Sunday, August 30, 2009

Route 66zzzzzzzzzzzzz 8/30/09

What is it about getting behind the wheel of a car that brings out the Wee Willie Winkie in me?

I’ve never been a great sleeper, even as a baby, and these days it still takes me a couple of hours and at least two episodes of late night Law and Order and CSI before I feel even remotely tired.

But put a steering wheel in my hand, and in the same amount of time I turn into Tarmac Temazepam, snoring away while drivers around me beep, scream and shout, and try to wake me while waving bits of their vehicles I have managed to lob off in my slumber.

The first car I bought was in 1983. It was an orange Hillman Avenger, and I smashed it up when I had drunk too much during a bout of severe depression. No excuse. I woke to see a row of trees coming towards me at lightning speed, and when I had established that I was not in a production of Macbeth, and that this was not Burnam Wood, came to in time to turn the wheel away from them.

It wasn’t quick enough for me to regain balance, though, and the car went over. And over. And over. It landed bonnet side down. Had I not been wearing a seat belt, I would undoubtedly have been killed outright; had I been six inches taller, my head would have been crushed to pulp.

Although not drinking now, and feeling safe enough to get behind a wheel again without fear of endangering life, it hasn’t inspired me to get a car in LA. Despite the fact that everyone tells me that I just have to have one, I have resisted.

Well, resistance implies some degree of doubt; in reality, I don’t want one, don’t intend to get one, and if people want to see me that much, they can get in their own damned cars and come to me. I walk up to 10 miles a day, and when I’m not walking I catch the very cheap buses, which run all night.

Push came to shove, however, on the morning of Blake’s funeral. Readers of this column will know that Blake was my dear mentor and screenwriter friend who died suddenly in August. The funeral had been kept very quiet, but when I heard it was taking place felt I had to be there.

Blake’s death has hit me very hard, and the day before I heard he was to be buried I again hadn’t slept the entire night. Yet never having driven on the right hand side of the road, never having driven in the States, and in a hire car without sat nav, I set off, very tired, for Santa Barbara, over two hours’ drive away.

I had only ever heard tales of one Route - 66 – and it turned out to be a rather sanitised and romanticised version of what actually happens on these freeways. I had to take 401 and 405, and both were the closest to hell I think I will get before I actually take up residence in that place.

I have no idea whether there was a speed limit, I just went with the flow, which was fast. Very. I managed to veer off at a service station, but it was no Little Chef, and it took me about 30 minutes to find my way out of it and back onto my route, which, after 90 minutes, I still had no evidence was the one going in the right direction.

Getting to the church on time was fine, although the funeral itself was utterly devastating. Going back was the problem. I should not have been driving: first, with no sleep, and, second, severely traumatised.

Blake was one of the people who kept telling me that I had to get a car. The irony that my first one was ferrying me to and from his funeral, meant that I spent most of the journey both ways, blurry-eyed and sobbing.

On my return, I took the west, instead of the east exit, for Wilshire Boulevard, and ended up at Santa Monica beach. And it was in the slowness of the traffic getting back to the right road that I dozed off, hit a guy’s wing mirror, and endured my first experience of US road rage. Think Death Row on acid.

I took the car back instantly and went to the shop to stock up on change for my forthcoming bus journeys.

It’s incredibly hard steering our way without you, Blake: in more ways than one.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blake Snyder 1957-2009: Dearest Friend, Mentor, In My Heart Forever 8/4/09

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the name of the screenwriter Blake Snyder.

It was through his encouragement that I first came to LA, having sent him the title and logline for my budding screenplay, Celebrity Stalker, in response to which I received the most incredible, encouraging e-mail.

I subsequently travelled to the city to do Blake’s Beats course, and it was the start of a friendship that would see me end up living 6000 miles across the Atlantic and pursuing my dream of being what I called a “real writer”.

Blake died suddenly this morning. I found out on Facebook, where I daily looked at his profile to see how many more inspiring stories there were from the people across the world whom he had helped in their screenwriting struggles.

His passion and enthusiasm for what he did never faltered, and everyone who came into contact with him became the beneficiary of that.

From my first contact with Blake in May 2008, he taught me many things, not only in relation to screenwriting. He was also a wonderful human being: full of compassion and love for his fellow men. The person I refer to in the blog Shopping For Niceness was him: a man who did not think that we were the best judges of other people’s foibles, and who saw the good in everyone he met.

When we had lunch two weeks ago, I remarked that although we had known each other face to face for just five months, it seemed that a lot had happened: I was living in LA, for starters. It was a move that he had positively encouraged, and he listened and supported me through what have been some very bleak moments.

I just cannot believe that he is gone, and my sympathies go out to his family, colleagues, and everyone whose lives were blessed to have been touched by this giving, wonderful man.

