And like a large number of those people, I've always dreamt of working in film, making one.
And then, like most of that large number: I have tried - and failed.
Well, failed to reach my ultimate goal: to make one.
My attempts were valiant. And ongoing.
I was thirteen when I first announced to my parents my desire and intention to make movies of my own. Sadly, it was still the early seventies and such a declaration must have sounded rather far fetched to my father. It was quickly dismissed. I was told to work harder at school and stop getting in trouble lest I end up at the checkout at Woolies. I followed neither of those directives and while temporarily sublimating my instinctive goal, I focused on my natural skills: writing, art and comedy. I started keeping a regular journal of my ideas and stories. I immersed myself in books. I drew everyday, especially during class, when I was supposed to be listening to tedious lectures on history, physics and Latin (yes, Latin!). I shouted out pithy one liners during class, whenever the whim took me, and was vociferously encouraged by my classmates and reprimanded by the teachers. I did drama and choir. Video was non-existent back then and film was prohibitively expensive. I did make a few shorts on super8, but they were never even edited. Still, the spirit, the interest and the intention were there early.
Through art school and beyond, into my late twenties I kept journals with film ideas alongside my poetry and short stories. At around thirty I began publishing a zine, called Free Spirit, which included my written works with some comics. Think New Yorker, ha ha, but all the way at the other end of the spectrum. If New Yorker was a skyscraper, Free Spirit would be a single left over brick down in the basement. Still, for myself and a few friends and followers it was a brick that brought pleasure. It wasn't a brick that was used to bash in heads, it was a brick for love and peace and joy and butterflies and was full of influences from Woody Allen, Monty Python, Raymond Carver, Japanese haiku, Robert Crumb, David Hockney, National Lampoon magazine and 70's and 80's comic books and album cover art. In 1990, surrounded by fellow creatives, hanging out at the Tropicana cafe in Kings Cross, I was encouraged to apply to film school. I made it to the trial week and the personal interviews, the short-short list. The head of production, Gil somebody, got me, got where I was coming from. He said my creativity was undeniable but they believed that I would be stifled by 3 years in their institution. He recognised the rebel in me and surmised that I may tire of being imposed by guidelines and rule books and would drop out before the end of first year. They could not afford to risk it with me. Of course, I protested. "I'll be good!" I said. "I will stay!" But they were not convinced. Maybe they were right. I took it in stride.
After gaining experience working with my brother, Mookie, on Japanese TV commercials as a bilingual production co-ordinator, I decided to invest some of my earnings in some short films of my own. Over the next few years, I completed five or six shorts on both video and super16mm. They were all comedies. Two of them made it as finalists in the Tropfest and were shown to an audience. The first one was in the inaugural year - so it wasn't that hard to get selected. There were only a dozen of us! The whole idea of the Tropfest was cooked up at a table in the Trop with me, Johnny Polson, Rob Mac, Stephen Fennely and a few aspiring filmmakers brainstorming about how to get our stuff seen. John took it further, ran with it on his own and meticulously built it into the wonderful celebration of film that it is still today.
Some of the titles of my shorts: Alpha in Tokyo, Santa in Sydney in Summertime, Bondi and I, Troo Lurv, Trust Me, Darling and Elevation - my final biggest budget one - shot on super 16 - that I never got to edit cause I ran out of money. The reels are still sitting in storage. Maybe one day. No. Maybe not.
For years I labored away at my first feature script. But it just wasn't gelling. Unlike story writing where instinct can guide you, scriptwriting is a craft that must be learnt. There is a format to adhere to. Much time can be saved by studying it. So I did a few night and weekend courses in Sydney and that helped. I also attended guru McKee's 3 day seminar - which was enriching and inspirational. The guy is a dynamo. But it wasn't enough to actually help me get my first script written. It did amp me up, though, and make me feel like it was going to be possible - that I would be able to make it happen. I loved the language of cinema, I loved the magic of creating something from nothing - and this was my new chosen form. I would not stop until I had done it. Written at least one complete script that I was happy with. (Then hopefully make it or see it made.)
At the time there was a great little shop in Chinatown called the Script Shop - run by a good hearted and enterprising American film afficianado. They had all the best books on the craft - which was great - but as well, there were two big shelves full of actual scripts of classic and current films. I was his best customer. I think they were 20 dollars each with a bonus 6th one if you bought five. So, I'd go in there, almost every second weekend and get six of the freshest imports. Over a year or two I amassed a collection of many hundreds. I chose carefully - and read them all. Some screenwriters are truly talented and entertaining writers - as well as being good with scripts. A few of my favourites were Joe Esterhasz, Shane Black and ..... I really dug the brevity of the form. Not a word is superfluous. No wasted space.
I took a leap of faith and invested all my savings to enroll in two summer courses in the US, one on each coast. At the International Film and TV Workshop in Maine, I studied with Robocop co-writer, Michael Miner and screenwriting expert, Christopher Keane. At UCLA I did the master screenwriting course with Lew Hunter as well as one with the dynamic Richard Walters and a third, night course with Phil Hartman, the co-writer of Pee Wee's Big Adventure. They were all fabulously instructive in their own ways. All five of the instructors taught me something worthwhile. While I was over there, I also attended the Hollywood Film Festival and soaked up stories and direction from the writer of Gandhi, John Briley, and others. It was a veritable feast of screenwriting. I was saturated and poised to commence scenarios of my own.
