Toscars Selection Night

Day 10 and, in a rush to get to yoga I discover that changing your clothes on an empty bus is frowned on. The driver seemed really uncomfortable. He called me to the front before letting any other passengers on. “You took your pants off in the bus, sir. That’s unhygienic.” “I most assuredly did not take my pants off… oh wait … by pants you mean trousers… yes. Yes I took my trousers off. But i didn’t put my bum on the seat…” Thankfully he chooses the path of contemptuously waving me back into the bus after a show of contrition. I get to yoga on time. 

In an attempt to force some form of community onto myself I’ve got involved in a spoof Oscar night. It’s through the huge great big Brits in LA community that I went to breakfast with last week. All I knew is that I had to get to a restaurant called Obica for half seven. What I don’t realise is that it’s a chain. I get two buses into downtown and am deposited in a construction site. I walk through a corridor designed for being murdered. 


Then I creep through the bowels of a deserted car park, up a load of escalators and suddenly I’m in a huge food court. I stumble into Obica half an hour early. Plenty of time to get a coke and chat to the other people involved, I think. But nobody is there. Because it’s the wrong sodding branch. The right branch is only about 45 minutes walk from where I started. I curse like a navvy, curse a little bit more, then curse. Then I get an Uber.

 
They’ve called this thing The Toscars. The selection involves the team leaders playing a game called “Toss your competition off.” Evidently the organisers are playing up to the tits and tea side of British culture. Slightly racy jokes that aren’t really racy, puns about wanking, competition questions about the price of condoms and KY jelly. They’re going all out here. Then the team members are randomly drawn out of a TOMBOLA. You can’t get more British than a tombola.

 
I have ended up in in a group doing a spoof of Fences. We are going to watch it on Sunday. This is the tenth year that this event has taken place. It seems like an extended version of the 48 hour film challenge, where you have a whole three weeks. I have no idea what sort of quality they’ve been in the past, but it seems to be more about the craic. Our team leader Scott had a more or less completely absent team last year, so he appears to be expecting to have to do literally everything himself. It might take some time to persuade him he can rely on me. I’m fond of him immediately, but his energy is super frantic. It might be because he had to get off to work quickly. He works as a female impersonator. I’m not sure where yet but I’d love to go. He spoke sentences rolling one into the next with barely a pause for breath, made sure we had his number, and vanished. He’ll either be lovely or a nightmare. The other guy I met is a young comedian from Texas called Antonio – one of the only black faces there tonight which is a relief considering all the principle roles are black in the movie we’re spoofing. He seems fun and I know I want to see him do comedy. But he had to leave in a hurry as well. So I found myself in a bar on Sunset Boulevard with a load of Brits that I don’t know. Every instinct was screaming at me to hit the bar, down a few beers and bring out crazyfun Al. I’d probably make some friends, of a sort.

 
I quietly left and went home. This not drinking is a good thing but that was a test.

Interviews

Day 9 and “This place is over!” My friend says. We’re eating steak Benedict. Of course. “All you need to make a film is this!” His phone. “You’re a good writer, write yourself something. Stallone did it.”  

Maybe he has a point. But I’ve been lured by a myth. A myth recently enforced and perpetuated globally with Lalaland. But a genuine myth. And like all good myths, we want to believe it. Another friend in this town said “Yeah Emma Stone keeps saying in interviews how she relates to her character’s audition content in the movie. She’s never had to audition in her life. She just … walked into Superbad.” I don’t know the truth of that. Of course there’s buckets of bull in this town though. Anyone that has ever been interviewed in any capacity knows that in the spur of the moment, you feel you have to tell a story. I heard Florence from Florence and the Machine stalwartly resist any attempt to either be mythologised or do it to herself on a radio 4 interview once. Even if I appreciated what she was trying to do, it made for a woefully boring interview. She just seemed to be shutting down the interviewer. And I found myself getting pissed off with her. Wanting her to play along. Because we want that story. Le Carre speaks well in this article about the process by which interviews split us from the truth, to the extent that we might even start believing someone else’s story about us because it’s been published.

