Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Aarhus Film Fest (part 1)

An odd side effect of writing those sex scenes in submarines has been invites to film festivals and writing conferences. Actually, many of these invitations come from people who have read my book or my column in Scr(i)pt Magazine. I don't do anything to pursue these gigs, but if someone wants to fly me to some exotic local and pay for my hotel, meals, drinks... and pay me for any classes I'll be teaching, I'd be a fool to turn that down.

My life as a screenwriter has me lowest man on the totem pole - beneath the craft services people (they bring the donuts to the set every morning). Screenwriting is a Rodney Dangerfield job - no respect at all. So, when someone wants me to lecture or be on a panel, that's great! I can (maybe) get a little respect. And that's the oddest part of these Film Festival gigs - you are treated like an actual human being for a week or two, then shipped back to the coal mines of Hollywood to suffer. For that week or two you are sitting on panels with the same executives who won't return your phone calls or replace you without bothering to tell you or maybe even throw your latest draft across their desk at you while screaming what a worthless piece of crap you are. So when a new film festival in Denmark wants me to spend 5 days watching movies and teach a 1 day version of my 2 day class... I'm there! I've never been to Denmark before, so this is going to be an adventure! Unfortunately, adventure means conflict....


This has been the longest day of my life. It’s been going on forever! I’ve been invited to teach a one day screenwriting class a the Aarhus Film & Music Festival in Denmark. Aarhus is the second largest city after Copenhagen, and it’s the center of the arts for the country - imagine Hollywood and Nashville and Broadway all in one place. So, the festival is giving me an all access pass, and I plan to see a bunch of films I would never be able to see in the USA. But first I have to get to Denmark.


My plane leaves from LAX at 7am, and because it’s an international flight, they want me to get there 3 hours early so they have time to make sure my shoes aren’t explosive. Now, LAX is about an hour away, and I’ve decided to take the Flyaway because it’s only $3 and a shuttle is $40 and a cab is... well, I’d have to take out a second mortgage. But I can’t remember if the Flyaway bus runs every half hour or every hour late at night, so to be on the safe side, I add a half hour to my plan... and realize that I should probably leave my place at 2am... which is usually when I’m thinking about going to bed. So I decide to do an all-nighter.

I have a million errands to run on Monday, and I really need a hair cut, and I always get a pile of new CD orders whenever I say that I’m going out of town and won’t be able to ship anything for 2 weeks - so I also need to hit the post office. I end up going all over town and end up in the world’s longest line at the post office because Monday is not only the last day I have to ship these orders... it’s also tax day! The line goes out the door of the post office, and I’m at the end. I will never get my hair cut! And, as usual, the post office employees are trying to see how slow they can work. When I actually get inside the post office, I can hear the employees asking *everyone* if they want to send it registered with a return card... and if they want any stamps. Later, they will ask me this on every single package I have to mail.

Now I have very little time for the rest of my errands, but I zip all over town taking care of them... and actually getting my hair cut before the shop closes. Now I won’t look quite as homeless when I show up for this big film festival. I end up near a movie theater with a couple hours to spare, so I see SCARY MOVIE 4 which has a better version of WAR OF THE WORLDS than the Spielberg version - better tripods and some scenes that really work.

After the movie I zip back home where I still have to pack and "close up the house" (take out the garbage, make sure there’s nothing in the fridge that will grow legs and start walking while I’m away, etc). I get all of this stuff done, and get to the Flyaway by 2:30 am... but I’m kind of tired from all of the running round. I *did* manage to take a shower before I left, and put on fresh clothes.


So, I get to LAX and have to wait for them to open up. Seems the check in counter doesn’t open until 4:15am. There’s a huge line - just no employees to help us. At about 4:25 they start checking us in and my bag is 2 pounds over the 50 pound limit. My fault - usually I bring 2 bags and my laptop, but this time I tried to cram everything into one bag... which worked. Except for the 2 pounds over part. They say it will cost $25 for being overweight, and I think about it for a moment - I have to change planes in Washington DC, do I really want to drag around my laptop bag *and* another carry on? Nope! So I hand over the $25... and they refuse it! They insist I pull out 2 pounds of stuff... so I end up taking out this canvas bag filled with CDs. Now I’m stuck with my jacket, my laptop bag (filled with every project I’m working on) and this canvas bag full of CDs that doesn’t have a shoulder strap. Swell.

I save $25, but have to lug all of this stuff through security. I hate airport security. They make everyone take off their shoes, then they don’t have anyplace for you to put them back on. End result - I’m cooling my heels waiting for a plane for a couple of hours.

I decide to sleep on the plane - even though I’ve never been able to do that every before in my entire life - but this time I have sleeping pills. What this means is, no coffee in the airport to keep me awake. I’m dead tired.

