From Budapest to Hollywood
[eMail conversation between Anikó J. Bartos and Andrea Wesselenyi]
Translation of 12/1999 interview published in Hungary's leading cyber-issues magazine:
While surfing at GeoCities two years ago, I discovered the web site of
Aniko J. Bartos. In those days, it was very rare to find an
interactive personal web page, and Aniko's site far surpassed the ones
I had seen up to that time. On this "magically" good site, a "cyber-soothsayer"
offered a variety of online services in English: I Ching, Tarot cards,
Astrology, Zodiac numbers, PLUSLotto, Palmistry, and even a personal Biorhythm
reading. It seemed likely that an impossibly-clever webmistress was behind
all this, and of course I was curious about the owner of such an interesting,
entertaining and professionally designed web site. I sent her an enthusiastic
eMail, and to my surprise the answer arrived not from an American guru,
but from a Budapest address, in Hungarian:
I appreciate your praising
words, but I must truly confess that creating this project was a joint
effort, to such an extent that I just "loaned" my name to the web site,
and to the information and work which went into it. This accomplishment
should be credited to my distant friend, because the site was his gift
to me! Alan is an American who lives near Los Angeles, in Glendale. We
"met" through the Internet nearly a year ago, and we've been in daily contact
via eMail. I've come to know him as a fantastic person, with extraordinary
sensitivity, who writes screenplays. I can thank my tiny English knowledge
for our correspondence, and for the wonderful feelings which have blossomed
From Aniko's words, it appeared
likely that another tale of Internet love might surface. And after two
years' silence, her next eMail - this time from America - confirmed this
Hi Andrea! There's a double
reason for this latest message, and I wanted you to know about these two
happy events. First, my personal meeting with Alan has finally taken place.
I am now at his house in Los Angeles and we are happy together!
The second is this: our
book has been published and it's now available at Amazon.com, among
other places. It describes the first three months of our connection, and
the process of writing a screenplay called "The Fall In Budapest" through
the Internet, from which a Hollywood film will hopefully be made. More
detailed information can be found at our 9TimeZones.com web site - this
is also the book's title.
Many online and real-world
publications have featured information about this American-Hungarian eMail
coproduction - among them, Wired magazine. Alan has already written several
articles which relate his experiences and thoughts about their shared work
on the Internet. Now we'll show the Hungarian side of this story, through
the following interview with Aniko, conducted via eMail, of course:
if we can go back to these events, you met Alan on the Internet exactly
three years ago. What were you looking for, and more specifically, how
did you meet him in cyberspace?
1996, I worked at a company which had direct Intranet and Internet connections
with branch offices all over the world. While learning how to use the web,
I looked at many different pages, eventually discovering a site which contained
personal ads. The top line, which included the following English-language
description, caught my eye:
cm tall, athletic, blond hair, blue eyes, 45 years old, non-smoker, divorced
American man searches for correspondents worldwide."
to smile about this announcement, because I felt that I was exactly the
opposite (with the exception of my smoking and marital status) to him:
short, unathletic, brown hair, etc. On a whim, I composed a reverse portrait,
writing about myself as if I were a caricature of his ad. Although I sent
this eMail, I didn't really expect any reply.
you know why Alan chose to answer you, among all the responses?
said that he received many messages, but most of these people were not
accustomed to the demands of an active correspondence, and that was critical
to him. He couldn't really know whether or not I enjoyed writing, but because
he had warm memories of a two-day visit to Budapest some years earlier,
he thought it might be interesting to make friends with a Hungarian lady.
his answer arrived, and in a short time you were both exchanging eMails
every day, resulting in a several-hundred-page book. What prompted you
to write so many messages?
first, I was quite surprised to receive a reply. When I immediately sent
a response back to him, his answer again arrived within 24 hours. In this
way, days came and went with the rhythm of our eMails. At the beginning,
our curiosity moved us to know more and more about each other. With small
steps, as message followed upon message, we could become closer and closer
to the other person. After awhile, our writing was spiced with jokes and
wordplay, even though we also exchanged opinions on very serious topics.
we might say that each eMail gave birth to the next. And during this process,
it could be seen that we were both touched not only by the enjoyment provided
by the writing, but also by the consistent arrival of each response, at
the same time every day. It gave both of us a kind of secure feeling. If
one person promised something to the other (for example, expanding the
discussion of a topic in the next eMail), it was crucial to do this exactly.
