The screenplay I wrote in Australia essentially starts in August 1995 when I first arrived in Austin. It is based on the tumultuous year I had while studying abroad in Austin, and it’s mostly true. So I’m going to use some of that screenplay to tell the story of that period.
Reading the screenplay this week for the first time in more than 15 years was very strange. I remember writing it in 1998, and I remember the actual moments upon which it is based, but of course I gave myself artistic license to try and tell a story. I’m pretty sure I could probably do a better job of writing it now. But it is what it is, and it’s still something of which I’m very proud.
Anyway, like I said, it’s mostly true. In 1995, I was 19 years old, I’d never been to America before, I didn’t know anybody, and I had nowhere to stay. I did feel like I was in a movie when I arrived. I did end up staying with the receptionist at the UT Union building for a week. And she did take me to a weird party on my first night there. I was very innocent, very naive, and completely unprepared.
The formatting is a little off, but this is the scene I wrote where Clyde (my character) arrives at Austin airport for the first time:
EXT. AUSTIN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FRONT – EARLY MORNING
Music starts : The Charlatans – Weirdo
Words : “Saturday 26th August 1995”
A large pair of tartan Doc Martin boots fill the screen. The camera rises up slowly to reveal CLYDE. He is tall, dark and awkward. He has big blue eyes, a big smile and a big laugh. Young, short hair, clean-shaven and thirsty for life. He is over-dressed for this 100F heat and appears suitably hot and bothered but there is still a vibrancy and excitement in his smile.
ANGLE on this face for a few seconds as his creative blue eyes attempt to absorb everything they land on. MOVING to OVER THE SHOULDER SHOT as Clyde picks up his bags and begins to walk towards a taxi rank.
A black PORTER shows Clyde the way and helps him with his bags to an awaiting cab. Having gone to the wrong side of the car, Clyde comes around the back of the cab. Porter subtly holds out his palm for a tip. Clyde walks past him, enthusiastically gives him a high-five and jumps into the front of the cab. We see a brief conversation take place between the DRIVER and Clyde and some laughter as Porter looks on confused. Clyde jumps back out of the cab laughing and hands Porter some cash. Clyde pauses smiling. His goodness and innocence is infectious and Porter cannot help smiling too. They exchange a smooth low-five and Clyde jumps back in the cab.
[Music ends] CUT TO
INT. TAXI CAB
Music starts : Reverend Horton Heat – Liquor, Beer and Wine
Driver and Clyde are still both laughing. Clyde hands him a piece of crumpled paper (the white side of a Caramac wrapper). Driver acknowledges that he knows the location and begins to drive out of the airport.
Oh yeah. Stoodent are ya?
(settling himself in for the ride)
Going to be aye.
Are you English?
Scotch eh. First time in Texas?
(looking out window)
(looking back at driver)
Eh, yes. Eh, yeah.
Heh heh. Austin’s a fine... town (stretching words) Bit hot for y’all though. Heh heh heh.
(almost to himself now)
Gotta love this heat.....Gotta love Texas.....God’s country....Lot of weird shit here tho.
[music ends] CUT TO
EXT. AIRPORT CAR PARK EXIT
Cars queue to get out of the airport. From the POV of the bonnet of the car behind we see a yellow cab veer out of the queue to the left, over the central reservation and accelerate through the barrier for cars coming the other way. As the barrier comes down it just scrapes the top of the cab. The car makes it’s way back onto the right side of the road skidding and shrieking everywhere as cars get out of the way.
CUT BACK TO
INT. TAXI CAB
Music re-starts : Reverend Horton Heat – Liqour Beer and Wine
Clyde sits in his own taxi, still in the queue – it was the cab in front that made the crazy maneuver. Clyde is very excited as he throws himself back onto the seat enthralled by what he has seen. The driver shakes his head.
Jesus! Un-believable. It’s like being in a fucking film!
[music ends] CUT TO
In truth, I actually did have somewhere to stay the first night I arrived. It was the friend of a friend of a friend of my Mum, but they had a tiny apartment in the suburbs, and the next morning they basically dropped me off on the Drag in 100F heat, with all my bags, and wished me all the best. I wandered into the UT Union building hoping to find some information about accommodation. So this next scene happened pretty much how I wrote it:
EXT. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MAIN BUILDING
Clyde exits cab and looks around. Dazzled by the brightness of the sun and the reflection from the clean, white pavements he squints and shields his eyes as he takes in the high sparkling buildings and shiny smooth young Texans who glide past him.
