I watched a funny little movie called Eddie the Eagle the other night about a kid who dreamt of being in the Olympics and would just not give up. He was rather fearless, bumbling and extremely tenacious - which is, I suppose - a pretty good recipe for making your dreams come true. Not the only one, of course, there are numerous variations such as quite detached, amazingly focused and very lucky. Or somewhat ambitious, overwhelmingly passionate and knows the right people. (Note to self: continue to concoct these combos at a later date instead of eating custard and watching Masterchef.) (Note to self 2: change 'instead of' to 'after'.)
The film quotes Baron de Coubertin’s foundational ethos for his modern Olympics: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle.” And, I guess, in many ways I have to agree with the Baron. The struggle is where the fun is. I mean winning is great - and I especially love doing it at poker, for example - but what it is really about is playing the game - and giving it your best shot. There are always elements that you cannot control - ones that will sometimes determine final outcomes. All you can do is turn up and try.
I've had more than a few big projects that I spent many hours and much effort on that lead to nowhere. At the time, when something fails to meet your expectations, it can be rather glum. But after time, in retrospect, it's like; 'fuckit, I learnt a lot and enjoyed the process, nothing I could have done, really, to avoid that.' Shrug and carry on.
A few of my blazing 'failures' spring to mind immediately. They are not hard to forget because each involved at least a year's work - and amounted to essentially nothing - sometimes less than 'no gain'... substantial loss.
In the early nineties I was involved in a TV show pilot for Japan called 'Coo-ee Australia.' It was a zesty, inventive travelogue style show (in Japanese) that presented a number of engaging and interesting events and activities from around Australia. Stuff like - the first big dance parties (RAT parties) held in Sydney, 'Mud Bash' racing in the outback, surfing safaris and interviews with young Aussie creatives. I was the host (which was a lot of fun) but also became equally involved with the producing, directing and editing with the other two partners (who became great mates) Rob Mac and Neil Sloane. We spent close to a year getting the whole thing together - doing deals for free equipment and use of editing facilities along the way on the strength of the show's potential. It was good enough that we had a big launch and press conference before heading off to Tokyo with the finished project in hand to try and land a deal with the Japanese networks. In retrospect, there were two main problems. One: we were creatives and not businessmen. The showings in Tokyo went well and we were buoyed by the response - but locking in a deal was beyond us. I was the only one who spoke Japanese but they had just watched me being goofy and wild on video. We should have had a Japanese business manager/partner. Also, the style of the show was just slightly ahead of it's time - by about two years. It was a little too colourful and loose for it's time. Eventually, the format we used became mainstream - but not at that time. It was too much of a leap of faith for the execs.
Later, mid-nineties - I had a big solo show at a new gallery in Bondi, just off hall street. The owner was a Canadian guy I had known from around Bondi for many years and when he invited me to show, I was thrilled. I had a year's work ready to go, made up of twenty four or so large and medium canvases. I was working out my studio in Brighton Blvd (next to the old Brown Sugar) and it was my best work to date. Hanging went well, leading up to the opening night. The only problem was that I met his brother - and business partner - and got a bad vibe from the guy. He just felt wrong. My lovely girlfriend at the time, over coffee, also got a precautionary feeling and suggested I not have a show there. But what could go wrong?, I thought. It doesn't matter. I'll have my show, sell some works, get paid my share (70%) and get out.
The opening night was a success and great fun. Six or seven pieces sold. And over the next few weeks a couple more. The work was taken down while I was away on a shoot somewhere to make room for the next show. I apologised for not being there (it hadn't been a set date), but the owner assured me it was no problem and they would store the works out the back, ready for me to pick up on my return.
Then I got the call.
There had been a fire. Almost all my paintings had been damaged or destroyed. They were sorry. It was a big accident. But, no fear. They had full insurance.
It was pretty depressing, going to collect the remnants. What was left was charred and soggy. Not a single piece was salvaged. Apparently they had been stored near the kitchen up the back and somehow...
Anyway, the whole affair with the insurance dragged on for months and months. Visits, letters, phone calls. They were saying that the insurance company was stalling. After a while, something seemed very wrong. I went there to confront them. Turned out they had got the money (of which 70% was mine) - and spent it all! There was almost a punch up. The lies and the cover up had been piling up for months. The dirty weasels offered to pay me back some paltry weekly amount until I got back what I was owed - close to 20K. It was outrageous and insulting. They said they were bankrupt. I was gobsmacked. Before long, the gallery disappeared, as did they. I never saw a cent.