After awhile, we built the trust which is truly important not only in cyberspace,
but in all areas of life.
knowing each other for just a little while, matters took a significant
turn when Alan proposed a writing partnership, to put some events from
'56 into a screenplay. Please describe the origins of this idea.
amazed me when Alan asked about '56, because I never thought that an American,
10,280 km away, would know anything about what happened at that time in
Hungary, let alone have an interest in discussing it. He had just sent
me one of his short stories, The Last Lesson, which is a touching remembrance
of his father, and his writing impressed me a great deal. So I also tried
to pick the freshest flowers from my garden of childhood memories, to place
in our growing bouquet. While I was wrapped up in writing about the events
which I could still see with the eyes of a 5-year-old girl, I never thought,
even for a moment, that my recollections would have such a powerful effect
on Alan. His reply was full of enthusiasm, partly because of my "talent,"
and partly because he thought my memories would be valuable to share with
other people, especially Americans. So we decided to try writing a screenplay
started some intensive eMail exchanges which are quite entertaining, but
they also appeared to be hard work for both of you. How did all of this
three scriptwriting months were extraordinarily satisfying. In spite of
the distance, it seemed like we were always together. After finishing a
new scene or part of one, Alan would send the text to me immediately, and
sometimes many eMails were exchanged during one day. We frequently 'disagreed'
about the development of new scenes, and Alan's argument was sometimes
the winner, but at other moments my ideas looked stronger, and he modified
the script accordingly. It was always so touching when my words could again
"say hello" to me, in his next eMail. These messages bring back very sweet
memories, as do our telephone conversations. When we passed certain milestones
in the script, Alan called me unexpectedly, so that we could personally
share each other's joy.
did the two of you divide the work - did you write any scenes alone, or
were you just a technical advisor?
separate "work" was only in one area - the cemetery scene. Alan carefully
modified only my English grammar, so the scene wouldn't lose my poetry,
as he calls it. I was very active in helping to choose our locations, because
all the action takes place in Hungary. Our arguments became quite significant
when we tried to reconcile the characters with their dialogue. We wanted
both Hungarian and American audiences to feel comfortable in identifying
with them. Each of us became a staunch advocate for the tastes of our respective
culture. And Alan tried to represent the wishes of a future producer, by
frequently reminding me that our story needed a happy ending, Hollywood's
basic requirement. :-)
what lies ahead for "The Fall In Budapest"? Do you really think a film
will be made from it?
was registered and copyrighted, as is customary in America. After that,
like worried parents trying to smooth the path for their tiny child, we
entered the little one in several screenplay contests. It received two
honors, first becoming a quarterfinalist in one competition (1997 Writers
Network), then being named as one of the five finalists in another (SCRNWRiT
First Draft Script Writing Contest - you can read the story at MovieBytes.com).
Several producers have expressed serious interest in the script, but in
Hollywood it is vital to wait for the right moment before making a final
did you live during the months of actual script writing - what happened
in your lives at that time?
was completely preoccupied with thoughts of the script and of Alan. After
work, I became impatient to arrive at home, where I would immediately start
to write. During this period, other things ceased to exist for me, so I
missed the Certified Public Accountant exams, which took place at the same
time. I had to choose - Alan didn't know anything about this - the exams
or the script. And I chose the script. Some people might view this as an
irresponsible decision, but after nearly 30 years of obligations (child
rearing and buying a home, while earning my living as a single mother),
I felt that perhaps one decision could be made which wasn't contrary to
my heart's desire. Alan found out about this choice only after several
months, and he was very proud that I had chosen the script and him.
importance did you ascribe to this project? And was it a chore, a diversion,
or a test for you?
was a totally new experience, not only because of the unique opportunities
presented by the Internet, but also because I could experiment in a completely
new area, which had always felt paradoxically familiar - the world of writing.
Between the lines of our creative work, of course, we were both aware that
we received a lot of information about the other person, and because of
this, we were able to feel quite close to each other. As we spoke about
the characters in our script, and formed their personalities, each of us
began to feel comfortable with our new friend. At the same time, we revealed
a lot about our own personalities.
read the book, and its first section contains the diary-like letters which
Alan wrote to you, while the second part consists of the completed script,
so your relationship can be seen only from his perspective. Why aren't
your eMails included in this book?
learned English some years ago (mainly by myself), but it was used only
on rare occasions, so my knowledge was very passive. At the beginning of
our correspondence, many hours were necessary to draft an answer which
contained only 8-10 sentences. I was hidden inside my dictionary, spending
hours looking for the correct words and phrases. And despite all this effort,
my English usage certainly wasn't Oxford-level. So that's why it is difficult
to find direct evidence of me in this book; my eMails would need a total
rewrite, to allow an English-speaking audience to enjoy them. Even my current
language level isn't the best, and Alan feared that if he changed my words
into standard English, my personality would have disappeared from them.
We believe that Alan's narrative allows the other person's feelings and
thoughts to be seen and felt. Even though this concept originated with
him, I like the style very much.
any expectations grow in you, after seeing how much time and attention
Alan was paying to you from such a great distance?
seemed like I had a rendezvous every day, waiting for his eMails, and it
was a very pleasant feeling. However, a small part of my mind considered
the possibility that our connection might suddenly stop, at any time, so
one thought remained strong: to protect myself against a possible disappointment.
Although I received his complete attention, I suspected that this script
was the reason. To tell the truth, I wasn't completely sure about what
would happen when we finished writing. In spite of our trust for each other,
I believe that any partners in these kinds of situations must remain cautious,
to avoid torturing themselves later.
surely felt a lot of attention coming from you, because the language difficulties
required such a large amount of energy for each of your communications.
at first he was unaware that I expended so much time and energy on my replies.