INT. MAIN RECEPTION AREA
Clyde, still struggling with bags, approaches the reception desk behind which ROCHAN sits on the telephone. Clyde interrupts.
Excuse me I think there should be someone to meet me here. I’m Peter Reid.
(on phone to a friend)
Hold on Sarah.
That’s ok. I’m Peter Reid. Is there someone around here to meet International students?
Uh uh . Only Monday to Friday.
Clyde looks bewildered.
Right. D’you know if there’s, like, any accommodation information stuff here?
Rochan, chewing gum, points over her shoulder and continues her phone conversation. Clyde walks over towards notice boards but turns back completely unaware or disregarding of her attitude.
D’you mind if ah leave my bags behind your desk for a wee minute. (no reply) Cheers.
Clyde walks over to notice board again.
Clyde returns again.
I coudnae borrow a pen please, could I?
Rochan is beginning to warm to his charms. She hands him her pen.
Clyde returns again.
(holding a dollar bill.)
Have you got any quarters for this?
His pronunciation of ‘quarters’ is distinctively Scottish as he accentuates the ‘r’s. Rochan smiles and tilts her head to one side.
Where are you from?
(looking up to meet her warmth)
You don’t have a place to stay?
(looking at information he has scribbled down)
Eh, not really no.
Well, look, I kinda owe Dublin a few favours from when I was there so if none of those work out then you can crash at mine for a few days.
Och really? That’s brilliant. I mean,
that’s good to know.
On one condition though.
That you let me take you to a party tonight.
Shite. Well I’ll try these first like and see what happens you know,
(looking at name on badge)
I finish at six. What was your name again?
Like the horse?
Clyde shrugs his shoulder slowly and smiles cheekily.
Music re-starts : The Charlatans – Weirdo
Clyde walks past Rochan to the exit but goes the wrong way. Then he turns around and tiptoes past her. Rochan smiles, puts her head in her hands and runs her fingers through her hair. She breathes out and smiles. Then remembers the phone. [NARRATION BELOW BEGINS]
Clyde walks outside turns to his left, walks a little, turns back to the right and walks round the corner. He sits down in a shady area and drinks some water watching strangers pass by.
Everything was working out. It’s times like these that make you feel that everything makes sense, you know, that if you’re a good person and you do good things, everything will all work out well in the end. I was happy just to let things happen.
I ended up going to a party that night with Rochan the receptionist (her real name). I did feel really young and I felt out of place. This would also have been the first time I had a conversation with Americans about Scotland. I’ve had the same conversation several thousand times since, but that was the first time I remember thinking how different Americans are from Scots. Two countries separated by a common language, as George Bernard Shaw said more acutely.
EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – NIGHT
Rochan gets out of her car. Clyde is still in the passengers seat a little in shock at the bright lights of the city the night heat and jetlag. Rochan walks around and opens the door for him. Clyde is still wearing the same clothes he arrived in. The music fades to silent as they get out of the car.
Are you ok?
(getting out of car)
They walk up the pathway to a small semi-detached house with a few limp balloons hanging around. The door is open. They enter the house and Rochan continues down the hallway with the beers to put them in the fridge. Clyde waits in the hall then realises he is standing in the doorway to a room on his right. Clyde remains enthusiastic, wide-eyed and uncynical and is still trying to gulp down all the information he is being exposed to.
In response to some questioning looks from the people in the room to his right Clyde walks into the room but says nothing expecting the inhabitants to introduce themselves. There are four people in the room, all sitting down, all very straight looking, early thirties. There are five chairs. There is no music. It is a terrible party.
Roshan returns just as the impasse becomes unbearable and greets the people in the room. Clyde is still standing there expectantly.
INT. SUBURBAN LIVING ROOM
(turning to Clyde introducing him to everyone)
And this is a new friend of mine Clyde. Clyde this is Alice, Bob, Creg and David.
The four introducees pull a ‘don’t give a fuck’ plastic smile. Rochan sits down beside Bob on the only spare chair. Clyde remains standing in the middle of the room.
So how have you been?
Yeah good, good.
(with minimal concern)
Still going to the squash club?
Yeah, sometimes. But I don’t play much anymore. I only really go on Toosdays when I know that a certain someone else is there.
