From November of 2007 to March of 2008 I worked as a location scout on the movie Twilight. That’s right, Scout is a scout. My user name has nothing to do with bow-wielding elves or literary characters or wagon trains. See, on most film sets they tend to yell out ‘locations’ or ‘scout’ instead of calling you by your given name so over the years I’ve come to answer to either scout or….well that would be telling… but it’s an Anglo Saxon male name you’ve heard a million times. Twilight the novel is a vivid tweener vampire romance series written by Stephenie Meyer, a mother and housewife who got the original idea from a dream. What a dream it turned out to be. She began writing and from those first few days jotting down sketches of her main characters, she birthed a pop phenomena.
Google it if you have nothing on your calendar for the next three weeks.
Four top ten bestsellers later and the first movie goes into production. An LA production company called Summit Entertainment had the vision to snap up the rights after Paramount let it go into turnaround. Having secured the rights, Summit began to do what all movie companies with a hot property do: Commission a script, hire a director and a producer, cast talent, bring on technical staff and start searching for a shooting locale. In this case they decided on Portland, Oregon as the location for the movie and hired some extremely competent location people, one of whom called me, asking if I would be willing to sign on as a “day player”. Now a day player is a non-staff position, so don’t look for my name in the credits as it won’t be there. I’m a hired gun, a freelancer, a paid consultant, whatever you want to call it. I worked from week to week on an as-needed basis. My job was to search for locations for the many scenes the company required for the shoot. I was given a script, a few guidelines and cut loose to scout. In the course of the winter I helped secure many of the backdrops your daughters will be watching obsessively for the next 3 months. Somewhere in the out-of-focus background are my size 10 Vans shoe prints.
Stick with me…there is a point to all this.
I spent untold weeks in the Oregon winter, driving through rain and snow, dodging pit bulls tethered to giant fir trees by logging chains, frequenting towns called Mist, Estacada, Vernonia (which had just suffered major flood damage only a week before I arrived), Boring, Sandy, Cape Horn and Hood River. At one point, in a real Lassie moment, a rancher’s dog inadvertently led me to one of the main locations in the movie. I went to high schools, grade schools, Departments of Transportation truck garages, pristine meadows, religious cults housed in empty middle schools, Boy Scout camps, logging mills, Forest Service offices, gas stations, overlooks, farmhouses, back roads, gravel pits, gymnasiums, small town cafes, city halls, parking lots and house boats. You get the idea. Movies blow through shooting locations faster than The National Inquirer staff can dream up new celebrity sex scandals.
One of the best parts of the whole experience was meeting the director, Catherine Hardwicke. She was funny, curious, smart, and observant. She was also very down to earth and real. This sort of took me aback, as most directors tend to run to a different, more aloof direction. At a Christmas party I watched as she chatted with two 13 year old girls. She was interested in their world view, not because of Twilight and not because of her earlier movies like Thirteen or Lords of Dogtown but because she was simply on the same wavelength and this was what she does.
Flash forward. Twilight makes big bucks and Hardwicke sets the record for a female director’s opening weekend box office, double the amount of the next woman director on the list. Though the movie got mixed reviews, it was a bone fide hit and the common wisdom was that she would go onto to direct the second in the series if not all of them. That didn’t happen. Hardwicke and Summit parted ways. Instead, over the weekend, the guy who directed The Golden Compass was handed the reins.
What happens from here on out is anyone’s guess but the Twilight franchise will definitely undergo some changes and buzzing hordes of thirteen year old girls are on the Internet collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what happens to their favorite fictional series. And a lot of Portland film crew (including yours truly) will be watching with more than a little interest.
So this is my point. This is how things work. Out of the blue. Not as planned. When you least expect it, never according to common wisdom, but otherwise. Always otherwise. Everything changes. Climates, administrations, job plans and even Four Fat Chicks. Fate has a way of working according to its own design. We’re just here to read about it later, after the fact. If we’re lucky.
So welcome to 2009. The year of Otherwise, same as it’s always been.