   

And I know I have a story. Of sorts. “Why are you here?” People ask. I give a little potted life history, touching on some of the big negatives, ending with a positive. Because, despite my attitude to it, I’m involving myself in the game just by being here. Maybe I should write my equivalent of Rocky. Everyone in this town has a screenplay they’re trying to sell. Go big or go home, they say, no?

 

Today I only left the house for yoga and lunch. I applied for a bunch of stuff and sent my bullshit package to a few people. Mostly it was just me and three damaged dogs. One of them is lying at the end of my bed as I sit writing on it. The most damaged one. He and I are firm friends now. He hobbles after me when I walk around the house and sits at the foot of my bed like a loyal retainer. Marley, appropriately enough considering I played Scrooge recently. Here he is:


I’m glad I’m away from my context for a bit. I’m glad I can’t do my usual scrabbling around for money while I wonder if there’s an audition round the corner. I’ll be broke when I get back to the UK. But I like that I’m a blank slate, and that nothing can happen but what I make happen, and that I don’t have the money to buy happenings. Buying happenings is big business here. “Do an improv course!” 500 bucks. “Take a casting workshop.” 200 bucks. If nothing comes of nothing I’ll still have rejigged my bad habits, done loads of yoga, stayed sober and written the equivalent of a novella with my minimum 500 words daily. And if I’m ever interviewed about this time I’ll tell a moving story of how I had to eat dog food in the morning before washing some clothes I found in the gutter and hitchhiking to the studios with a murderer for the meeting that gave me the limited niche recognisability that has caused the interview in the first place.

It never rains in Southern California

Day 8. There has been a drought in California for years. It’s hit the international news. The breadbasket of America, where they grow 90% of the world’s almonds. The trees are desiccated, the farmers have been boring thousands of foot down for groundwater. It’s a huge concern as there is produce grown here for use all across America. So all the rain that I’ve been experiencing is surprisingly welcome. But it ain’t raining. It’s pouring. It puts me in mind of the old song: 
Got on board a westbound 747

Didn’t think before deciding what to do

Ooh, that talk of opportunities

TV breaks and movies

Rang true

Sure rang true

Seems it never rains in southern California

Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before

It never rains in California

But girl don’t they warn ya

It pours, man it pours

 

I didn’t want to leave the house. I spent the morning finalising all the Vimeo crap and resumĂ© nonsense that I have to put in place in order to have a chance of securing a meeting or two while I’m out here navel gazing. But I have to go out. I couldn’t just sit at home. I know rain, I tell myself. I grew up in The Isle of Man. It go out. How the hell am I drenched in 10 seconds in this part of the world. I go for a walk to Koreatown. They don’t expect rain over here. Like snow in London. There’s not much infrastructure. My friend across town messaged me saying he had seen loads of cars hydroplaning on the freeway. The drainage isn’t great. I’m in walking boots and the water is too high for them at the sides of the road. People are bailing water out of their houses. I have to detour widely to cross the roads dry. The rain is a thick solid horizontal curtain. Constant. Relentless. An old man with a load of animals is making a great big boat out of gopher wood. I wonder how he managed to get the cows to stand next to the lions like that. This is the second day of constant rain since I have been here, but hopefully it’ll go some way to replenishing the water tables. It’s miserable. And it’s the same tomorrow. By the time I get to Koreatown I am more liquid than solid. It’s windy too, that wind and rain combination that makes umbrellas pointless. I see them abandoned, all too familiar for the streets of London but not what I’d expect in Southern California.


Feeling like I have achieved something I shuffle like the creature from the black lagoon into a supermarket. I buy a frozen pizza. This has been the whole point of this expedition. The rain made me want pizza. The wallet made me walk through the rain to buy it frozen and take it back to digs to cook. Striking back out I think I should probably try and see more of Koreatown. This place appeals to me:


The proprietor speaks no English but I point at what looks like coffee. I get NescafĂ©. I’m not complaining, it’s warm. I nurse it, balefully watching the sky, trying to will this shit to ease off for 10 minutes so I can get home dry, I contemplate uber. But I’m already soaked. Fuck it. Back into the foulness. And that’s my day. Not quite the Trump March. More rain tomorrow. Oh joy.