This guy is sooo hot.
The ladies both smile but there is no impetus to continue the conversation, and their smiles both fade.
Clyde is attempting to discreetly walk backwards slowly so that he can perch precariously on the corner of a table. Just as he does so, he is surprised as the host springs forward from his chair towards him.
(as he jumps up)
Heck, I’ll put some music on mm?
There is a frustrated silence as Bob fumbles around with the CD player behind Clyde before we hear the sounds of Don Walser, a local Austin musician famous for his country style yodelling.
Music starts : Don Walser
Clyde is still trying to be enthusiastic and interested without being noticeable. He nods along to the music with uncertainty. Bob offers Clyde some red wine. Clyde accepts with certainty. More conversational silence.
(to Clyde in barely comedic cowboy drawl)
You’re not from round here are you...eh.
(jumping, at chance to speak as much as through surprise)
No, no, I’m from Scotland.
(as if the most obvious thing)
(with some intrigue)
Alice takes interest in this and turns to Clyde as if they are old friends.
Where in Scotland are you from?
Eh well I went to school in Glasgow and I was born there but I’m at Uni in Edinburgh now, so...
(trying to understand)
So you’re at school in Edinbro now?
(attention focused on Alice)
Because I was in Scotland last fall.
Were you? Where were you?
Oh, I went all over.
Oh brilliant. How long were you there for?
Clyde looks confused but politely nods like he understands.
Actually I met one Scottish person – a lady from Glasgow...what was her name...an old lady...um...May-grit?
Clyde follows Alice with her thoughts eagerly, but is unaware that she has asked him a question, then he realizes.
Em..mmm...mmm...I might know her yes.
Oh, it’s one of my favorite countries.
Alice takes a sip of wine as she ponders. Bob tries to get himself back into the conversation.
So Scotchlan’s part of Inglan right?
(quickly to Bob but without turning her head)
Yah it’s the same thing.
(then to Clyde)
So what do you think of Americans? Is it different?
(suddenly completely disorientated)
(laughing, takes a big gulp of wine)
Clyde looks at his glass. Thinking he has answered the question he takes another drink. He looks up to see the whole room still waiting impatiently for an answer. He takes another drink and smiles uncomfortably, oblivious. He drinks again until he has only one drop left. There is still an expectant silence in the room. He lifts the glass up slowly and tips it towards his mouth. The drop hangs for a second or two, then falls gracefully and naturally into his mouth. Clyde calmly puts the glass down and quietly excuses himself.
(making no eye contact with anyone)
I’m just going to get a beer.
Clyde escapes and walks towards the kitchen at the back of the house. The music fades. As he retrieves a beer from the fridge we see that there is more of a party going on outside in a small paved garden. There are about 20 people standing there amid much hugging, hollering and celebrating. Louder music plays.
I stayed on Rochan’s couch in West Campus for a week in August 1995, while I tried to find somewhere more permanent. I’d arrived just a few days before University started so there were not a lot of options. But one day I saw an ad in the Daily Texan for a room in a co-op at 602 Elmwood. It was advertised for graduates only, but I managed to charm the landlord and the rest of the housemates, and at last I had a place to stay.
The house was only 5 minutes walk from the law school and 4 minutes walk to the Crown and Anchor pub. I didn’t have a car so it was perfect. There were 6 other students in the house, all of them very different, and to me it felt like I was in MTV’s The Real World. Without the drama. All the rest of the housemates were fairly serious students. Well, all except for one – Marc.
Marc wasn’t there for my interview with the other housemates, but when I did meet him, I could tell that we were going to be friends. He seemed a lot older than me at the time – he was 24, I was 19 – but he had a magnetic confidence about him. In spite of my first impressions, it quickly became apparent that he loved women, and for the most part, they loved him.
I, on the other hand, knew very little about the opposite sex. But I would learn a lot from Marc. This is the scene I wrote about our first meeting. ‘Luc’ is basically Marc.
INT. CLYDE’S HOUSE – KITCHEN
Words : “Tuesday 29th August 1995”
Clyde, John, David and Carol are sitting in the kitchen eating their lunch and reading. They are reading books and textbooks. Clyde is reading the sports pages of the newspaper. LUC enters.
Luc is strikingly good looking, with dark eyes and perfect tanned skin. He is about 25 and wears classic American shirts and jeans. He has long hair, he is thin and could appear a little effeminate to some. He is cool. He looks like he has taken a long time on his appearance. He holds a squash racket.
