There’s something fundamentally odd about Hollywood: a faint stink of impossibly perfect non-reality wherever you turn. The cars are all fancier, the sky is always clear, the temperature is always 70 degrees—surely somewhere there sits a giant thermostat where the Lord of Hollywood adjusts things to keep them ever always just-so.
The hills are hillier. The rock station kicks the living hell out of the station back home. Even the bums seem bummier, as if they are the best applicants at some sort of “Central Bum Casting” where the finest bums come to strut their stuff.
I found a pretty cool hotel—cheap, but still clean, new, safe, quiet, and impossibly well-situated. Three blocks south of me sits the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, while a block the other way sits the Hollywood Bowl, and beyond that the easiest on-ramp in LA to the 101 Hollywood Freeway, giving easy access to Pasadena or the Valley.
The hotel is nothing the least bit fancy, yet even here there is a weirdly non-real bent to things: the courtyard and surrounding hillsides are covered by some sort of tree which fills the air with a bizarre scent that seems equal parts wisteria and cinnamon.
I’ve never smelled anything quite like it, yet I step out of my tras-fabo Kia rental sedan every day after meetings and again struck by this smell. That same happy chill/rush you get when a gorgeous woman “accidentally” brushes your am and looks back with a sly smile… that noticed-to-none-but-you wink that hints of great things available for the asking… my nose gets to experience every damned day.
What sort of town does this to a person?
Saturday I awoke bright and early, packed my bags and drove west to Austin. At noon I hooked up with several film pals all at once: Jonathan King, a Kiwi filmmaker in Austin to host the US premiere of his new comedy-horror movie BLACK SHEEP, producer Keith Calder in town to oversee the TX premiere of his new teen thriller ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, and writer Ronson Page whom I’ve known for years through online association and mutual friends.
We walk the five or six blocks over to Stubb’s BBQ to eat some burnt cow, and we laugh at the odd way things bring people together these days. I know Jonathan only through a very cool little online “club” of writers and producers. We’ve swapped comments and thoughts to each other (and other folks) on this discussion list for years, and I remember when he started talking about this idea for a “killer sheep” horror movie script. Now, a few years later, it’s a gorgeous reality, with FX from the WETA group of LOTR and KING KONG fame.
Calder, meanwhile, is also part of that group, and I am taken back to that afternoon a year and a half ago when, while at the Austin Film Festival, Keith mentioned that he was filming a little movie in Bastrop, a small town maybe 30 miles east of Austin. Now, 18 months later, here we are as he hosts a premiere for the movie.
Ronson, meanwhile, is another member of that group, and we’ve swapped mail and comments and insults for almost three years now, since just after he was a Nichol fellowship finalist. Since then he’s had two kids, and optioned two scripts, and will likely have me back in Austin within the next year or two to see one of HIS damned movies.
Lunch is great—Keith shows off a teaser from an incredible-looking new CG animation project his company is working on, while Jonathan regales with tales of audiences in Europe responding to his odd little New Zealander movie. King has to scoot for an appoint, but the rest of us decide to go find a place to kick back and chat, so we wind up slouched in the deliciously well-broken in leather sofas of the Driskill Hotel Bar, the HQ for the Austin Film Festival every year.
I can hardly count (or remember—same difference) the hours or beers I’ve enjoyed there over the past few years, but this afternoon was a tiny bit odd as suddenly we were the only people there. Instead of wall to wall bustle of writers and networking, it’s just our small group of 5 or 6 folks. We have a few beers, meet Brian Udovich, a co-producer on Mandy Lane, and then discover that Keith managed to score us comp passes to his movie.
With 90 minutes til showtime, Ronson and I decide it’s a good time to go find the EconoDump fleabag we’re sharing later that night, so off we go, and then we’re right back into Austin to start the night’s fun. We head to the Alamo Drafthouse South, one of several Alamo Drafthouse theaters, an idea so damned cool that it boggles the mind that they haven’t copied it everywhere. Instead of a normal theater, every alternate row of seats has been removed and replaced with a small bar-like table stocked with menus and notepads. You sit, order some grub and choose from the 30 or 40 beers they offer, and then sit back to watch a movie as you are served quietly during the flick. It’s a painfully civilized way to enjoy a movie.
