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On the day before the trip to Canberra for the second investor presentation, I got a call from an unfamiliar number while I was in a meeting, so I couldn’t take it. I was booked for meetings for the rest of that afternoon, in fact, so I wouldn’t be able to find out who it was for some time The mystery was solved shortly after, however, when Andy texted me to say that his PA was looking to organise rooms for Ryan and me and they were struggling to find anything available. I got an email from the PA shortly after that, asking me what we would prefer – to share a room or to have separate rooms. I said that the best out of those two choices was the separate rooms as we both snored at atomic levels. I said that to be nice to Ryan. I do not snore at all. I sleep like a three month old cupid; silent and angelic. With a harp.
I got another message shortly afterwards – she said that almost all of Canberra was completely booked out, and so had booked us in separate rooms in a hostel that might have a communal bathroom.
This sounded less than great to me, but what choice did we have if that was the only option left?
The next day, Ryan and I touched down in Canberra in spite of our best efforts to miss our flight out of Melbourne. Andy messaged me soon after the wheels hit the tarmac to ask us to meet at the Film Distillery offices. I let him know that we were going to get breakfast first. He said perfect; he and Shannon would meet us at the cafe we were headed to, which was the one just around the corner from them. We strolled through the attractive and clean building that is Canberra airport and marvelled once again at the almost complete lack of people. I requested an Uber and we made our way down to the Uber lounge for the pickup. That’s right – a friggin’ Uber lounge. While I’m certain that the airport is almost always empty because no one can actually afford flights direct to Canberra, we still felt very civilised as we were absolutely not jostled in lines, or disgusted by toilets, or delayed in the slightest as our ride swept up to us as soon as we walked to the pick-up point in the car park. Yes, I could tell that this was going to be a very good trip.
We made it to the cafe in the red brick building. Andy was already there, holding what looked to be the exact same table we sat at when we met Shannon for the first time back in February. It seemed like so long ago. Shan arrived soon after and we all sat down in the glorious morning sun. While we ate, they told us about their impending trip to the AFM in Santa Monica in November, in which they would be looking to spread the word about the content that was starting to form a pipeline of creativity from the 2015 and 2016 Pod participants. Breakfast was perfect, the company pleasant and the conversation interesting – and Andy shouted us. Perfection. We strolled to the Distillery offices and Andy showed us the progress that had been made with the construction of facilities there. It struck me that this was the definition of a full circle moment. The last time we did this, we were really just getting to know Andy and Shannon, and the Film Distillery offices were still more a plan than reality. Now we were hanging out with them as friends as much as business partners, and we were strolling through near completed grading and editing suites, an ADR studio and office areas while we did it.
For the remainder of the day before the presentation, we went through the film budget line by line, discussing the inputs and recent alterations that Andy had made to ensure that we were still in the ballpark of financial feasibility after our last draft. It was great to have active discussions about what was needed and what wasn’t so important, from a screenplay and crew and equipment perspective. I found myself really looking forward to getting a breakdown from a 1st AD and having in-depth discussions with special effects people to solidify what we were forecasting. Before we knew it, it was time to head to Canberra University for the presentation. While I was making a quick visit to the bathroom before we left, I noticed that my forehead had gotten burnt in the morning sun. Great. Beetroot Head. When I came out, I asked Shannon why she didn’t tell me that my head looked like a boiled vegetable. Where would the fun be in that? She replied without hesitation. I told myself that looking like I was wearing pink warpaint was a small thing, and that it was still going to be a good trip.
The presentation went really well. It was very much different in that it wasn’t at a bar, so the feel was much more business like – much more dry and straight to the point. But again, the people were great. Attentive, with smart questions. A genuine interest in the opportunity, with an appreciation for the risks. I enjoyed the presentation and chats with people afterwards, and no one mentioned that my head was glowing. Afterwards, Shannon offered to drive us to our rooms for the night.
“What the hell are you staying at a hostel, for?” She asked.
“It’s all that’s left, apparently.”
