A change of pace
After the insanity of the Emmys weekend, the last few days have been a marked change of pace, characterised by my shifting from the frenetic chaos of Manhattan to the altogether more calming surrounds of Brooklyn. I didn’t realise how on edge walking the streets of Manhattan made me feel until I got here; it’s leafy, calm and quiet and I feel like I can actually breathe again.
On my first day here I was shown around the area by my host Laurence, who is possibly the friendliest and most helpful guide you could ask for, before spending the afternoon in a café getting some writing done. Considering my reasons for being in New York in the first place, I kind of thought I’d take more time to write more stuff, but that’s been practically impossible. Having the chance to finally do that was almost a relief, and I followed it up by binge watching the new season of Fargo.
On Thursday I experienced my first Thanksgiving, courtesy of my friend Nathaniel and his very welcoming family. Basically this meant eating more food than the human body is designed to cope with, washed down with copious amounts of wine and resulting in a bit of a hangover the next day, which ended up being another uneventful one, although I did get to go and see The Good Dinosaur which was quite a time.
As you can tell, things have shifted in a big way since the weekend. I’m not complaining though; as amazing as the Emmys were, there was a lot crammed into those days, so having the opportunity to take a break has been well needed. That said, I’m starting to feel the itch to get back to work. There’s so much that is about to start happening at home and now I’m sort of feeling the need to get back to it. My America trip has been incredible, but I’m just about ready to return to the real world.
That said, I’ve still got four days in LA ahead of me, which will bring with them more meetings, opportunities and a whole new city to discover. And it’s hard not to be a bit excited about that.
I'd like to thank The Academy...
Well, the International Emmys weekend is over and what a time it was. I’ve probably bored you half to death in previous blogs talking about how grateful and excited I am, so by now I’ll assume that’s a given.
Yesterday started with a lunch at the Hilton, followed by a Q&A with Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. A lot of this flew over my head as I don’t watch the show, but luckily it was such a charming and engaging talk that that didn’t really matter much. Plus, I got to meet some more interesting and exciting people and exchange a bunch of business cards.
But of course, the big event was the Emmys Gala itself, also at the Hilton. I turned up early and basically hung around awkwardly in the lobby for a while as people started to arrive before learning that there was a red carpet and I was supposed to be on it. Obviously this was an opportunity I wasn’t about to miss, so I hurried downstairs and next thing I was whisked on to the carpet, trying to smile in the face of endless flashing lights and people yelling at me to look their way, before I was pushed off it again, buzzing with electric excitement. Obviously I was far from the most important person there, but damned if all those cameras didn’t make me feel a little bit chuffed with myself.
The free booze and food kept coming as the event itself kicked off. With presenters such as Michael Douglas, George Takei and Holly Taylor from The Americans, it was a brisk, entertaining and dauntingly fancy night. The ballroom the gala took place in looked unbelievable decked out in full awards show garb, and it was another moment where I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really there.
Of course, any fanciness quickly devolved once the afterparty kicked off; plenty of nominees wanted to drown their sorrows while others wanted to celebrate. I got a brief chance to talk to Holly Taylor and embarrassed myself in front of Julian Fellowes by nervously stumbling over my words and basically looking a right fool. Probably didn’t help that I told him I didn’t watch his show, but whatever.
Once we moved on to the afterparty venue there was drinking, dancing and all sorts of revelry, plus, some people stopped me and asked for autographs on the way which was weird but rather lovely all the same. In all, it was a great way to wrap up a great weekend, and at this point all I can do is thank the people who helped get me through it and were so accommodating, in particular Nathaniel Brendel, Fred Cohen and Alan Beyer. You guys did so much to make me feel at home and never like I was a weight on anyone. I probably was, but like perfect gentlemen you never let me know!
