Whether it is his work in film, short story, journalism, or novel, Marshall Riggan is a storyteller. Over the past three decades, he has written more than 200 scripts for film and television productions that have won countless awards, including an EMMY for a documentary he researched and wrote in China for ABC News. Twice films he wrote were selected for the PBS Eudora Welty Americana Award as the Best Short American Film of the Year. Two years running, his films were selected by the Outdoor Writer’s Association as the best nature films of the year.
His assignments have taken him to the far reaches of the globe, including projects in Europe, India, Vietnam, Thailand, China, many regions of Africa, Indonesia, the Caribbean, the Arctic, and many countries of Central and South America. Along the way, he has ghost-written three published novels, one of which inspired a hit television mini-series, had a play produced in New York, several published short stories, and several books for young readers, including a series on the lives of the seven original astronauts when they were children.
For nine years, Marshall and his wife Betty, lived, worked, and cruised tropical waters in their 32-foot sailboat Fandango. Experiences on these voyages led to the writing of the novel Sulu Sea.
Riggan’s career began as a feature writer on a local daily newspaper in southern Illinois. He then turned his journalistic eye onto film. He discovered the documentary was just feature-writing with a camera. Some of the narrators of his films included: Orson Wells, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Alexander Scourby. He penned documentaries for the Smithsonian, National Geographic, PBS, the History Channel, the Arts Channel, and Disney. He crafted commercial scripts for such clients as Xerox, AT&T, U.S. Steel, Eli Lilly, the U.S. Navy, Texas A&M, UCLA, Antioch College, and the University of Indiana.
Most Memorable Projects: He loved filming in the ashrams of two of India’s most significant holy men: Swami Muktananda Paramahansa, in Ganeshpuri, India; and Sai Baba, in Bangalore. The entire project in India was a life-changing experience and was the basis for his novel The Last Traveler. Filming in the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, a special 90-minute documentary for theater release explores the experience of the people of Cu Chi during the Vietnam War. For nearly two decades the people lived underground to escape the American B52 bombers. Here they loved, were married, had children, established hospitals and schools, and all the while fought the American tunnel rats that were sent to drive them out. For Riggan, it was a new perspective on one of the most important historical events of his lifetime.
Filming The Women of the Last Place on Earth was an amazing experience for Riggan. Researched and written in Ecuador, this film documented the lives of women who support their families picking through a municipal garbage dump. It shows how, with the help of C.A.R.E., they are able to organize, establish schools, and a cooperative that transforms junk into items that could be sold for a profit in the city market. It demonstrates that no matter how low people may find themselves, there is something within the human spirit that enables them to rebound. Making a film called “Sparrow,” about an old man in the backwoods of East Tennessee who made fiddles, was quite memorable. We followed the creation of a fiddle and then to a fiddle contest where the man competed with his creation. Along the way, he interviewed him and his wife. At first, they appeared to have nothing, but soon revealed a powerful love for nature, music, life, and each other. Riggan has rarely been with people so wise and so blessed.
Filming in China shortly before the Tieneman Square massacre is unforgettable. Exploring the Great Wall, filming in the Forbidden City, being invited to dine at the Great Hall of the People was eye-opening. Being allowed to wander freely through the neighborhoods of Beijing to film the daily lives of the Chinese people surprised Riggan. It was a time of easing relations between China and the U.S. Little did we know that it would soon come to an end.
Hobbies: Riggan has enjoyed a life-long love of sailing and the sea. He always had a sailboat, usually a classic wooden boat. He once bought the plans for a classic little 24-foot wood yawl, vintage 1930s. He even put it out on bid to boat builders. Although he visited the builder on the northwest coast and saw the beautiful boat the man had recently built, he didn’t realize right away that the builder was crazy as a loon. It was many years before he could get his boat back, primarily because he had to keep rescuing the man from the nearby mental hospital. But his work, though unforgivably slow, was splendid. The finished boat ended up on the cover of Cruising World Magazine. It is a long story, one he wrote for Wooden Boat Magazine, but eventually, he brought Allegory home and spent many seasons sailing in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. People were always amazed that he sailed that little boat across the Gulf Stream and it was always the smallest vessel in the marina. He and his wife now live in Dallas, Texas, near their four children and their families.