Liberty and Trump

Day 7

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 
130 years ago, a woman – Emma Lazarus – wrote that sonnet to help the funding of a pedestal for the new colossus that would welcome the dispossessed as they arrived at the land of the free. A colossus in the form of “la liberte”, a gift from the French, built by Eiffel. Marianne is her French name, Libertas her Roman. She stands for freedom, and for reason. She stands for the American dream. A welcoming and inspiring sight to immigrants, lighting the way with her torch, holding her book of law. Welcoming the disaffected to New York Harbour.

 
It seems strange that 130 years later, the same nation has sworn in a president who appears to have no concern for reason, and certainly none for immigrants. And as for his unquestioned thinking about women – to quote numerous overheard conversations today – “Just when we were getting somewhere…”

So across the nation today, and much of the world, there have been marches in peaceful protest. A chance for anyone who is concerned about the trickle down effect to mark a small statistic, while feeling a strength in numbers. If the one at the top has unexamined prejudice, will that trickle down through society and give permission for those with conscious prejudice to behave terribly? And if the one at the top has conscious prejudice, then should he be on top?

 
In Los Angeles turnout was always going to be huge. I hook up with an old friend in the morning and she and I drive to Highland Park metro, knowing that driving into downtown would be a fools errand. The queue for the metro is round the block and every train that comes is packed. Which is a good sign. The atmosphere is still bright, the sun is shining, people are chatting, loads of people have brought their kids.

We queue for ages. We lose hope. We get momentarily fractious. We rejoin the queue. Eventually we decide to “London it”. There IS room in the trains, you just have to play the armpit Tetris that is played every morning across the tube network. I’m back to hapless Brit: “Goodness this is fun, it reminds me of being home in London, here if you put your elbow in my navel then I can fit the back of your head under my left knee, and if it stops suddenly just grab my beard.”

 
Once on the train we get to the thick of it super quickly. It’s not so much of a march by the time we’re there. More of a stand. We end up stationary at first and Broadway. Coincidentally there’s a stage right by the spot where we grind to a halt. We’ve hit the centre by mistake. A man called Charlie B Real comes up on stage with a guitar and plays the star spangled banner. The word in the crowd is that he is one of the roadies and he built the stage. He’s just grandstanding to the biggest crowd he’s ever had. That would make sense considering he is followed by a steward making crowd control announcements too quietly, fruitlessly asking the marchers to keep moving. The crowd is not movable though. We have nowhere to move to. We have people coming towards us from 4 directions. We stay put. Chants bubble up and fade. I’m slipping in and out of American accent. Everyone is smiling. There is not a sniff of bad energy here, no impatience, no fractiousness. Lisa Marie says “That’s because it’s a women’s march,” which is a fair point. A number of speakers and activists hit the stage, as well as the mayor. There are a lot of people, and more coming all the time. It’s like being part of some huge friendly slightly geeky beast. Some of the placards are ridiculous. Lots of trumpvaginas. Lots of cultural references : “We’d prefer Joffrey” , Dumbledore quotes. A 12 year old has “I don’t want a cheeto for a president.” (Cheetos look like Wotsits.) It’s a creative, friendly, sparky, fun warm protest. And statistically there were 750,000 people in downtown LA for it. 


That’s huge for such a friendly atmosphere. It felt like the Notting Hill Carnival with less beer, weed, music and stabbing. Actually, no it felt nothing like Notting Hill in the slightest. It was just lots of people. And no fighting. The poster in front of me read “Please put women in charge” and based on that protest, I’m in. If the symbol of “la republique”, the triumph of the republic, is a strong green woman that fairly welcomes the dispossessed and calls for reason and liberty, I’ll take that any day over this cruel, inward-looking, vain, entitled blustering hypocrite. With his small gropey hands and his orange sweaty face.

