Image: A man and his truck
There is one guy who has, for almost three decades, played a huge role in the shooting of commercials and feature films in Australia. He isn’t a director, a cinematographer, actor, marketing director, copywriter, art director, producer, screenwriter, stuntman, drone operator, flame operator, a government official, industry body representative, FX genius or financier/investor. He counts some of industry’s most famous faces as friends and confidantes. He quite literally has his finger on its pulse and in some ways has done more to keep it running than all the producers put together. In 1986 he exited his award- winning restaurant, bought a truck and combined his passion for food and a new interest in film production to establish EAT & SHOOT THROUGH, one of the industry’s premier catering companies. We caught up with Robert Jang at well known advertising haunt Bill & Toni’s in Stanley Street East Sydney on a Sunday morning. It was the only time he had free. The weather was grey, muggy & overcast, which is as it turns out, of great interest to Robert.
ROBERT JANG: “I never supply a predetermined menu. I ask what kind of food people might like and then on the day I plan around what the weather is doing and what are the best fresh ingredients available from the markets. When it’s really hot for example, curry can be the go. Now you may think that’s a bit odd but where did curries originate? Answer India and Asia South East, the Caribbean, Africa and South America. With catering you don’t just have to think about what’s to put on the menu but the environment you’ll be eating in ….. what’s going on around you”
Image: Food to go
CTL: “So how did it all start?
ROBERT: (Smiles) “ Well it was a long time ago and I was running a pretty successful restaurant in Enfield. (FAMISH Established 1978. Best BYO 1986 ED) I’ve never done a cooking course or being to cooking school. But I do have a double degree in Psychology & Philosophy from the University of NSW, which from time to time is very useful on shoots. (Laughs). My nephew’s talent agency was looking to cast an Asian runner for a Tiger Beer commercial. I got the gig. It was a two-day shoot, an 8-hour day and a 7am start. In my naivety I thought beauty, that’s a 3pm finish, plenty of time to get to the restaurant and set up for dinner. But no, as I was the lead talent I had to wait for the twilight shot. Initially I had no idea how the industry worked but it was pretty obvious there was money in it. I gave it a bit of thought and figured I could combine my passion for food and my newfound interest in film create a good business & have some fun.. An appropriate truck became available. I bought that. My old school mate (Award winning art director Rocky Ranallo, Kingsgrove North High, ED) came up with the name easily predating the Eats Shoots and Leaves book, (Published 2003 ED) and I’m on my way. Never looked back”
Image: Where’s the sauce?
CTL: “Much demand For Mrs Jang’s Eggs?”
ROBERT: (Laughs) They’re pretty popular. You know the story? Mrs Jang is my mother. Kylie Kwong is my brother Jimmy’s niece having married Kylie’s auntie Deborah. In the early days Kylie & her siblings worked in Jimmy’s noodle factory. After a shift he’d take them home and my mum would feed them fried eggs with chilli, oyster sauce and spring onions. They became Mrs Jang’s eggs. The recipe is pretty famous now and Mrs Jang’s eggs are pretty popular on shoots.”
CTL: “It’s been an interesting road. What have been some of the milestones?”
ROBERT: “It has. And I think there’s a lot of luck involved. I reckon it’s about 50% luck. Early on I pretty much learnt not worrying about trivial matters allows me to deal with the more challenging issues of life. Milestones? Working on two of the biggest weddings in Australia. Muriel’s (laughs loudly) and James Packer’s first wedding (to Jodi Meares). Catering for movies like “Two Hands” with Heath Ledger and “Jindabyne”. Shooting in Broken Hill and Wilpena Pound for a car TVC. Going to Charters Towers for a cask wine TVC, working with Tony Jaa on “Ong Bak 2”(A Thai Feature) There are some very memorable moments in there.”
Image: The things you see on a shoot.
CTL: Over the years, what’s changed?”
ROBERT: (Grimaces but in a good way) “A lot. I remember when Ross Woods would have 4 crews out on the same day. And Film Graphics would have two. You don’t see that anymore. You’d know a shoot was about to wrap because the runner disappeared to buy the beer. You don’t see that anymore either and that’s not as bad thing but at the time the wrap party was an institution. Obviously the food itself has changed. Once upon a time there was no such thing as gluten free and lactose intolerant. The most popular dishes these days are – Six hour braised lamb shoulder with tomato, garlic and basil, Korean style pork belly, USA style hickory pork ribs, HOT CHIPS! (Double cooked), and Thai red curry chicken, in fact any curry chicken. Technology has changed everything too. How much you shot was limited to how many cans of film you had in the budget. ‘It’s in the chip’ doesn’t resonate quite so well. Now you can shoot until the cows come home. Lunch gets put back. (Rolls eyes but in a good way.) The cinematographer David Burr said there were two ways to become a great DOP. Go to film school, learn everything there is to know, get a job at the bottom and work your way up. Or grab a camera and start shooting. He suggested that in his view the former was the better. These days when everyone has a camera I can’t help but feel and I say this with the greatest respect, nothing substitutes for experience & knowledge.”
Image: Working Hard
CTL: “Any advice?”
ROBERT: “If you’ve worked in the Australian film industry for 20 years or more make sure you apply to join THE SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIAN CINEMA PIONEERS. It was established in 1933, currently has over 2,000 members and you get a card with your picture on it. (Rummages in bag and produces card with his picture on it.) It entitles you to complimentary cinema admissions. Worth knowing that is.”
ROBERT: “For would be restaurant owners, Valentine’s Day is not as good for business as Mother’s Day. All 14th of February bookings are for two while the first Sunday in May – it’s all tables of ten. Much more profitable.”
CTL: “The future?”
ROBERT: “It’s always there to be made the best of. Nurture your positive relationships, make time to relax and your thoughts determine your world. THINK POSITIVE!”
CTL: Robert Jang thank you very much it has been a pleasure talking with you