By Kat Nicholson.
My media pass to cover the first ever AACTA Awards was approved exactly one week before the ceremony itself – kicking off a week of insanity. I had to arrange plane tickets, accommodation, work out what to wear, what to ask people, what to do when I got there, do as much background reading as possible and try to seem like I knew exactly what I was doing and what to expect. Fortunately, I have an undergraduate film degree. Given that it was the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, I didn’t feel as lost as I would at something like the Brownlows (that’s an award for cricket, right?).
I flew out to Sydney the day before the ceremony. When AACTA-time finally came, I arrived at the Opera House 45 minutes early for the media call wearing a black, 1930s-esque cocktail dress by Leona Edmiston. To my surprise, only about a third of the media had bothered to dress or suit up; the press pack was a sea of mostly jeans and t-shirts.
Adelaide: 1. Big city: 0.
While we waited, a troupe of thirty or so dancers performed a routine on the red carpet – before performing it again, and again. I assumed they were using the space to rehearse a number for the stage. By the time I realised it was being filmed for a pre-recorded intro to the Channel 9 broadcast, it was too late. The spot where I was standing meant that I’d already been filmed, very visibly in frame and looking completely gormless. I wouldn’t know about that last part until later in the evening, when the awards went to air in Adelaide and I immediately received about a million texts at the same time from everyone I’d ever met saying that they’d seen me on TV.
Meanwhile, rumours were floating around that Leonardo DiCaprio might be coming, because he was in Sydney filming reshoots for The Great Gatsby. I started mentally planning what I might ask him, if given the chance. I reluctantly ruled out a marriage proposal in the interests of maintaining my professionalism.
An hour after the media call, the first celebrity guests started arriving and walking up the red carpet. I suddenly found myself desperately wishing they’d offered a topic on how not to sound like an idiot around famous people at journalism school. I was hit with depth of my uncoolness as I realised the event was about to swarm with proper A-listers… and I was from a city where people get excited about a visit from some guy who used to be married to Britney Spears.
(Big city: 1. Adelaide: 0?)
I suppressed my feelings of intimidation through a tactic that had always served me well as a short person: overcompensation. I immediately (and almost literally) pounced on the first celebrity whose attention I could grab, which turned out to be the warm and friendly Radha Mitchell. Next, I spoke to Richard Roxburgh.
“Kat, Glam Adelaide,” I introduced myself.
“Hi. I’m Richard.”
Smooth, Kat, smooth.
I quickly relaxed, but the rest of my red carpet coverage didn’t go off entirely without a hitch. At one point, I felt something on my arm and looked down to see a spider crawling up it. I don’t like spiders. Not in the slightest. I shrieked and flailed out my arm, sending the arachnid soaring through the air and making the journalists either side of me jump. I watched, feeling like it was in slow motion, as the spider sailed towards Rachael Taylor… landing an inch from her feet. Fortunately, she remained unaware of the whole thing.
I busily composed a tweet in an attempt to pretend nothing had happened.
I had been keen to speak to Xavier Samuel, given that he’s an Adelaide boy. He was a pleasure to chat with – gently sarcastic, which I found endearing after listening to so many carefully polished answers. It was nice to get a glimpse of someone’s personality and enjoy a bit of banter. Plus, he vindicated my decision to dress up by telling me I looked “lovely”.
At the time, I mentally congratulated myself for not swooning and managing to remain in serious journalist mode. That is, until I listened to the recording of the interview afterwards and heard myself giggle.
Okay, gossip time: at the start, the media were warned by the publicists that there were three actors who had already chosen a couple of media outlets each and wouldn't be available for comment. Two of them I wasn't surprised about, as they were involved in the organisation and the running of the whole thing. The third, without naming names, was more unexpected – and the way she scurried as quickly as possible up the red carpet, barely pausing for photos and looking like she had better places to be, was unappealing.
When the awards ceremony started, we were escorted into the media room. I coundn't decide which I was more excited about – sandwich and cheese platters, or power outlets I could use to recharge my slowly dying iPhone. As it turns out, if you're ever in a situation where you want to network with as many fellow journos as possible, be the one nerd who thinks to bring along an iPhone charger.
There was an embargo on not tweeting or otherwise broadcasting the winners until the television broadcast, because Channel 9 wanted to be the first to reveal the results. I tend to tweet every second thought that pops into my head, so I'm pretty sure I was visibly twitching by the end – especially as one South Australian winner after another was announced. In an age when social media rules and at an event that was meant to reinvent the former AFI Awards, the rule struck me as odd and archaic. Awkward, too, when the MC even told the guests in the concert hall not to tweet (something, I noticed, which was absent from the delayed broadcast).
Fortunately, there were other things I was able to fill the Twitter-void with,. Stephan Elliot, director of A Few Best Men, used his presenter's speech to speak about homophobia he'd received from his family and to come out publicly for the first time – something else which was conspiciously absent from Channel 9's broadcast of the ceremony.
In the end, there was no Leo. There were plenty of glitzy dresses, glamorous celebrities and a few strange-tasting sandwiches, though. AACTA Awards: you're alright.