My mom was pretty excited when I called in February to tell her I'd just been nominated for a Juno Award for directing the video for Stamp, by the Rural Alberta Advantage.
I was excited, too. When my producing partner and cinematographing brother and I bunkered up in a loft last winter to shoot, we weren't expecting this scale of recognition. We thought: YouTube, sure. RollingStone.com, maybe.
But the possibility that Juno host William Shatner might beam a translucent statue of national acknowledgment directly into our sweaty, trembling, undeserving hands? Impossible to predict. Mind explosion.
Along with all that excitement, however, came a palpable feeling of dread. Save for a Guess the Number of Pumpkin Seeds in Our Class's Halloween Pumpkin contest in Grade 2 (I lost; am still convinced it was fixed), I've never been up for any sort of award at a gala-type event.
I had no idea how to prepare, or what the expectations would be.
I mean, how many butlers are you supposed to reserve to ensure tuxedo crispness? Who loans you the diamond teeth? Would Our Lady Peace back out of the live show at the last second, forcing me to take to the stage to replace them?
"I wasn't expecting to perform, so I didn't even have a guitar," says Ron Sexsmith of his own first trip to the Junos in the late nineties. After he won the award for best solo roots and traditional album, organizers scrambled to the aisles during a commercial break to coax him onstage to replace OLP (medical emergency). "I had to go on right before Shania Twain," he recalls. "It was pretty stressful, looking down and seeing Robbie Robertson in the front row.
"They haven't had me on to perform since," he adds, laughing, "so I must have done a really bad job."
Sexsmith is nominated this year in two categories – songwriter of the year, and adult alternative album – so his performance couldn't have been that bad. But he raises another anxiety-inducing point: Shania. Robbie. And for that matter, Ron!
Some of the biggest artists our country has ever produced are going to be at the Junos this year – Feist, Blue Rodeo, Sarah MacLachlan – doing the secret Juno handshake with each other and eating from only the finest Juno afterparty hors d'oeuvre trays. I don't get star-struck, but I also don't want to embarrass myself in front of people whose work I admire.
"We knew that Rush were in the audience when we played [the Junos in 1999]" says Chris Murphy, of Sloan (nominated this year for best rock album). "I think Rush are the coolest, punkest band ever…and I was trying to get everyone to stand on their feet, and I was picturing Geddy Lee's face: 'Like, I'm not standing up for these hack amateurs.' "
I ask Murphy if Lee did end up standing. "I'd like to think he did," he tells me, cheek thick with tongue. "I don't know if this true, José, but I feel like Geddy was one of the first."
While I'd like to strike public shame completely from my list of pre-Juno-night terrors, I have another concern. It's one my girlfriend has put as a question to me every day for the past six weeks: What are you going to wear?
"It's not the pressurized thing that it is in Hollywood or whatever," says Sexsmith. "Before I found out that I was presenting this year, I wasn't worrying about it at all. I just thought I'd wear jeans and a suit jacket or something."
That's exactly what director Marc Ricciardelli, who won my category in 2010 (for Serena Ryder's video, Little Bit of Red), wore to his first trip to the Junos, in 2008, when they were held in Calgary.
"A lot of people do dress up, but I wouldn't think that you need to," says Ricciardelli. "Depends: You don't want to go up there in a T-shirt if you happen to win. And if you're trying to schmooze with people and you're in a T-shirt, they might kind of get the wrong idea – like you're not taking it seriously."
Not taking it too seriously, as it happens, is the approach recommended by director Kyle Davison, who won the video category for Hedley's Perfect last year in Toronto. "If you want to stand out, don't wear a black suit," he advises. "Everybody wears a black suit.
"I wore a black suit. But if I had some balls, I'd wear something super crazy, like Underoos or some sort of tight outfit.
"Which I think you should do."
Murphy tried the moderately crazy style route in 1998 when he showed up at the Junos in the bright red suit from Sloan's She Says What She Means video. "I thought it'd be kind of an ostentatious, unique thing to wear," says Murphy. "But there was some hip-hop group there after we performed – and one guy had a red suit on. It was red-suit year.
"Mercifully," he adds, "there were no magazines taking pictures of us saying, 'Who rocked it better?' "
Speaking of ostentation, I'm curious about another awards-show conundrum: to prepare or not to prepare an acceptance speech?
Murphy isn't much help on this one: "'How obnoxious is this? He's so convinced he's going to win that he prepared a speech. But the flip side is: This guy thinks he's so quick on his feet that he's just going to wing it and eat up all this time and be boring."
Director Davison reinforces that last point, and reminds me of something I should probably keep in mind all weekend long: "If you win, make it quick. Everybody's like, 'Honestly? Arcade Fire and Neil Young are here. Hurry it up.' "
Special to The Globe and Mail