Today was a bit of a sore one due to a few too many cocktails last night, but I had a couple of really, really exciting meetings that I hope I can talk more about in weeks to come and am now safe and settled at my new accommodation in Brooklyn. Getting here was a bit of a nightmare but now I’m well and truly relaxed and spent my night catching up on Doctor Who. It’s such a change of pace from the weekend, and I’m really sad the Emmys are done but honestly, it’s good to be able to just breathe after so much excitement. I’m looking forward to taking it easy for the rest of my time in New York.
After receiving the Ustinov Award yesterday and the whirlwind of meeting so many awesome people, I was exhausted. But this weekend, this amazing, crazy, brilliant weekend, has not let up. Last night my good friend Dan took me out on the town and I got to get a real feel for New York, but today I was back at the conference for arguably the most exciting part of the whole Ustinov experience; the script reading.
Basically, Windmills was performed in front of an audience by Broadway actors. Now this may seem weird considering the background of the story, but this version of Windmills has never been read out loud before, so for its first unveiling to be at this event by actors of this calibre was more than a little daunting. Plus it didn’t help that jetlag hit me hard and I slept most of the morning, meaning I practically had to run to the hotel and only just made it for the reading.
Personally? I think it went really well. I cannot speak highly enough of the actors; these guys knew what they were doing and were brilliantly cast across the board. Obviously there were one or two lines that I wish I’d polished up and also any especially Australian snippets of dialogue sounded very jarring in the mouths of Americans, but these were minor quibbles.
After the read, I was pulled up for a Q&A, and apart from probably talking way too much I feel like it went really well. There were some great questions from the actors who seemed legitimately interested in the script and where the story would go and with very little prompting I ended up spoiling the whole bloody thing for the audience, so any potential ratings if this ever gets made have already gone down by a few.
This was roughly the moment when I realised that I may be actually having the best time of my life here. Everyone is so warm and welcoming and lovely, and mingling with these people has left me on cloud nine. Ducking out for McDonalds at Times Square after the reading I was grinning like an idiot the whole way, and that didn’t really change for the cocktail party (hosted by HBO) that followed. I spent most of the time talking to the actors and probably boring them stupid with my ramblings and ideas, but I met plenty more brilliant people and left feeling great about just about everything. Follow this with dinner and drinks with some of the new friends I’ve made here, and it was a great cap to a just about perfect day.
So tomorrow is the International Emmy Awards Ceremony and the end of this weekend. I still have several more days in New York and the LA and hopefully more adventures and opportunities to come. But if the rest of my trip doesn’t meet the level of this weekend, I can’t complain. It’s hard to imagine anything could match up to this.
The Ustinov Award
When I first got told I’d won the Ustinov Award, it didn’t feel real. I mean, I was so excited and ecstatic, but that didn’t mean I quite believed it yet. I told myself that I’d accept it was true once I was on the plane. Then I got on the plane and it still didn’t feel real so I amended that to when the award was in my hands. Now the award is in my hands and, well, I guess it has to be real.
It’s a sexy looking thing. Black, embossed with classy gold writing and a little Emmy Statue protruding from it. Seeing my name on there makes me grin, but funnily enough it’s seeing the word ‘Windmills’ on there that really makes me satisfied. All those years slaving away at different versions of that story feel so vindicated now. And I think that, funnily enough, is the best part of all of this. I always believed in Windmills, even when many people told me to let it go and write other stuff (as if I wasn’t writing plenty of other things at all times) but now all of that has paid off. It’s no secret that, while it might not be my favourite of my stories, it’s meant the most to me. Sometimes I think of stories as being like relationships; the Babylon Trilogy was a fun, tempestuous but hollow affair, the Boone Shepard novels were that steady girlfriend you have for many years and can always trust and rely on, Reunion is the high school sweetheart who you still think fondly about but Windmills is the big one, the one that never goes away, the one who you love and hate and need in equal measure and never quite get over, even if you have other fulfilling relationships in that time. Windmills is the one your friends and parents tell you to let go but you foolishly persevere and then, suddenly, it all becomes worthwhile. Me getting here is one thing. The fact that it was Windmills that did it makes it that much more special.
