by Randall Jahnson
I felt like I was back in L.A.
It was a hot Friday afternoon and here I was stuck on a freeway, inching along at 15 miles per with every other moron who was Living the Dream. The sun blazed down on my aging SUV with its inefficient air conditioner blasting away. I knew that whenever I would reach my destination the back of my shirt would be soaked, which was frequently my condition when I’d arrive for meetings at a studio in the Valley or Burbank.
But this was not LA., it was Portland.
And I was not heading to Warner Bros., but to the set of the Willamette Writers FiLMLaB.
And there was another difference. This time I had a companion in the form of a lanky 13-year-old slouched in the passenger seat, my son Dylan, a pair of ear buds plugged into his skull. I had coaxed him to come with me on this summer day. Actually, I didn’t have to coax him at all; he readily accepted when I ran the notion past him.
Dylan’s a film geek. When he’s not playing Minecraft or listening to Skrillex or DeadMau5, he’s on my wife’s computer cutting together the latest footage he’s shot with his film geek buddies. On the night of his last day of Seventh Grade, his school threw an end-of-the-year dance. After bouncing around the dance floor for a couple hours, he and his crew returned to our house in West Linn where a large camping tent was set up in the backyard. Instead of settling in and playing cards and talking about girls and eating bowls of popcorn, what did they do? They started making a monster movie. Three hours later – nearing 1:30 a.m. – they wrapped. Yes, it’s “Super-8” in the Digital Age.
So when FiLMLaB coordinator Ruth Witteried invited me to stop by the set of this year’s winning script, “Inspiration,” I resolved to take my middle school monkey with me. Show him how the pros do it, I thought.
I was ready to get out of the house myself. After powering through back-to-back script deadlines, I was pooped and looking for some quality time with my teenager. We jumped into my Jeep and left West Linn bound for the Parkside Pub somewhere in North Portland.
Cut to an hour later and we’re still inching toward the location. I’ve started grinding my teeth. I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. Like some kind of PTSD trigger, the jammed traffic and the inescapable heat have bounced me back to LA where I lived and worked for nearly 27 years. Suddenly, I’m on my way to a pitch meeting at Disney – but I can’t remember the pitch! Spielberg’s waiting for me but Highland’s a parking lot! God, help me, please! If I can just make it to little Cahuenga everything will be all right!
Believe it or not, traffic was one of the reasons we left Southern California in 2007. We just couldn’t take it anymore. The final nail in the coffin was hammered on the day I had a meeting at the offices of MTV on the west side of LA, a distance of about 22 miles from my home in Pasadena. I left at 8:30 to make the 10:15 appointment. I arrived a half-hour late. I realized then that I could’ve flown from Portland to LA in the same amount of time.
I glanced over at Dylan. “Sorry this is taking so long, “ I said.
He shrugged with zen-like indifference.
When we finally arrived at the location of the shoot, I was expecting an uncomfortably hot set and a grouchy crew. Instead, the Parkside Pub was a shaded bastion of calm. The cast and crew floated about, focused and professional. There were smiles and laughs as they lit the next shot. There were no sweaty backs.
Except for one.
I spotted volunteer Maru Pong slumped off to the side, a glum expression on his face. Like me, Maru is an LA-bailout who lives in West Linn.
“I just got here,” he groused. “It took me two hours.”
“The radio said there was an accident on the Five,” I added.
Maru was not consoled “It was like I was in LA again.”
Dylan and I settled into spot behind the camera and watched director Christopher Alley and DP Eric Macey frame and film a moment with between actors Greg Alexander and Brynn Baron.
I have to say it was a moment that made everything worth while. Not because of what was happening in front of the camera, which was magical, but for what was happening behind the camera: my son and I sharing the experience of watching professional film makers doing what they love to do.
On the drive home, which was far shorter and more pleasant than the drive in, I asked Dylan what he thought about visiting the set.
“Cool,” he said.
I smiled. Cool, indeed. In both temperature and temperament.