The next morning, it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s early. Why am I here? Donavon meets me at 3:30 am at Runyon Canyon. I look at him, and he looks like something out of Seal Team Six. What is he wearing? “My newest thing is wearing a weighted vest while hiking. I like to challenge myself in any way that I can. I am up to 100 pounds now.” I can’t help but second guess whether this guy is just putting me on. I mean, if he were training for the next Batman movie, perhaps I could get behind this whole routine. But this is what Donavon considers a good time?!
I ask, “are you for real,” and with that, he tosses me one with the nonchalance of a barback back passing beer-nuts to a regular. Ah, beer-nuts… a pre-COVID treat for the collective unwashed.
As I begrudgingly suite-up in my 15lb vest, I soon realize that very dedication to self-improvement plays a key role in every aspect of his life. He reaches through an unseen hole in the fence, and the locked gate pops open. Donavon says, “Technically, we are not supposed to be in here this early,” He continues, “there is just something about waking up before everyone else, going for a run, putting in the work. It’s very peaceful. It’ll be just us and the coyotes.”
So, great, I think to myself. If the coronavirus or hike don’t kill me… you know… coyotes.
Two miles in, I begin to wonder if there is really something to all this “mind over matter” stuff. Sure, I blew through two inhalers on the way up the mountain, but now that we’re almost at the top… it’s actually rather stunning. Crazy what we can achieve when we take ourselves out of our comfort zones.
Donavon shares, “I’m competitive… competitive with myself. There are just a lot of super ambitious people who wake up early; The Rock, Tom Cruise, Bob Iger. So, I’m like… if everyone is doing 4:00 AM, I’ve got to do 3:00 AM. Then I hear there are a few people out there doing 3:00 AM… I’ll do 2:57 AM.”
“It’s about entertaining people, touching people, having them look at things differently.”
We finally make it to the top of the mountain. In the distance, we can see the Hollywood sign. We take a second for Donavon to pay his respects and for me to catch my breath. He stares at the sign. “In four years, that sign will have been there 100 years. That sign has been through earthquakes. It’s been torn down, vandalized. This is not the first time Hollywood has been through a pandemic. Yet it’s still here. And we’re still here… telling stories.”
I stop and watch sweat drip down my chin as I fight for my next breath. For the first time in almost nine months. I stop. Maybe it is just my hopeless nostalgia for the Hollywood sign or the city lights dancing in the distance. But all at once, things become crystalline clear; The hike, the empty studio, the fistfight over the BluRay, the f*****g pandemic… All of these fleeting moments make up our story. We know this. But without someone to weave the fabric into one collective tapestry, what are we? Where are we? That is the gift film gives. That is the gift filmmakers give. They keep our memories alive—long after we’re gone.
Four point two seven miles later, we are done. I am dead and finally booked on the next flight home. Still reeling from the interview, mystified by the hour, and exhausted by the hike, I call Carl and Todd as I make my way through the maze that is the LAX terminal.
“Did you ask him what I told you to ask him,” yelped Todd like a puppy, salivating over last night’s leftover scraps. “Is he a*s f****d up in real life as he is in the movie,” pressured Carl, followed by a series of “me first, me first” from these two Hollywood-hopefuls.”
Just then, I received a text from Donavan, “Today was a blast. I threw an extra copy of the BluRay in your bag when you weren’t looking. Give it to Todd.”
As Carl and Todd bicker over themselves, I turn the volume all the way down and allow them to verbally duke it out as I look over my notes, some of which are dictated on my phone, others scribbled on the inside sleeve of my datebook, and the rest on folded napkins smudged with sweat, thanks to the impromptu outdoor workout. One sticks out from the rest, a quote from Donavon that reads, “It’s about entertaining people, touching people, having them look at things differently. It’s about the emotional takeaway. All the great filmmakers throughout Hollywood history knew how to capture just that.”
I hang up the phone as I hang on that phrase, “It’s about entertaining people.” I mutter to myself, ”sounds like something Chaplin would have said.” As for the great filmmakers throughout Hollywood history, it looks like we are about to add one more to the list.
Alexa will be proud. And there is no way Todd is getting this BluRay. He’ll have to fight me for it.