BUT. I digress. I want to talk a bit about my morning at the festival. It got off to a mildly stressful start because I couldn’t wrap my head around the dress code. At the cocktail party last night I was told ‘business casual’, which seems contradictory, but I was also told to wear whatever I want to be photographed in as I receive the award. So that caused some minor fretting as I tried to decide between a laidback shirt and dark pants approach or to go all out with my suit. In the end I went for something in the middle; suit without a tie, and luckily that’s what just about everyone else was wearing so I managed to fluke it alright.
So we’re sitting in a huge hall at the Sofitel in New York and it’s full of important filmmakers from all around the world and suddenly I’m being spoken about and next thing I’m onstage trying to remember how to smile in a way that is natural and not terrified/serial killery while photos are taken and next thing I’m holding this award and shaking hands and then asked to say a few words so I stumble through an attempt at explaining how much this all means to me without sounding like an Australian pleb (I totally sounded like an Australian pleb) and before I know it I’m inundated with handshakes and congratulations and smiles and requests for photos and business cards and I am still so overwhelmed but happy about the whole morning.
At VCA we would occasionally go to networking events where I would stand around and try to muster the courage to talk to people who were basically my peers. Here, I’m surrounded by people who are way more impressive than me, people who have stuff to their names far beyond a handful of cheaply produced plays, and they’re approaching me wanting to know about my writing. Has the world gone completely crazy? And if so, can it please stay this way?
In short, I’m having a fucking ball.
New York, New York
The very first thing you notice about New York is the smell. The moment I stepped out from the subway last night, getting my first real glimpse of America, I was struck by how good everything smelt. Being quite hungry after hours on a plane/in an airport, I was immediately lured away from the appeal of bed by the promise of food that turned out to just be the many hot dog stands that line the streets.
By day, the smell does not abate. If you’re even the least bit hungry, New York promises to make that worse. It’s just lucky that everything about the hot dog stands looks so dodgy that I’m immediately turned away despite knowing that sooner or later, I will crack.
The other major thing that jumped out at me after spending a day walking the city was how aggressive everyone is. In Melbourne somebody might beep their horn here and there if they’re in a bad mood. Here it’s practically a national sport; you can’t walk up the street without aggressive beeping and yelling from just about every passing car. Plus, every few metres you’ll pass a loud argument of some sort. There are a lot of feelings around these parts.
I ended up doing a bit of a whirlwind tour of the city today; after my meeting at the Emmys headquarters I wandered up through Central Park where I watched squirrels attempt to violently kill each other before making my way down to Time Square, accidently seeing the Empire State Building on the way and ticking that off my list.
Times Square, as anyone who’s been there can attest, is a strange place. Someone asked me tonight if I found it ‘horrifying or fascinating’ and those two extremes are just about the only words I can apply to it. Tourists, garish lights, towering advertisements and different shops and theatres fighting for attention fill the area. Honestly, I had to leave to avoid having a mini breakdown in response to all the different things vying for my attention.
Things have moved so quickly that I really didn’t feel ready for the cocktail party that was the official opener for the International Emmys Festival, and that feeling did not change as I arrived. The party was hosted at a swanky venue by the French Embassy, and basically I was surrounded by lots and lots of very important people as I drank lots of wine and tried to seem like a relatively respectable representative of Australia. Luckily, everyone there was so lovely that I was very quickly put at ease. I had plenty of great conversations with all sorts of people, ranging from the big bosses of the International Emmys to documentarians to former CBS bigwigs to the peoples responsible for selling French Television to foreign distributors. I walked in terrified, I walked out energised and excited about the rest of the weekend. I never once felt out of place there; it was such a warm, friendly, welcoming environment. I collected many business cards and gave out many more and left feeling well and truly networked. And this is only the first event of many over the next few days.