Shannon parked in front of the place that we would be staying at. It looked like a brothel, but for dogs. Ryan suggested the possibility that we might die in there. We hadn’t broken for lunch, thanks to the big breakfast from the cafe, but we were starving by this point. We unloaded our luggage from Shannon’s car with the plan to check in and then grab something to eat.
“If you get murdered in there,” Shannon said, “give me a call and I’ll come pick you up. If we can’t find another room, you can stay with us. My husband won’t mind at all if I bring home two guys he has never met.” She cackled as she drove off.
We stood on the curb out front of the dog brothel and watched her leave. It started to rain on us. Ominous.
The entrance to the hostel was basically a door at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A chair covered in a tattered blanket sat on a landing a third of the way up. On the next landing, a drunk guy hugging an empty bottle of tequila stared through us as we passed him. Finally, we made it to the reception office, which appeared to be a janitors closet with a power socket and some crates on which a computer was perched. It might have been plugged into the power socket. I couldn’t see the screen and the two barefoot young people I’m assuming were employees weren’t paying it much attention.
I interrupted them with an apologetic smile and told them that for some reason we wanted to check in. One of the partially robed young people did not check the computer even more than before, and instead looked through a box of index cards. After asking our name, she found our booking. Without looking up from the box, she pointed through the closet door at the landing outside and asked us to fill in the visitor’s forms we would find there. We found a clipboard that held a stack of photocopied forms and a pencil covered in bite marks that was attached to it with a string. Next to the clipboard sat an older man, wearing corduroy pants and a white singlet with stains on it. He was eating some kind of lumpy liquid out of a clear plastic container. The stains on his singlet were not the same colour. He stared at us intently and chewed with his mouth open as we filled out the forms. He would occasionally shovel more of the lumpy liquid into his mouth, but not once did he take his eyes off us. He might have been mentally undressing us – or he might have been slowly going catatonic from eating a puree of gluten and depression. It was hard to work out which. I was too busy writing a final note to my loved ones inside the box on the form that asked me how I heard about the place: Internet, Radio or Court Sentence.
We returned the completed forms to the half-naked children. The one with the box accepted them with a smile and asked us to pull off all the sheets on our beds before we left in the morning.
As we walked away, Ryan grabbed my arm. “Why do they want us to pull off the sheets?” I quickly shook my head. For a reason I couldn’t put my finger on, I didn’t want them to know that we didn’t know.
We split up to find our separate rooms. Mine had a window, and a few bunk beds, all with the bedding folded at the ends of the thin mattresses, much like a prison. Delightful! I put my luggage down on one of them and then went to find Ryan. He was standing outside his door, looking unsettled.
“What’s the matter?”
“They gave me the Rape Room.” He opened his door and let me walk in. There were no windows. The lighting was dull, and flickered. The mattresses were stained much like the catatonic man’s singlet, and one of them gave off an odour of crushed innocence.
“They gave you the Rape Room,” I said. “Funny, I thought the singlet guy was staring at me.”
Ryan took his wallet out of his backpack, zipped it up and left it on the closest bunk. “I’m very attractive. Let’s take a look at the bathroom facilities and then get something to eat.”
One thing was definitely true: it was a communal bathroom. We would be sharing it with our fellow guests… and fungal spores. They were prospering in their own little communities on the surfaces of the showers and toilets where the tiles had fallen away. Which was about half of the surfaces.
“We can’t stay here,” Ryan said. “We didn’t bring any towels.”
I only half heard him. My attention was caught by a vein of fungus that snaked up from the drain in one of the shower stalls, along the wall and into an air vent in the ceiling. I could’ve sworn I saw it move. “I think that mold is trying to escape,” I said.
Ryan nodded as he gingerly stepped toward the door, being careful to not touch anything with his hands as he walked. “It’s sick of pulling off it’s own sheets every morning.”
