LA Take Two
It’s almost four years to the day since the first time I was in Los Angeles. I came for a week after my time at the International Emmys in 2015, took a bunch of meetings and left certain that my career was about to blow up (it wasn’t). I still remember so well standing on Hollywood Boulevard at sunset, watching the raucous and shambolic city life go by and making a silent promise to myself that I would be back soon.
Well, four years kind of counts as soon.
In some ways booking my ticket over again was an impulsive indulgence. My friends/regular collaborators Dan and Bryony from Pirate Size Productions had to fly over last minute to pitch a project to various heavy hitters and asked if I wanted to come. In truth, I probably didn’t need to but upon conferring with my agent I realised it was a great opportunity to meet the teams at Stampede and Vertigo, the two companies actively working to turn my upcoming novel The Hunted into a film, as well as a chance to take other meetings and pitch a few different projects to some big companies who might be interested. Plus, it meant returning to a city I really enjoyed visiting last time. So, a week out from the flight, I booked.
It made for a weird kind of whiplash; after a week working at my old school, the very next day I was getting on a plane to Los Angeles with Dan (Bryony flew in later). The flight was, as long flights always are, a special kind of misery, but after we’d escaped the plane and customs and security we finally arrived in Hollywood for a long day of basically killing time until we could check into our Air B&B. For context our flight landed around 5:30AM. We weren’t allowed to check in until 3PM. It was a long day, especially in overwhelming heat with luggage to drag around the place.
But after resigning ourselves to our fate the day took some cool turns. We decided to check out the rundown, dingy Hollywood Museum, which is home to a lot of cool props but, most awesomely of all, the actual asylum set from The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. Which meant Dan was forced to take about a thousand photos of me in every conceivable spot around Hannibal Lecter’s cell while putting up with my delighted squeals about seeing Dolarhyde’s actual toilet paper letter from Red Dragon. The whole reconstructed set is maintained to perfection, making you feel like you’re walking into the film itself.
After a few beers at a pub up the road that I remembered fondly from last time, we were finally able to check into our accommodation. A quick hour’s power nap left us not quite refreshed, but somewhere in the vicinity of alive, which meant we could head into town to watch Western Stars at the Chinese Theatre, something I was thrilled about and made for a great (and emotional) start to our week in LA.
The next day we went to Universal Studios. And while the whole endeavour was stupidly expensive (get ready to pay $22 AUD for a single beer if you want to drink at the Hogs Head), it was a huge amount of fun and an awesome way to spend the day that counted as my birthday in Australia if not LA. The rides were great; from the Harry Potter themed Forbidden Journey, which takes you on a partly animatronic, partly animated whirlwind tour of various locations from the movies complete with a violent Whomping Willow and a dragon breathing fire at you – to the Jurassic World ride, which featured several dinosaurs and ergo resulted in my grinning like an idiot for the duration.
Then there was the studio backlot tour, home to the Psycho House and the shark from Jaws. So yeah, I was having a pretty amazing time.
On Monday the whirlwind week began in earnest. I bounced around town from meeting to meeting, some with Dan and Bryony, others by myself. I tried and failed to traverse nine miles on a scooter (long and miserable story, don’t ask), enjoyed a lot of philosophical conversations with Uber drivers after realising the flaws in my scooter related plan, met face to face with some of the people who changed my life this year and got the opportunity to pitch new projects to several parties who hopefully haven’t since put a photo of my face with a giant cross through it next to their door. From boardrooms to exclusive clubs overlooking the city to Starbucks I feel like I’ve been in the best kind of pinball machine, one in which every wall you hit is more exciting than the last.
Look, they say you never have a bad meeting in LA and I know that for a fact. I mean, the last time I was here I walked out of every meeting sure that everything was about to blow up only for next to nothing to actually happen. But I dunno, this time feels different somehow, like I’m here with specific purposes and a newfound sense of how to navigate this city and the opportunities inherent to it. And maybe I’ll be proven wrong all over again, but even if I am I’ve just had an awesome time being back here. Even if it’s projected, there’s a certain magic to LA, to knowing that this is the place where things happen, where the careers you admire were made and where film legends begin, where a venerable history sits side by side with a promise of exciting futures in a city that somehow manages to feel glamorous despite being largely rundown and a bit smelly. But that’s that weird quality LA has, and that’s why despite all the heat and the scooters and the overpriced beers I’ve been walking from place to place with a big dumb smile on my face.
My last working day was Friday, populated by some awesome meetings and closed off with a trip to a really cool old cinema to watch Jojo Rabbit. Saturday, free and clear until our flight, was spent exploring Venice Beach and relaxing with beers on rooftops with stunning views of the whole sprawl of LA, the Hollywood sign faint and hazy in the sunny distance. Then it was back to the airport and on to the plane where I’m finishing off this blog. I’ll be home for a day after which I’m immediately flying to Brisbane for book related stuff. Things are a bit relentless, but as I’ve said a million times before and will say a million times again, busy is better than bored, and this is the best kind of busy.