One funny thing that happened to me while I was studying at IFTV in Rockport with Michael Miner was that as our final presentation we were to pitch, to the entire school, on the last day of the entire course for everyone (others were doing directing, producing, cinematography, etc), our favourite film idea. Each of us had five minutes and the live mike in front of the gathered audience of two or three hundred. I had been kind of quiet at first in the classes, just focusing and trying to take it as much as I could. Americans are a pretty vocal bunch and there was no point in competing. Inevitably, though, my cheeky side leaked out and I became that 'hilarious Aussie guy with the weird sense of humour.'
An aside within the aside: One of the most useful things of the course was our one-on-one sessions with Michael. Each of us got an hour of so with him to discuss and brainstorm the actual script we were working on at the time and presented in order to be selected into the course in the first place. So everyone had at least a first draft. When Michael told us that two days would be spent with these one-on-ones I was a bit pissed. There were some cute girls in the group of about fifteen and I was suspicious that our six foot two, whiskey voiced, LA lothario, was just vying for alone time with some fresh honeys (with talent). The course was not cheap and I felt that losing two full days of face time - minus the private session - was bordering on rip-off. I even considered not going to the meeting at 'his cabin' in protest.
But I did go. And, whoa!, am I glad I did. It was without a doubt, the most rewarding and useful hour or two on my screenwriting path up until that time. Micheal, who had written eleven features at that time, got paid pretty handsomely for Robocop (directed by Paul Verhoven, of whom I am, incidentally, a great admirer) and had optioned (for about 100K each) five or six others, knew his stuff! Surprise, surprise. A true mentor. We got on really well, clicked, and he knew all the right questions to ask me, suggestions to give and ideas to float to turn my hodge-podge of a script into a cohesive, potentially producible concept. I would still have to completely rewrite it, of course, but after our invaluable session, I knew where I was going. It was a truly enlightening and rewarding experience. I walked away high (not literally, although had been so inclined that may have been an option, too), and completely transformed as a screenwriter. How silly my initial reservations and petty and misguided mini outrage had been. Lesson learnt: get out of your own way.
So, back to the big night... everyone was huddled into a barn-like, makeshift auditorium. I chose not to present the script I was working on, but a new idea that I cooked up in situ. Of course, like everyone, I was a little nervous to get up in front of such a large group, but once I began - almost immediately - the crowd warmed to me and began with a snowballing laughter that ignited my spirit of playfulness and joy and made the presentation a hugely satisfying experience. Afterwards, there was an abundance of high fives and back pats and even an offer from a fast talking LA based young producer (who claimed a strong affiliation with Tarantinos' producer, Lawrence Bender) to help me get my idea produced once it was written. Of course, Michael, was proud as punch that one of his students was the star of the show. Once it was over, after a flurry of celebration for about half an hour, it died down quickly and everyone returned to their individual temp dwellings. I was staying in a tiny road side motel, out the back of nowhere, as I had got in too late for the student apartments closer to campus. I retired to my little room with an crummy old tele and fell asleep satisfied and happy with a black and white classic humming away in the background, dreamt of a technicolour future.
The kicker is - and it's always good to have one - think The Usual Suspects - that my story was about a non-conformist, underdog, quirky dude and his wacky adventures. I made it as funny as I could but I was surprised at just how much laughter and egging on I was receiving from the crowd. Thing is, and I was to find out after it all, as one of them took me aside, was that my protagonist's name - and the title of the entire story - was Pud. Unbeknownst to me 'pud' in American vernacular means penis. Pud did this, Pud did that, I was naively flopping the word around to the wicked delight of the growingly raucous crowd.
On my return to Sydney, I immediately set myself to the task of writing and within less than a month I had completed the first draft of my first script. It was a wild, rollicking adventure-comedy set in Australia and New Zealand called Resident Alien. I joined the Australian Writer's Guild and registered it. Then I set about writing my second one. Followed by a third, fourth and fifth. I was powering. Full focus. Direction. Dedication. Obsession?
Hell, yeah. That's how I roll. If Michael could write eleven, I could do half a dozen. I think number six was my first real chance at a go pic. It was called Tokyo Rush and was the coming of age story of a young man graduating high school in Tokyo and spending his last summer there, partying at night in Roppongi and inadvertently getting dragged into life threatening drama with the Yakuza. It was a real page turner and I had high hopes for it. I took it with me on a return trip to Los Angeles but I had no great contacts or leads, and over there it was just one of thousands of scripts presented daily. It got buried. Lost. Ignored. I've never been a salesman, a hype man, a push person. With a shrug, I returned to Sydney, making notes for my next script on the plane back.
But number seven never eventuated. I had done my dash. In a way, I conceded. I went back to regular writing and self-published a book of my poems, stories and essays called 'All I've Ever Wanted Was What I Know I Can Never Have.' I had a great launch, sold all my copies, loaded up my old Rangey with my essentials and hit the road, headed up to Byron Bay to live for a while, see what was next.
CUT TO: Present day
I have no regrets about the entire time and process. I really loved it, in fact. I got right into something new and went as far as I could with it. Is there a number seven, number eight in me? For sure. They are there, waiting. Their time will come. I'm easy. I don't like to pressure myself about things. As long as I am doing something creative, numerous things actually, each day - whatever form they take - painting, drawing, writing - I'm OK with life. Cause that is my job. What happens with those things after I have made them has never been something of much concern to me.
I feel lucky to have been granted a creative spirit.
I revel in it, like a kid in a kid's pool.
Listen carefully, and off in the distance, you might hear me.
I'm in it everyday, chuckling, squealing, flailing around with delight.