Augurs and Antipodeans

Day 6 and the skies open. Sheets of hard rain batter the little hostel in Venice, shorting the fuse and killing the wifi. All the people in the hostel that were sitting around the table watching the news on laptops stand up blinking, unsure of who they are, and in hushed tones talk of leaving the building. But it’s raining. When it rained hard, one of my parents – I forget which sadly – would say “The Angels are Weeping.” It happens all the time in stories, when terrible things take place there’s a storm. I keep following the inauguration on my US phone and examine that unfamiliar word. In-augur-ation. An augur is an omen. “A putting-in under omens.” Trump is being put in. And it’s pouring with rain in California… At noon I check out the window for a flock of bats.

 
Today I’ve started to use an American accent when talking to strangers, so now there’s no more of the hapless Brit card to be played. My first conversation at the coffee stall goes acceptably even if I probably sound like Welsh Mexican. We talk about Revelations in light of the apocalyptic weather. I’m getting away with it right up to the end when having stirred my latte I ask “Have you got a bin to put the rubbish in?” “Whut?” “Oh … gosh … I mean Is there a trash can?”. Damn.
Shortly after the inauguration speech I get a message on Facebook. “Are you still looking for a room?” Boom. I say yes before I even look to see which of the million messages I sent bore fruit. It’s an antipodean couple, one Aussie and one Kiwi. I go to meet them in Larchmont a long way from Venice, 20 bucks in an uber. Screw that. Today is the day when I finally have to accept that I am going to need a car here. I really am. An hour and a half on the bus to meet them and their dogs. They are lovely. We get on really well. I’m moving in immediately. An hour and a half back to get my stuff. An hour and a half with my stuff back to their place. 4.5 hours on buses. I almost read a whole book. But now I have a big room with a door in it. I have a bed that is mine for 2 months. The room stinks of dog but I’ve been looking for an excuse to get an essential oil diffuser and I saw one for 15 bucks in TJ Maxx. And both Laural and Mark seem lovely. And the dogs!
They have three rescue dogs, Marley, Janey and Roger. Marley is my friend immediately. He has seen things. He was a bait dog in dog fights, and was left for dead in an alley. He’s covered in lesions and scars. He’s a survivor, and has the calm of one. Janey is alert but friendly, and only Roger is wary but I know it won’t take him long. In fact he just jumped up on the bed next to me, and is sitting on my leather jacket. Perfect photo opportunity. Laural gave me the beard kit in the photo, as she had forgotten to cancel a subscription when Mark had to shave for an audition. Ahh yes. Auditions. That’s part of why I’m here. And now I have a doggy launch pad… 


I have the weekend to get my freshly edited reel on Vimeo, shots are in place, Monday is my first official day in Los Angeles.

The calm before the storm?

Day 5. In Santa Monica there is a mock Tudor building on the corner of a street that sells Heinz Tomato Soup for 4 bucks. You can get a bottle of Fairy for 7 or even a Yorkie Bar for too much. It looks like most of the shops in Stratford upon Avon in that it’s trying to look Tudor but isn’t, and it’s called “ye olde” something. In this case “Kings Head Shoppe”. It’s rather lovely to behold. I walk in and it seems to be doing a roaring trade. Santa Monica is where all the expat Brits tend to settle and I can see why. It’s got everything. It calls itself The City of Santa Monica and it sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. If you walk to the end of the pier you find a sign marking the end of Route 66. 2448 miles from Chicago, the road out west. You’ve made it pilgrim. This is the end of the road. Sit yourself down and have yourself a Jammie Dodger. That’ll be 4 dollars.