But after a month, when I started sending eMails from my new home Internet
connection (before that, I composed responses on a disk at night, then
posted them from my workplace the next morning), he finally saw that I
was staying up very late, from the header times on my responses. He was
always grateful that we could have discussions in his language, but when
he found out that it was not a simple task for me, our friendship became
much more valuable to him.
much did your English improve, with Alan's help?
the beginning, I worked hard to understand him - but luckily, he tried
to express himself with simple words - and when he used complicated expressions,
he always "enclosed" an explanation in parentheses (this might seem like
a small courtesy, but it tells a lot about him). And while the reading
was heavy work for me, the writing was even more difficult. But in the
end, all of this was entertaining and gave me great joy. After some weeks
had passed, my transactions with the dictionary became much less busy.
A few months later, when we spent several hours on IRC every Saturday evening,
I didn't need the dictionary at all. So perhaps the answer is now obvious:
I have Alan to thank for my present English knowledge.
a time, your connection became very intense. Didn't you miss the personal
seems natural that after one gets to know the "spirit-character" of another,
a desire for face-to-face communication will soon grow. At the beginning,
we tried to address this "question" by sending pictures, but perhaps we
only increased the desire for a personal encounter. To tell the truth,
Alan was somewhat afraid of a meeting. His divorce left him with painful
wounds, and he dreaded risking another disappointment, so I respected his
unexpressed feelings and fears. I didn't want to push too hard for a meeting,
because the life experiences which we gain by force can never provide lasting
was it finally decided that you would travel to see him?
to the end of last year, during one of our IRC sessions, the topic of a
meeting again arose, and to my happy surprise, Alan thought that the time
had arrived at last! So we planned that I would visit Los Angeles for two
or three weeks, during my summer vacation.
memories do you have of the meeting day?
an 18-hour flight, I arrived from Ferihegy Airport to LAX, where Alan and
I nearly missed each other. I remember standing alone on the street, with
my luggage cart, thinking that the time had come to "panic," when I saw
a bearded person running toward me from afar. It was him: my American had
a gift package in his hand and a happy smile on his face. After giving
me a hand-kiss, he couldn't seem to stop, so he also hugged me and placed
a sweet, easy kiss on the top of my head. When we later arrived at his
home, a wonderful bouquet of red roses was waiting patiently in life-giving
water, and their presence told me the words which had been left unsaid:
"I love you, Aniko!"
the car ride home, we discussed the "problem" surrounding my arrival, but
it was not so easy to understand, because my attention was distracted by
all the hustle-bustle and strange buildings and unusual houses and enormous
number of cars and myriad freeway levels. I finally learned that there
had been a misunderstanding, and Alan was forced to run several kilometers
just to reach the place where I had arrived. Later, he told me that the
mad dash was very worthwhile, because he could see from a distance that
his Hungarian partner was even more wonderful in person than she had appeared
in the photos. :-)
did you prepare yourselves for this personal meeting?
made a simple plan, with champagne, roses and chocolate cigars. And after
18 hours of exhausting travel, I gamely tried to look attractive by presenting
a reasonably pleasant expression. But seriously, we didn't expect anything
special from each other - we knew that our meeting might result in a deep
connection, or just a simple friendship. In either case, our lives would
still be enriched.
do you feel there, and how do you spend your days?
has a lovely condo in Glendale, about 10 km from Hollywood. After I had
been here for a week, he offered - asked - that if we both felt the same
way, I should probably stay here with him. And for the last three months,
we've enjoyed the many wonders of life which this sunny, smiley, and for
me, still a bit exotic, Los Angeles can give. We often go hiking, and visit
many interesting places in the area (Hsi Lai Buddhist temple, the desert
near Twenty-Nine Palms, etc.). We eat great food (even at the Drive-Thru
Donut) and our personalities have slowly become smoothed to each other.
During all this, we've also been working to set up our future.
Angeles is a very interesting town. Strictly speaking, one must imagine
not just one town, but a chain of towns. And Hollywood is merely another
part of this huge urban sprawl - it's a strange feeling to see all the
big film studio names in one area. I'm very lucky, because some of Alan's
friends work in show business, so I've been able to observe how various
entertainment programs are produced. We were given VIP seats at Jay Leno's
show, and that was a fascinating experience. Many people arrive from all
parts of the country, only to wait in a line for several hours, perhaps
all day, just for the chance to attend this free studio taping.
the two of you plan to visit Hungary together?
are full with plans and dreams, and we hope very much to make some of them
come true. Alan would like to meet my family during this next year, so
we plan to travel after the winter is over, when our script's locations
can display their amazing summer appearance. Until that time, we are making
every effort so that more and more readers will know about this book, and
the pleasant pastime which it could hopefully bring. We also have faith
that the script will eventually arrive in the hands of the right producer,
so that this movie might appear on a screen, showing all the wonders in
Budapest which we have envisioned.
Links related to the article:
Aniko and Alan's book home
Alan and Aniko's book
[Anikó and Alan celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary in June, 2011.]
to Anikó's home page: http://a.9TimeZones.com