In 2001, I published my first book, a collection of humourous writings, poems, haiku and short stories called 'All I've Ever Wanted Is What I Know I Can Never Have'. I was very happy with it and it sold quite well. So, pretty much straight away, I commenced work on the next one, tentatively called Karma-Rama. I moved up from Bondi to live in Byron and worked on it every day for a year and a half. Eventually, I was happy with the finished project; 250 pages - ready to go - input into Quark - print ready. The only problem was I didn't have the funds at the time to do a print run. So, I waited. Six months later my Mac (one of those colourful bulging ones) died. I lost everything. No back up. Oops.
Cut to six years later. I was doing my radio show at Bay FM, 99.9 in Byron Bay. We were broadcasting out of what was basically a shed, by the side of the railway tracks on Butler Street. There was a wonderful camaraderie there, amongst the broadcasters, DJs and volunteers. I loved it. Hearing that the station would soon be moving to a much more modern and luxurious location in the new Community Centre, I decided to capture the new and the old, the transition and the amazing spirit of the place. Somewhere along the line, I met a cool dude from Austria, who had just graduated from SAE, as a director/producer. He and a partner had a small, local production company with all the equipment. I proposed my idea to him and we agreed that for 40% share of the project he would give me full access to the filming equip, plus the editing facility and a cameraman and editor (same guy) for the duration of the project. We shook hands.
We filmed a few days a week for about 6 months. Then we began editing - with more shoot days in between. Eight months into the project, the Austrian guy had to return home to Europe. While he was gone, the other partner turned up at the editing space and checked out what we were doing. He was very impressed and positive, liked what we were doing. Three months later (of shooting and editing four days a week) we had a rough cut. It was to be called Bliss Jockeys. Through a contact in Sydney, I arranged a copy to be sent to SBS. They said it showed promise and expressed initial interest. Around this time, the other partner, a South American guy, showed up and said he wanted to have a meeting. No probs.
He said that he wasn't happy with the 40% and felt that his company should be getting 50%. I wasn't thrilled with this ( a deal is a deal) but after contemplation, agreed that as long as the cameraman/editor (who was working for just a tiny retainer and had been wonderful to work with) got 25%, that I would be OK with it. All good. A few weeks later, the South American guy came back and said that he wanted 60% total. Oh, and also, that he wanted his name - not just in the credits but as top billing - as in 'A film by ....' (him!)
WTF. Right? He had had no involvement in the project whatsoever. He was working on things of his own - but nothing of any merit. Once he sniffed the possibility of being broadcast and some money (probably only a modest amount) - he became bossy, demanding and controlling. He said with the Austrian overseas, it was all up to him.
We could not come to an agreement. I suggested we call in an outside mediator. There was a big serious meeting. I just wanted to keep moving, so I finally agreed to accepting 40%. But I would not accept this guy getting top billing. It did not feel right. Tension. Finally, OK, OK, he said. End of meeting.
The next Monday, I got a call from the editor. The guy had come into the editing suite, removed all the equipment and taken all the tapes back to his place in Coffs Harbour. Weeks were wasted trying to get it all back. No go. It was one of the rare times I have actually considered going to find someone and causing them physical discomfort with direct connection between my fists and their face. The man was a lowly, dishonourable pig.
End of project. One year: wasted.
Eventually, I discovered by chance, all the Byron Bay based, non specific footage (aerial shots, underwater shots, shots of a mermaid, surfer shots, scenery shots, etc - that we had compiled and creatively composited) on this guy's You Tube page - claiming it all as his own. He got lots of hits and nice comments. Luckily for him, I never saw him again.
So, back to Eddie and the original Baron quote. In these cases, at least - plenty of struggle, very little triumph.
What do I take from it all? Am I still angry? Nah. I just kept going. What can you do? I wasn't going to waste time with the judicial system. It would have only made things worse. I felt a simmering rage at the injustice for a few weeks/months after the gallery/video projects but then just dropped it and moved on. I am lucky; I always have a new creative project to focus on. And it's what I love to do. Make stuff. Make shit up. I love the process. Sure, a rewarding outcome is desirable (and has been gifted many time), but in the end, I wouldn't swap the joy of making, being creative for all the money in the world.