A letter from Hollywood: An Australian author on the red carpet in La La Land

Kian Lawley, Amanda Betts, and Anne Winters at the premiere of Zac and Mia. Picture: Getty Images
Amanda Betts with the Hollywood sign. Picture: Supplied

Australian writer Amanda Betts found herself the centre of attention on the red carpet in Hollywood, a surreal experience she braved without even a fake tan.

“Like a lost puppy, I didn’t know where to look or how to stand, and kept trying to make small talk while actors executed practised poses either side of me,” she told Business Insider.

Betts, a Queenslander based in Perth, went to Hollywood because her book, Zac & Mia, has been made into a television series.

The story about two teens with cancer came to Betts while she was working as a teacher, helping sick children in hospital stay on top of their studies.

Kian Lawley, a YouTube star, is playing Zac and Anne Winters is Mia.

“It was odd to be so physically close to the actors while having to ignore them and give my attention to the cameras,” she says of the red carpet walk.

“I was all too aware of my flaws: my rushed makeup and inelegant hair (after the hairdresser cut my bangs too short) and lack of fake tan.

“I became aware, too, of my age: it’s not just the cast who are young, but the crew, most of whom are early-thirties, or younger.”

I don’t belong here, her fragile ego cried.

“And so I had to remind myself that none of this — the party or the show — would exist without the story I’d created, which made my imperfections less dire, as did a couple of quick wines at the bar.”

Zac & Mia, which won the 2012 Text Prize, was her third novel for teenagers under the byline AJ Betts.

“I’m still recovering — emotionally, physically — from the Zac & Mia premiere party last night in LA,” she wrote.

Amanda Betts cycling in Los Angeles. Supplied.

“The crowd was huge, the vibe pumping, the people beautiful, the canapés carb-free and the wine free-flowing.

“The cast and crew were absolutely lovely and kept thanking me for creating this.

“In the brand new theatre at AwesomenessTV studio, hundreds of us watched the first two episodes of season one.

“It’s like Zac & Mia crossed with Beverley Hills 90210. It’s kooky and sweet. It’s too wild and wonderful to be true.”

She’s not sure when it will be shown in Australia but she’s keeping an eye on it.

A letter from Amanda Betts from “La LA Land”

I’m sitting in a Los Angeles cafe where coffee is taken very seriously. Ordering had been time-consuming, with all three baristas contributing to my important decision.

“What blend you usually drink?”

“How did you sleep last night?”

“How bold are you feeling right now?”

I flew to LA five days ago to attend the premiere of the Zac & Mia television series, which is an adaptation of my novel for the American market by AwesomenessTV.

The party was a grand, glittering affair, complete with red carpet, photographers, and beautiful actors posing in front of a Zac & Mia backdrop. Hundreds of tanned people drank and laughed and nibbled on low-carb canapés.

Once I was identified as the author, I was dragged from the bar and into the arms (and selfies) of cast and crew. For one night, I had a taste of celebrity. It was delicious.

Since then, my days have been spent quietly wandering beach towns, and I’ve gotten a feel for the place.

What I’ve noticed most is how enthusiastic the locals are, and not only about coffee and customer service. Other things taken seriously here include small dogs, juice bars, indoor cycling studios, avocado, comfortable shoes, and organic everything.

I used to think American sitcoms were clichéd and overacted, but now I believe otherwise.

In real life, surfer-dudes use “bro” and “epic” with great energy and not a hint of irony.

In an organic food-store, one of them assures me “That sushi is awesome!” (Everything is “awesome” or, occasionally, “awful”, with apparently no middle ground.)

Roller-skaters dance unselfconsciously at Venice Beach while body-builders pump iron for an audience. Hipster waiters wear T-shirts daring me to “Ask about our designer kale”. Twenty-somethings with Macbooks congregate in café courtyards, discussing writing projects.

When I’m out walking, I don’t feel as invisible as I often do in Australian cities. On the streets, every stranger makes eye contact and acknowledges my presence with a wide smile.

In LA, I feel less of an observer and more a participant in this cheery, interactive matrix. I only need to contemplate crossing a road and drivers stop to let me do so.

When I’m riding a bike, I’m given right of way and a friendly wave. In a city where cars are king, it’s surprising to discover pedestrians and cyclists aren’t treated with impatience but with kindness.

Another surprise is the constant visibility of LA’s homeless. There are mounds of blankets under which people sleep. There are trolleys filled with belongings. There are life-worn men standing at traffic lights with hand-written signs saying “Veteran” or “Hungry”. Drivers lean out of car windows to give change.

There is a resigned sense that we’re all in this together, and we are each doing our best. The only people ignored in this city are the ones who shout crazily at the air, intoxicated by drugs or god or something else, but even they are harmless, and I feel entirely safe here, more so than back home.

I’ve only scratched the surface, I know. Every district has its own personality, with its special mix of awesomes and awfuls. By the way, one of the baristas just told a customer to “Have a magical day”. It would sound comical in Australia, but here, it’s unashamedly genuine and infectious, and something I’d like to take back with me, when I go.

Here’s the trailer from Zac and Mia:

In a second letter, more an addendum, Betts says the actors were genuinely kind and excited to meet her.

“When they realised who I was, they hugged and thanked me with genuine warmth,” she says.

“Each had read the book and have been living with my world and characters for many months, so to them, I’ve been central to the production from the start.

“To them, it was like they already knew me, in an intimate kind of way. The same applied for the crew, from the director of photography to the editors and set designers.”

They were excited when she flew over to be a part of the show, firstly for the premiere.

The After Party

“Once the premiere screening was over and the final selfies taken, the crowd petered out until all but a dozen of us found ourselves Uber-ing to a bar in Santa Monica,” she says.

“With an indoor ping pong table, it was more Hicksville than Hollywood, but it must’ve done the job for our conversation was lively, including local gossip about ‘Weinstein’, and others.”

Author Amanda Betts and actress Anne Winters. Picture: Getty Images

She can’t recall much that was said but remembers promising someone called Brad she would go sky-diving with him in the Mojave Desert.

She didn’t follow up.

“I know my earlier letter mentions the commitment and enthusiasm of LA folk (to service, small dogs on leads, coffee ..), but I wanted to emphasise how committed they are to friendliness,” Betts writes.

“Everyone has their own ‘fifteen second pitch’ of their life story, and are enthusiastic to share it, and hear yours. People seem ever eager to make connections.”

On a train ride up the coast, the driver used the PA to announce: “This is a great opportunity to make new friends. Speak to the person sitting next to you, then go to the viewing or dining carriage to make even more.”

Betts describes it as an adult version of Sesame Street, where everyone is wanting to exercise their neighbourliness.

“Also, with their whole-hearted enthusiasm for ‘awesomes’, it’s easy to understand why they believe America to be the greatest place in the world,” she says.

“Unlike Australians, who are often self-deprecating, self-critiquing, and painfully aware of our inadequacies, the LA locals are unwavering in their belief in self and country, with this belief continuously feeding itself in an echo chamber of positivity.

“If they say it with enough conviction and optimism, then it must be true, right?”

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