Plane boards, and I end up with a crappy center seat without enough room for my legs. I’m 6'4" tall, and the seats were set up for someone 6'2" TOPS - which means I have to sit with my legs is weird position and pray that the person in front of me doesn’t recline their seat - that would shear off my knee caps (really). I decided not to take the sleeping pills - because I was so uncomfortable I probably couldn’t sleep anyway. I’ll take them after I switch planes. I spend a tortured five hours - dead tired and contorted.

We land at Dulles and I find out my plane to Denmark is on the other side of the airport... I gotta run. With the jacket, laptop bag, and canvas bag without shoulder straps. Don’t know if you’ve ever been to Dulles - but it’s a Frankenstein airport. They kept adding things to it that didn’t make sense, and now it’s this spread out monster. There are unconnected terminals (you ride in these weird ATV buses that are 20 feet off the ground - and they actually putt-putt across *active* runways to get you to another terminal!) And miles of hallways without moving sidewalks and it’s just impossible... even if you aren’t running to catch a plane with all kinds of extra baggage. As I’m running, I’m wondering if my checked in bag (the one that’s under 50 pounds, now) will make it across the airport to this plane. Doesn’t seem likely. All of my clothes, plus my class stuff is in that bag!

I make the plane - still no coffee because I’m planning on sleeping on this flight - and I *demand* an emergency exit or bulkhead seat. They give me the last one. An emergency exit window seat... that’s in the curved part of the plane. Leg room, no head room! I’m so tall that I must tilt my head to the left to avoid the roof. I had joked with friends about being on a 12 hour flight filled with screaming babies... shouldn’t have done that! I was *surrounded* by screaming babies. Ask if I got any sleep on that flight.

So as we’re landing I coffee up. You see, Aarhus is on the other side of the country from Copenhagen, and I’ll be taking a 4 hour train ride. But first I need to go through passport control, see if my checked in bag made it, change my money, and go through customs. The bags are delayed for some reason for 15 minutes (at least the sign told us) so I changed my dollars into kroner. They give me all of these odd coins - some have holes punched in them. I get weird looking money. Thousands of kroner for the $300 I exchanged. One problem with the coins they give me - they are so worn I can’t read the numbers on some of them. Maybe in better light.

The luggage comes, my case made it! Everything else goes well, and I hunt around for some sign pointing me to a train station.... and there are plenty of signs, but I don’t understand any of them. They are all in Danish. Now, I have planned ahead and have a pen and pad in my pocket - I can *sketch* a train and write the word Aarhus and maybe someone can point me in the right direction. I’m afraid I may have to take a cab to the train station... But it’s right there in the airport (just like London - those Europeans sure know how to plan a transportation system). A picture of a train and some words in Danish. Now I have to figure out how to communicate where I want to go, but that ends up easy - I just point to the word Aarhus on the train schedule. I buy my ticket ($300 kroners) and go down to the tracks... where it’s 30 degrees.


The train comes in almost an hour and it’s freezing. I can see my breath. I put on my coat, wait 40 minutes for my train, and jump on. Hoping I have the right train, because everything is written in Danish and Aarhus is a stop in the middle of this train’s run. What if I’m on the wrong train and end up in the wrong city in Denmark. How would I even know - the signs are all in Danish. There was a train 5 minutes after this one and a train 5 minutes before this one - each had a different destination. Well, it’s too late now - the trains doors are closing and the train is zooming out of the station. I figure out my ticket is for a certain seat in a certain car because there are numbers that might be those things. Now I have a 4 hour train ride to Aarhus... I hope.

I’ve taken trains in many different cities, and this was the best so far. It’s basically a commuter train that links suburbs with main cities. In Los Angeles we have our tinker toy subway with plastic seats - it’s like a city bus on rails. In the Bay Area they have BART - which has very comfortable seats and is used by Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives to get from their suburban homes to San Francisco... also used by everyone else who commutes. The commuter train in Denmark has BART beat - luxurious chairs with headrests and power sockets. The trains are filled with businessmen on laptops and cell phones.... And that is standard class. First class, they serve hot breakfast! But even in standard class, there is a coffee and food cart that makes the rounds from car to car. Want a sandwich? Candy bar? Cookie? Bread and cheese? Apple? I ordered a coffee to try and stay awake - 15 kroners. I hope that’s not the same as $15. I would plug in and work on my laptop - but I don’t have an adapter to Danish power - something I will have to buy soon, as my laptop battery is running dry writing this.

The countryside reminds me of Sonoma or Medecino - lots of farms and forests and fishing boats. After a while a conductor comes to punch my ticket and I ask him if this is the train to Aarhus - it is. I can relax... I woke up at 11am on Monday, it is now noon on Wednesday. I need to sleep! I also need to shower! And I have a serious kink in my neck from leaning it to the left the entire time on the airplane.

But the worst is yet to come.

- Bill

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