Clyde immediately is in awe. The others barely look up from their books.
You must be Clyde.
D’you play squash?
Luc makes squash-playing body shapes.
Clyde opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He moves his eyebrows. He closes his mouth.
You were trying to think of something funny to say weren’t ya?
(smiling for the first time)
Luc grabs some food from the fridge.
Shit man, I’ve gotta be at work, like, yesterday.
Where do you work?
(striking best effeminate pose)
I sell ladies shoes.
(gay stereotype hits him)
I know what you’re thinking.
Clyde bites his lip thinking ‘Is it that obvious?’
You think I’m gay.
No, no. I mean...I know... I mean why would you be?...Well, not why would you be... just like....eh...that’s fine... if you are...or if you’re not....thats.. fine..
Luc is staring at Clyde, enjoying his uncomfortableness, a reaction which he has obviously seen before. Luc doesn’t offer any help, letting Clyde work his own way out of his preconception, and forcing Clyde to break all the silences. The others in the kitchen concentrate even more on their reading, they certainly don’t want to get involved in this issue.
That....eh...that wasn’t what I was thinking anyway.
Luc smirks, raises eyebrow yet further.
No, I was thinking, that, eh...
It must eh... well you must meet a lot of burds I suppose.
(like a teacher losing patience with a pupil)
Girls. You must meet quite a few nice women you know, selling shoes?
(smiling, as if ‘that’s why I do it’)
Int. Clyde’s House – Luc’s bedroom.
It is obviously a single man’s bedroom, black and white decor, with the centre piece a huge double bed. Luc is putting the finishes touches to his suit and tie in the mirror. Clyde is sitting on the floor transfixed by Luc’s extensive CD collection.
How old are you?
Have you got any ID?
(still distracted by CD’s, responds as if being asked to prove it)
(smiling, shakes head)
And it says your 20 right?
Luc makes his way across the room on his way out.
Don’t worry about it man. You’ll be cool. Shit, I’m gonna have some fun with you.
Clyde smiles glad to have met this cool guy, but his expression changes slightly as he cogitates ‘have some fun with you’.
Alright dude. You wanna go grocery shopping when we get back?
(getting up to leave)
(gesticulating that Clyde doesn’t have to leave)
S’ok, chill out. I’ll see you later.
Luc exits and leaves Clyde alone in the room. Clyde stands there. He breathes deeply a couple of times, looks around and allows himself a smile. Luc’s bedroom leads out onto a balcony. Clyde walks out onto it and stares out into a beautiful day. There is no music, no narration, and it is clearly a moment of deep thought for Clyde. He looks happy.
Marc and I became great friends. When things got dark, I knew that I could rely on Stu and Lisa if I needed emotional support. But I also knew that I could rely on Marc when I needed to forget, and to have some fun. He liked having me as his wingman, and I was more than happy to go along for the ride. He was the coolest guy I’d ever met.
We are still friends now although we don’t have that master/apprentice dynamic any more. But he will always be someone I love and respect.
Also Marc never played squash. And he wasn’t the guy Rochan referred to earlier. That was a deliberate red herring.
Anyway, my first two weeks in Austin were like a vacation. I met Stu and the other foreign students who were visiting UT Law School, and we had a great time in the sunshine. Then I started to get very, very homesick. The novelty of being so different started to wear off, and in fact it started to get annoying. There was basically no internet in 1995, and no way to communicate with friends and family other than expensive phone calls or handwritten letters. For a while, I felt a long way from home.
I met a girl, Andrea, and she took me on a date to the Texas Renaissance Festival, because she thought it would give me a taste of my homeland. I hated it. It was a bunch of large Texans eating turkey legs and doing horrible English accents. I should have been able to enjoy it for what it was. But it just made me feel worse.
But I got over it. Stu and I went to see REM and Radiohead one night at the old Southpark Meadows, and, it’s so clichéd but, we had a moment during ‘Everybody Hurts’ when we just decided to stop being sad and start enjoying ourselves. Then we went out to the Hole in the Wall and Michael Stipe was there. He commented on my ‘Mr. Daydream’ t-shirt as I walked past, and my homesickness was over.
That was around the middle of September 1995. After that, I settled into a routine, I joined some soccer teams, I embraced all that Austin had to offer, and I was happy for a while.