Britt Ekland, Terry Gilliam, Julie Andrews and Johnny Depp, to mention a few – “who once worked with, knew or admired Sellers himself.”
With 70 per cent of the film complete, The Ghost of Peter Sellers is all set to move into its final phase of shooting abroad. “With such a star-studded production that’s so very topical” – the film takes in both sides of the island, as well as its history, and has a strong bicommunal aspect in terms of both locations and crew – “I thought it would be easy to raise finances,” says Paul, before adding that this has not always been the case in the current economic climate. “But this is the first Cypriot film ever to have a Hollywood director and to be released under the auspices of the Directors Guild of America, and finding the last of the financing is crucial to the project.”
And this is where we, the public, come in. “Putting the money together has been by far the biggest challenge. Obviously there are no director’s or producer’s fees” – both Paul and Medak are working entirely for free – “which would otherwise cost upwards of a million,” says Paul, “but we still need to complete our shooting.” And that’s where crowdfunding comes to the fore, because, by February 19, Vegas Media is hoping to raise the remaining €40,000 needed to complete the film.
“It’s vital we hit the target,” says Paul. “It’s not about giving huge amounts of money – it’s the number of donations that raise our profile, rather than the amount donated. I mean, apart from it being an incredible story, this will be a very important film for Cyprus, and it’s great to have local people be a part of it; this is a film that’s driven by the island. Cyprus,” he concludes, “is where both Ghost in the Noonday Sun and The Ghost of Peter Sellers begin and end. They’re part of our history and, at the same time, a part of our future, and are putting Cyprus on the global map.” With our help…
To find out more about The Ghost Of Peter Sellers, watch the trailer or to donate to the crowdfunding campaign, visit www.theghostofpetersellers.com or the crowdfunding page www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-ghost-of-peter-sellers-documentary