Look, to be honest my trip didn’t get off to a great start and I woke up this morning feeling a bit down about everything and like I was one step behind where I needed to be. But tonight changed that and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few days. Even if that ends up being food poisoning from one of the hot dogs I just know I’m about to step out to devour, it doesn’t really matter because at this moment I’m so excited and energised about just being here, and the big stuff is all still to come. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just about the best place to be.
Escape From LA
So on the whole I think it’s fair to say that my arrival in America did not go smoothly. After missing my connecting flight at LAX due to a late departure from Melbourne, I proceeded to spend seven and a half hours aimlessly wandering the airport, occasionally reading or writing or drinking. Aside from a lovely chat at the airport bar with a neurosurgeon, there is really nothing to report from this time lest I bore you as much as I myself was bored.
But the flight to New York started to make me resent this country. Steep prices for inflight entertainment and refreshments did very little to alleviate my tired frustration, and being seated next to the kind of man who will glare at you if you so much as cough or shift in your seat had me hyper aware of every little move I made as I made it. Upon arriving in New York I then spent about an hour on the subway, surrounded by various aggressive/drunk/crazy people yelling at each other or just singing loudly and finally reached my hotel at 3:30am only to learn that a) wifi would cost me 15 USD a day, b) the hot water in my shower (the one thing I wanted after all of this) did not work properly and c) my room was fitted with an absurdly loud air regulating system that apparently cannot be turned off. So all of that was really nice.
Luckily, things got better very quickly this morning. After several hours of blessed deep sleep, I woke up to find that the hot water system had miraculously fixed itself. This sense of sweet relief set the tone for the rest of the morning; I had my first meeting with the folks at the International Emmys and found that they were lovely and extremely helpful and immediately put any lingering concerns I had about the weekend to rest. Plus I’m about to sort a sim card so this hotel and its wifi can go fuck itself.
Tonight is the opening cocktail party of the International Emmys, and then first thing tomorrow morning I’m being presented with my award, so I figured I’d drop an update now before things get way too busy. But at this moment I have several hours of freedom ahead of me, so I’m going exploring.
Fast Times at LAX
I’m sitting just outside the International Arrivals terminal at LAX, and I’ve started typing because at this moment I have literally nothing else to do for seven and a half hours. It’s currently eight thirty AM and, due to all kinds of fuckery with delayed flights and customs being a massive pain in the arse, I don’t leave here until four.
At first I figured I’d find a bar or something, or at least a café, but so far there doesn’t seem to be any hint of the kind of big shopping/food areas you’d expect of airports. Especially American airports. It’s possible that I’m looking in the wrong place, but this terminal seems dauntingly big and I don’t want to risk getting lost. Likewise I don’t want to risk getting a cab/bus elsewhere in case I can’t get back in time. So for now, here I am.
So far, my big whirlwind trip has been a lovely mix of frenetic and frustrating, the two merging to create the kind of stress you don’t want when you’re doing exactly what I’m doing. I won’t arrive at JFK until past 1am, I somehow have to get to my hotel from there, and then my first meeting is tomorrow morning. So that’s bound to be a lovely time. That said, I can’t help but still be pretty excited catching glimpses of the LA skyline past the appropriately metaphorical towering grim fences of this airport. The thrill of coming to America for the first time is being drip fed to me, but it’s still a bloody thrill and honestly, I feel like my seven and a half hours of time killing at a surprisingly boring airport is gonna make a crucial part of this story. So for now, here I am. Feel free to Facebook me and keep me entertained over the next seeming eternity.
Oh and for the record, I’m going to try and keep this blog a little more updated while I’m away, just because this feels like the kind of trip I want to document and this seems as good a way as any to do it.
Now, to try and make the remainder of my book last for the rest of the day…
Leaving on a Jet Plane
So I’m off to New York tomorrow for, well, for the International Emmys. Two months now I’ve known this was coming and I still feel like it hasn’t quite hit me yet. I’m finding myself wandering the house aimlessly before remembering I’m meant to be packing before remembering that I have an entire novel I have to finish editing then resolving to do that stuff but proceeding to continue wondering and listening to music and occasionally getting giddy about what is to come, then repeat.