Facebook and his website are already full of entries expressing shock and disbelief at his sudden parting. But what comes through in all of them is his goodness, kindness, and ability to embrace people who reached out, both professionally and personally. He had that rarest of things: the gift of spirit.

My dearest Blake: my heart is breaking. In a screenplay, you would call it the All Is Lost moment that precedes Dark Night of the Soul. But as I sit here with your book before me – as you know, it never leaves my side – I look to the finale and the final image that follows. The final image, you say, is “the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

The image of my life now, compared to before you came into it, is very much the opposite of what it was, and I have you to thank for that.

I will celebrate your life, not with a drink (thank you for saving me from that, too), but by doing the work of which you constantly told me I was capable, and it will always be with immense gratitude and love that I remember you.

God bless, and, as you say in Save the Cat, when you describe dropping that script in the mail: “It is what it is.”

Your death is what it is.

Quite how we will all move on without you being among us is too early to say; but we will – and you will be with us in so many ways.

I told you over our last lunch that for me, everlasting life was about the things we left behind – the laughter, the ideas, the wisdom, the insight, the love – and that it was this, rather than any notion of God, that gave me great joy.

There's no joy today, and the Dark Night of the Soul looks never-ending.

But you will live on, my sweet, darling friend. Eternally.

Keeping Up With The Beckhams 8/4/09

Peas in a pod. That’s what they were doubtless saying at the LA Sports Club this week, when they saw me working out on the treadmill just feet from Victoria Beckham.

Okay, so she’s younger, prettier, and even thinner than I have managed to become, but we both have dark, short hair.

Never mind that she is the tiny, sweet pea at the end of the pod, and I am the over-ripe, hard one in the middle: as peas in pods go, there’s likeness enough for me.

According to the papers, Victoria runs eight miles a day; I can’t say whether she does or not, because in my attempt to equal her performance, the paramedics always get to me long before she finishes her run. When they are scooping my body parts off the floor, I can usually see Victoria’s perfect, bobbing form in the distance, but then I lose consciousness again.

The Sports Club, which is reported to be the best in the world, has two branches: one in LA West, and one in Beverly Hills, which is where I see Victoria. Until this week, I hadn’t spoken to her and, I confess, I was beside myself with excitement when I did. So much so, that I had to calm myself down by eating two muffins, three slices of cranberry spice bread (a subliminal spice connection, perhaps?), and half a tub of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice-cream.

I’m a big fan of Ms Beckham, who was my favourite of all the Spice Girls. Not only did I think she was the most beautiful, but the most talented. I enjoyed her music as a solo artist, and she recorded some really catchy tunes. Even she would acknowledge she’s not Ella Fitzgerald, but she knows how to entertain and, in a tough industry, how to reinvent herself.

In her television work, she has displayed a wonderful sardonic wit in various documentaries; and her flair for fashion design has won her accolades from the highest in the industry. Add to all this, the fact that she is a wonderfully loyal and supportive wife, and a terrific, adoring mother, and you have to wonder what on earth the poor woman has done wrong to warrant abuse on a daily basis.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, to manage a hugely successful career, while bringing up a young family – in different countries, to boot - is tough. Surely she deserves our admiration, not the admonition that has pretty much become a national sport.

The couple haven’t had an easy ride in LA, either, where David’s recent altercations with two fans earned him criticism. But all that seemed to dissipate on Sunday, when his brilliant free kick helped LA Galaxy save face in what was finally a 1-2 victory for Barcelona.

I watched the match on TV, and, for some reason, could only get the commentary in Spanish. My Spanish stretches on to “Una birra”, which is useless (a) because I don’t drink alcohol, and (b) because it is Italian. So all I heard were long stretches of what sounded like someone being very ill after a long night out – “Ellebrooghutrescuatenta” – followed by “Spicy Boy.”

I kid you not. Only once during the entire match did the Spanish commentator say the word “Beckham”; he was always Spicy Boy.

I didn’t get to meet David, but I did catch sight of the Barcelona team, who were staying at the Beverly Hills’ truly spectacular SLS Hotel. In an effort to lose the half stone I had acquired in my eating binge after meeting Victoria, I was very picky with the menu and ordered water melon and tomato cubes, with a Brussel sprout and lemon puree salad, topped with “lemon air”.

Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t catch me in the same room as a Brussels sprout, unless there was also a Christmas tree and a whacking great sack of presents from Santa (I used to wonder whether all those presents were just a bribe to get kids to eat the sprouts on their Christmas dinner; and why ARE they compulsory, when we hate them for the other 364 days of the year?); but it all sounded very low-cal.

I was certainly right on that score; there aren’t many calories in lemon air, I can tell you. In fact, you can barely see it, because it is, well, mostly air, in a smidgen of white, citrusy foam.

It was fantastic. Honestly. Better than the muffins. I can’t wait to tell my new running mate about it. I’ll be slipping into a pair of her designer jeans before you can say Spicy Boy.