Hanging around out front at the Alamo I see Joe Conway, a stupidly nice and stupidly talented writer from Austin now living and working in LA, except now he’s in Austin for the SXSW film festival (the reason for all this action). Joe and I had talked earlier in the week when I knew I was coming to LA, and we were bummed to find he’d be out of town. Til we figured out that he’d be in Austin. As would I. So here we are, and in another of those oddly incestuous arrangements which suggest that the world is in fact only 100 actual individual people, Joe has told me that he’s been trying to meet up with this producer named “Keith Calder.” I laugh and say “I’m there with Keith— I’ll hook you up, man.”
“I’M the produced writer, I’M the guy living and working in LA, yet YOU are the guy who seems to know everybody. How does that work?”
“I’m just a people person, man.”
Oh, how we laughed.
As it works out I am unable to hook Joe with Keith, as Keith is running around getting his movie set up to run, while the house is packed and Joe can’t get a seat for himself and his buddy, we say “we’ll hook up later.”
Of course, after MANDY LANE (very cool looking movie--- very impressive piece of producing) I am (ahem)) “marooned” at a cast and crew party where I spend an hour having a very fun conversation with Marissa, the painfully cute 19 year old girlfriend of one of the MANDY LANE stars (Michael Welch — "Emmet"). Marissa, as it turns out, is an assistant to an agent at Innovative Artists, and she also happens top be a dead ringer for the dark haired Meg Ryan from JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, so of course I will listen to anything she has to say so long as she keeps smiling and keeps twinkling those eyes.
Lord, but I do love women.
[NOTE—I am extremely and happily married, and I have zero interest in any sort of dalliance or extra-curricular nonsense with any of these women, and I’m 99.999% sure that The Wife knows and understands this, so please don’t think that when I talk of other women in glowing terms that I am suggesting any desire or interest to engage in any sort of stupid behavior. I just like women. A lot.]
After this part we wander Stub’s again, this time late at night when they become a rocking music venue, and we laugh that Snow Patrol, of #1 hit “Chasing Cars” fame, is jamming out their signature hit. Ahhh… Austin.
We wander with Keith over to The Whiskey Bar on 4th Street where King’s distribution company is hosting a pre-show party. Posters for Black Sheep cover the walls, and that weird mish-mash of beautiful LA folks rubs elbows with the more raucous Austin contingent (it’s not just a simple cliché—Texas people really are louder and brasher than their snotty West Coast counterparts.)
We’re talking about the movie when I look back and notice actor Paul Rudd standing behind me, admiring a poster. Rudd is wearing a well-aged BOSTON concert T, so I ask “I have to know—is that just odd synchronicity or do you have enough snap to wear that for Brad?” (note--- Boston front man Brad Delp had just passed away the day before). He smiles and shakes my hand. "It's totally for Brad, man.” There I am chatting with Paul Rudd for a few minutes about the great voice of Brad Delp, about how many times we’ve both worn through the grooves on that first Boston release, and when Rudd asks “are you here for the movie?” I say “Well, sorta—I’m a writer pal of the director, so I’m here for him.”
Around then it’s time to head on over and get in line for BLACK SHEEP, but of course since we (Ronson and I) are on the director’s guest list, we get slipped in first. We manage to talk the doorman into letting our pal Keith Calder slide in with us, cuz yeah we have that kind of heavy-swinging pull in the movie biz.
BLACK SHEEP totally kicks ass—the packed theater (downtown Alamo Drafthouse) is raucous and laughing and cheering and screaming, and Calder even picks up the tab for my beer and fish tacos cuz he’s just that kind of guy. Jonathan charms the room with a quick Q&A session afterwards, we all cheer again, and then we wander back across Austin to find the garage where my car is stashed.
Along the way, we cross paths with Jonathan one last time, and he walks with us and seems genuinely high at the reception he’s getting. It’s a joyous thing to see someone fully in their moment of bliss, when their dreams are actually totally really coming true, and I come away from the odd little three block chat more hungry than ever to have that kind of feeling for myself: to be able to look on a screen and see that some odd imaginings of my own invention have been made real into movie light and shadow by a team of magicians and an army of financially connected strangers.
Ronson and I get in, laugh again at the coolness of it all, and then fade to sleep somewhere around 4 AM, giggling about obscenely oversized bowel movements and the legal ramifications of such in a Hyatt brand hotel. My alarm is set to wake me in three hours.
It’s been one day, and I feel like it’s been a week already.
Hang on, my pretties—it looks like another bumpy ride....