We stepped outside into the rain, and trotted from shop awning to shop awning, looking for a restaurant to eat in. We rounded a corner, and in the distance was a motel. We looked at each other, and then without a word we headed for it.
The lobby was peaceful. Relaxing music quietly played. It had carpet. It was like another world. A young lady behind the reception desk smiled and asked if she could help.
“We are staying at the backpackers around the corner,” I said.
She screwed up her nose. “Ooh.”
“Yeah. We were wondering; is there any chance you had any last minute cancellations? We don’t want to stay there. We want to stay here. Will you let us stay here?”
She shook her head sadly. “We’re completely booked. Sorry, guys.”
“But,” Ryan said, “we want to stay here.”
She nodded sympathetically. “We get a lot of people from there saying that.” She scribbled on a hotel notepad and handed it over to me. It had the names of other hotels and their numbers. “Give them a try. You never know your luck.”
We shuffled back into the rain and then settled on a kebab shop that had booths. We ordered and sat down.
“What part of ‘we want to stay here’ didn’t she understand?” Ryan looked down at the table between us. “I mean, she knew where we had come from. She knew.”
I dialled one of the numbers on the piece of paper. Ryan looked up at me. “There’s no way they’ll have a vacancy, is there?”
The call was answered. “This is Rachel, can you hold please?” The voice was cheerful.
Ryan rubbed his mouth. “I bet that when I go back to my room, Singlet Guy will be in there, raping my backpack. I don’t think I zipped it up all the way, and that’s what he’ll be violating. Why did I do that? So stupid.”
The hold music filled me with hope of salvation. I don’t know why.
Ryan went on. “I’ll come into the room, and he’ll be having his way with my luggage. He’ll look up – he won’t stop thrusting – and then he will point to one of the other bunks as he stares at me.” Ryan placed his palms on the tabletop. “I won’t have a choice, man. I’ll have to do what he wants. I will lie down on the bunk, curl up into a ball, and wait for my turn. Why would she want that on her conscience?”
Rachel took my call off hold, and offered to help. I asked her if, by some stretch of wild imagination and hope, she had a room available? A twin share? Anything?
“You are in luck,” Rachel said. “We have a two bedroom apartment, just waiting for you.” She gave me the price – it was forty dollars more than what the Dog Brothel rooms were.
“We will fucking take it!” I yelled. I only know I yelled because of the startled looks everyone in the kebab shop gave me.
“OOOK,” said Rachel. “It’ll be here, waiting for you.”
We ran through the rain like school children. I covered Ryan’s flank as he carefully opened the door to the Rape Room. If his backpack had indeed been violated, it was over now. A phone call to Shannon, and then ten minutes later her car swooped up to us through the rain like the Batmobile. Ryan and I were overwhelmed with the feelings of gratitude we had for her leaving her family to come and get our sorry butts and take us to the hotel. And what a hotel it was. Separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Kitchen, dining area and lounge. Ryan said that it was as big as his house. All for forty dollars more than the dog brothel. Sure, there were no stained deviants or sentient fungus, but you can’t have everything. We both slept like cupids.
The next morning saw us back at the Film Distillery offices, where Andy and Shannon found our brush with raped backpacks and fungal communities hilarious. Soon after, we had the pleasure of meeting two potential department heads for the film. Ryan talked about his vision with them. We looked over the graphic wire-frames Andy had created of the potential set construction. The majority of the shoot will be ‘in’ a freight container, so we need to have a heated pool in which we can simulate multiple water levels, movement, etc. They in turn spoke to us about the opportunities and challenges they foresaw with the shoot, drawing from their impressive filmmaking experience. It was a genuine pleasure to meet and speak with these pros, and I hope things work out so we can indeed work with them. As I sat in that room, with the walls covered with a production schedule, casting mugshots, mood board and sequence story board imagery, budgets and screenplay pages, I couldn’t help but think of all the ‘Extra Features’ docos I had watched on DVDs over the years that showed similar scenes. Now, we were there, prepping to shoot our own funded film.
It was a good trip, indeed.