Already I’m excited to come back. Hopefully this time it doesn’t take four years. But if it does, that’s cool too, because if this trip has proved anything it’s that LA and the potential it holds are worth the wait.
The old school
I’ve been called many things, but ‘Writer in Residence’ is definitely a new one. I don’t even 100% know what it means, but I do know that last week it was my job, as I was invited to return to Caulfield Grammar School to run a bunch of writing workshops with students across every year level.
It was an exciting and flattering offer that came about due to a chance run-in with Michael Knuppel, my old literature teacher and a staunch early supporter of my writing. After telling Michael about the stuff I’ve been up to of late he suggested a return to Caulfield on the other side of the classroom divide and I was more than happy to oblige. But, as seems to be the theme lately, things turned very busy and returning to my old school was immediately preceded by a week in Sydney working in writers rooms with only a single day off in between, so by the time I set foot on campus again I’d be lying if I said the residency was something I’d been thinking a lot about.
At first, being back was pleasant but a little weird. Walking into rooms I hadn’t seen in ten years prompted a bit of a deluge of long buried memories – places where fights, wide ranging conversations and romantic interludes had occurred over the course of the three years I spent there. But alongside this were the many ways in which the school had changed. It made for an oddly mismatched experience, one of mingled nostalgia and unfamiliarity that left me feeling at a bit of a remove from everything, like a half-forgotten ghost drifting through the halls, neither a total stranger nor completely belonging.
This feeling grew and came into focus over the following days. Understand; Caulfield was a huge part of my life. Leaving my hometown to board in the city precipitated everything that happened next. Boarding school was a massive change in my teenage life, a bittersweet uprooting from the home and friends I knew, undertaken in order to chase something ostensibly better. And while the ride was always bumpy, the school did exactly what it was supposed to, leading to lifelong friendships and opportunities that created the path I’ve been on ever since. And then there are the ideas that came from my time there. Without Caulfield there’s no Boone Shepard or Windmills. Without Caulfield I’m not convinced I would be the same person.
Boarding means that school becomes your life in a way it doesn’t for others, which means that leaving is more than just finishing your education; it’s leaving home all over again but this time stepping out into the world without the possibility of returning. Safety vanishes, your friends aren’t constantly around you anymore and so in a weird way I think my memories of Caulfield Grammar eventually become a sort of yearned for halcyon time precisely because there was never any chance of a homecoming or easier transition. Once I was out, I was out. Until, of course, last week.
But ten years is a long time and a school, even a boarding school, sees that mass exodus of part of the ecosystem every year. My goodbye was ten cycles ago, so any sense of re-establishing some past connection was always going to be a little one sided. That’s not to say that between classes I didn’t indulge in a little nostalgia wallowing. I wandered through the boarding house, went down into the drama studio, the walk to which remains lined with photos from plays I either saw or was in. I sat outside the school and did a bit of work on Windmills for the first time in over a year, almost in the same spot where I first started the book a decade ago. Sometimes, in those places, echoes of the past seemed to creep back; a familiar smell, a sight or detail I thought I’d forgotten, memories and names that I haven’t had occasion to think about in years prompted back by an unexpected association. A sense of disconnect and unfamiliarity persisted, but not all the time. Sometimes the past shone through.
But even a quite literal homecoming like this one ends up being a bit stunted. My time at Caulfield and the particular feelings I associate with it were made up of the irreducibly complex tapestry of so many impossible to recapture factors. The friends I had. The music I listened to. The teachers, most of whom are long gone. And above all, the person I was then; petulant, childish and so gloriously stupid about so many things.
At that school I felt more keenly than I have in years the presence of the dumb kid I used to be. With that comes sadness; that I’m not that openly emotional anymore, that the earth-shattering thrill of seeing your crush smiling at you or getting the lead role in a school play no longer has the immense power it once did, that I’m can’t as easily just be joyful. But the sadness sits hand in hand with pride. That I’m learning to move past the tunnel-vision selfishness, the back-stabbing cowardice, bad temper and arrogance that characterised my teenage self, traits I’ve figured out how to recognise and eschew wherever I can because they’re no longer indicative of the person I want to be.
I think I spent a lot of my early writing career exploring nostalgia and why it’s not ultimately a good thing (Reunion, Hometown, One Year Ago) largely because that was a lesson I was struggling to learn myself. A few years on, my perspective has changed a little. I don’t think nostalgia is inherently a good thing, but I also think that it’s healthy to remember and engage with where you came from, if only to remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
Writing words about writing words.