 
The town itself has a huge centre full of shops. There are pedestrianised boulevards, coffee shops, the first bookshop I’ve seen since I arrived, and chain stores. It’s like Milton Keynes with vomiting stegosaurus fountains instead of concrete cows. So I go shopping. There are no yoga mats for less than 50 bucks anywhere in Venice, but of course one for 10 in T (J?!) Maxx which I snag as I’ve taken to doing yoga every morning. When in Rome. Then I book myself a ticket for the matinee of Lalaland at 3.45. I call it research. And maybe it will cheer me up with the inauguration looming. Armed with ticket and mat I wander towards the ocean to prevent a shopping spree. The sun is blazing after a night full of rain, and I want to put my hand in the water. But I get distracted. There’s a bloody great big promenade with a funfair on it where Route 66 ends. Ferris wheels, roller coasters, fortune tellers, games. I burn 2 dollars in a ball shooting machine and get 500 tickets which nets me a vile fluffy pink tiger eating someone’s heart. Clutching it by the neck as a toddler would I become fascinated by the Pacific. I love the sea. Even in London I live by water. But this ocean… I can’t even contemplate the distances. I watch a man fishing at the end of the pier. He keeps pulling them in and chucking them back. Too small. But there are plenty of fish in this sea. My thoughts sink into it. I get out my phone and track ahead on the map. Page after page of scroll and then you barely miss New Zealand. I imagine striking out into it in a canoe. Vast.


Pulling myself away I go and immerse myself in Lalaland. I can tell you now after 5 days, it’s hard hitting documentary realism. Once again I’m lost in fantastic reverie. Here’s to the ones who dream. By the time I leave the cinema I’ve cried so much my beard is soaking wet. I was going to walk home, but I’m a wreck, and uber pool is 2.99. Trump gets in tomorrow. The cold is blowing in across the desert and tomorrow it will rain. My uber driver says “I honestly keep hoping I’m about to wake up from a terrible dream.” Ugh. Back to reality. What I wouldn’t pay for a comforting can of Heinz tomato soup.

Headshots and mirrors

Day 4 and I’m beginning to miss the easy friendships I left behind. The golden people where you can simultaneously love, mock, comfort and challenge one another. Now I am surrounded by strangers and have not carved out those furrows. There ARE old friends but the weight of years apart pulls heavy. Today was admin. Photos. I dislike looking at myself in a mirror so it’s been incredibly valuable to crowdsource opinion on my headshots. Thanks anyone who helped with that. I’ve been thinking about that tendency in me not to like to look at myself, in the context of what I am doing and where I am. What the hell am I doing drinking in LA at 27? Well, I’m neither drinking nor 27 fuckit. But I’m here. I always used to say “I’m the opposite of LA.” “Oh I’m not the type of person who goes out there.” I’ve said that many times. I suddenly wondered why. And I realised that, as much as anything else, it’s been informed by my love of words. I’m the opposite of LA. Simply because I’m AL. Yep, that’s the sort of shit I do to myself. So I had to come out here. To look at myself. To see if there is anything in LA for AL. 

 

Everything here costs money. It’s not very forgiving. There’s a hierarchy of deserving based on ability to pay. It drives one to want to make more money. It drives ambition. The undercurrent is “there’s a huge amount of money here. If you can’t afford it, get some of it, climb the ladder, play the game, that’s what we do. Dance bear dance.” And yet somehow it feels like people are dancing for themselves in the mirror, not for the sultan. And perhaps I need to dance in the mirror for a bit. I need to be able to look hard at myself to properly take ownership of what I am trying to achieve professionally, which is career longevity and continuous challenge. And people do that here.

 
I fit right in to this place spiritually, in that it is as confused as I am. What am I? A practising christianobuddhist greek pantheist. Utterly pretentious, doubly confused. It probably make my tinder profile here go bananas if I put it. There’s a hindobuddhist palmreading tarotovoodaic psychic ayurvedic astrologicoptic herbalist medium on every street corner peddling massively conflicting ideas for 10 bucks. “Do three hail shivas every morning while banging a gong with a chicken leg and chewing fennel.”

 
This morning 20 women of all ages with bright floral lycra went through asana to the soundtrack of one grunting man at the back wearing sheer Bikram pants and feeling like he’d somehow teleported into one of those seventies movies his mother used to watch. He hasn’t found his groove yet, nor his people, nor his area. But he’s trying to remember who he is through the prism of getting up every morning and saying yes to everything. 

 
I’m glad I’m here, and equally glad that I am not enmeshed in the game of here. I want to play it a bit. I do want to go into a studio and have a couple of meetings and see that side of it. But I haven’t buried my expectation in it, which makes me feel like I have perspective. Today has been admin so no walking. Normal service will probably resume tomorrow.