I don’t know that I have anything interesting to say about how this feels. You can probably guess the majority of it, comprised of phrases like ‘amazing opportunity’, ‘immensely grateful’ and ‘mind blowing’. I mean really, in what world does this happen? Some self-published Australian writer with only a handful of low budget plays to his name wins a screenwriting award and gets whisked off to New York to meet and mingle with all sorts of important people before watching his script be read by Broadway Actors in front of a live audience. How is any of this real? But so far no-one has called to tell me it was all a massive mistake and so, as far as I know, I’ll be boarding a plane tomorrow morning and heading off to all kinds of crazy adventures.
Honestly, I’m terrified, but it’s a good fear. It’s the fear that comes with knowing you’ve just gotten something you always wanted and now having no clue of what to do with that. Am I going to make a fool of myself in America? How will I find my way around? Will I remember how to speak English when I meet famous people? Will my plane crash halfway there? I have no idea. But terror is outweighed by thrill and right now I’m taking these last moments to breathe, relax and try to get myself ready for whatever is about to come at me.
Maybe the strangest thing is that New York really only feels like the beginning of something. When I come home I’ll dive straight into filming on my web series Mel MacDuff, final editing on my first properly published novel Boone Shepard and production on my new play The Lucas Conundrum. And none of this is allowing for the opportunities that may arise in the next few days. It feels like a wave is starting to crest and right now the only thing I can do is hold on and hope that I don’t lose any momentum. Which, by the way, is a pretty magnificent feeling to have.
Why Springsteen is still the best
When you’re seventeen, Born to Run is about the best thing ever. Or it was for me anyway; listening to that album for the first time back in late 2009 was honestly life changing. Those eight perfect songs paint a tantalising fantasy of a dream world while letting you rock out to catchy tunes and capturing emotions you don’t even realise you feel. It’s an absolute masterpiece and still my all-time favourite album.
That Springsteen’s music has always had an element of autobiography to it is well documented. Listening to all of his albums in chronological order, you can see the developing concerns and perspectives of a man as he grows and develops and learns new things, documenting it all as he goes. His body of work is partly so impressive because it’s a masterwork of self-expression. And in putting his experiences and feelings into song, Springsteen’s genius was always in his ability to make his own stories seem so universal. Obviously on some level much of what anyone goes through is shared by others, but there’s a real talent in taking what is personal and specific to you and cutting to the core of it to communicate to others.
When I first discovered Springsteen and realised his music was just about my favourite thing ever, it didn’t take me long to get my claws on his entire discography and consume the lot. And yeah I found gems in each album that I adored, but so, so much of his music didn’t do a whole lot for me. Albums like The River, Lucky Town or Tunnel of Love never spoke to me in the same was as Born to Run or Greetings From Asbury Park. But the thing is, at seventeen, a lot of those songs can’t mean anything to you, because you’re a long way from experiencing the emotions they are talking about.
I spent a chunk of my afternoon today listening to Tunnel of Love; a darker, stripped down album from 1987 that never meant too much to me. But for the first time, today, so much about that beautiful selection of music jumped out at me. Feelings and phrases that made me sit up and think ‘oh right!’ Because now, years after the first time I heard those songs, I’ve been there. I’ve felt the things he was writing about. I’m feeling some of them right now and some of those songs perfectly capture things that are going on in my head right now. And honestly, it’s comforting. Because I know that whatever I go through and whatever strange and scary and new things I experience in the years ahead, Bruce was there first and has already documented it and has been telling people, through music, for years, that it will be okay. You’re not alone. Other people have been there and they’re still alive.
Uncertainty is awful in the moment. In retrospect it’s a necessity, a stopgap feeling before you move on to the next chapter of your life. But hindsight is 20/20 and no matter how many times you tell yourself that things will get better, it’s hard to feel that in the moment. And no song is really going to fix that, but it’s nice to know you’re not the only one.
Writing words about writing words.