On the morning of November 9th I did my usual road-trip routine for the last time. I woke up in my car, stretched out my legs, washed up in the restroom, and drove off into the north refreshed and ready to go.
With no traffic on a bright Saturday morning, I found myself in downtown Los Angeles in just about an hour. I wasn’t really there to see anything in particular, just to be among the skyscrapers, and get a feel for the town. In most of my travels, I’d found myself enjoying city centers (San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver) so I thought Los Angeles should get a shot too. I drove into a cheap (read: sketchy) parking structure and took a walk around.
A block away, I came across the famous Bradbury Building. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but inside is absolutely gorgeous. The lobby is a work of art with detailed stone work, shiny brick walls, and the most intricate iron railings I’ve ever seen. It’s been featured in a ton of films, most notably to me, (500) Days of Summer and Blade Runner. I casually strolled into the lobby, barely acknowledging the woman at the desk in the back enjoying her breakfast. I snapped photos, took in the pure art of the place, and simply looked around for a good few minutes. The somewhat dim interior of the foyer, combined with the blindingly bright ceiling windows led to some serious exposure problems with my camera, unfortunately. I’ll have to come back on either a cloudy day or with a higher dynamic range camera if I want to capture the true magnificence of this structure.
I had no plan for downtown, so I walked a few blocks south, a few to the west and back around to where I started. I passed by some active areas filled with people speaking Spanish and the occasional vagrant. I was a bit unsettled by the rather large number of homeless throughout the parks and plazas, so I tried to get through as confidently and briskly as possible. On a Saturday morning, there weren’t a lot of other people around. I ended up taking a lap around the US Bank tower, my main focus point downtown and an easy reference. I love skyscrapers and most of the cities I’ve been to recently (excluding Chicago, of course) don’t have many tall buildings. The US Bank tower is the tallest on the west coast, and was notably the first structure destroyed by aliens in the blockbuster Independence Day. I didn’t go inside; I don’t believe it even has an observation deck. I only captured it and its crown a hundred times with my camera. It’s so pretty! It’s also up on a hill; downtown Los Angeles is much more hilly than I thought it would be. It’s a lot like Seattle and San Francisco in that regard.
I didn’t feel very comfortable downtown, so I hurried back around down the hill to the parking garage and got out of there in a slight rush. On the rest of the schedule for the day was a tour of Echo Park and Silver Lake. I started at Echo Lake park, which to me is more notable than it seems like it should be. The park is quite small, dominated mostly by Echo Park Lake. I knew it as the (possible) namesake of a Feeder album, as well as the site of OK Go’s music video for End Love. It has a nice view of downtown, as seen across the lake through tall palms and fountains. Echo Park Lake is also full of lotus patches; unfortunately they were long past peak bloom. I walked around the lake to the statue of the Lady of the Lake before heading back to my car parked on the street. I was more excited about the places to come to linger at this tiny little park.
From Echo Park, I drove into the hills of the adjoining neighborhood of the same name. The roads there are narrow, usually almost one lane wide with houses on one side and walls on the other. They are also shockingly steep. I had to shift into first gear to summit some of them. I was there to find a scenic view of Elysian Valley and the Los Angeles River to the north. I went up and down ridge line and valley, scraping the bottom of my car at intersections and struggling to push up the inclines. For a residential neighborhood, I found the hills of Echo Park incredibly difficult to navigate. Thankfully, I somehow never encountered a car coming in the opposite direction. Dodging one would have been a challenge. I eventually made it to the northern side of Elysian Park and found the view I was looking for. There I ate breakfast and walked around a bit in the autumn sun. I was certain that one of my favorite YouTubers lived in the area, and after a surprisingly brief search, I found their house. I’m not going to say whose. Considering that’s the place where they film and produce their work, work which has heavily influenced me over the last year, I felt somewhat starstruck, if that makes any sense. I get sentimental like that. (Later in the day, I threw myself headfirst into the barrier between the internet and real life to incredible reward… that’s coming up really soon!)
Anyway, I swung around down the hill and over to Angels Point, an overlook near Dodgers Stadium with a superb view of downtown Los Angeles. It was a foggy/hazy/smoggy morning so even from two miles away, the silhouetted skyline was obscured in a light dusty sheen. Despite being the middle of autumn, it was pushing 80°F out and the golden-tinted air in the valley below reminded me a lot of summer. You know how Southern California and Los Angeles usually have that sort of tan glow in fiction? That’s not just me, right? Well, it’s actually like that!
While I was at Angels Point, numerous low flying helicopters circled. I’ve read that the “ghetto birds” are always up there, however these were red LAFD helicopters. One even circled Elysian Park, getting increasingly lower before roaring just over my head and settling down just below on a soccer field. I hid like a fugitive under the eclectic sculpture at Angels Point. I’ve been watching too much GTAV. More on that later!
Already nearing mid-day, I took myself over to nearby Silver Lake. I walked around what might be downtown a little bit, eventually sitting down for lunch at Lamill Coffee. Ever heard of lavender lemonade? It’s surprisingly delicious and incredibly refreshing. I must try to make it myself. After a plate of decent French toast, I sat and people watched a bit. Los Angeles is like another world compared to where I grew up. Not only were a vast majority of the patrons there young, attractive people, but a large number of those people were all dressed in what one might call “hipster” clothing. You know, scarves, v-neck t-shirts, tight jeans, etc. I didn’t really feel like I belonged there and if I were still 16, I would have thought for sure that I stuck out to them. (Present me just don’t care) Around this time my stress level began to rise due to a potential employment situation. I was scheduled to have a video interview not long after I returned from my trip. I wasn’t sure I even wanted the job, which was brought to my attention by a recruiter, so any more than minimal preparation wasn’t acceptable to me on my vacation. This decision would escalate later.
After lunch I drove back into the hills of Echo Park, stopping briefly by another house. This one was non-descript, on another narrow side street. It was, however, the final residence of Elliott Smith and, according to the official story, the site of his death. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything other than just look at it for a brief few seconds before moving on. It’s been ten years since we lost him and it still freakin’ sucks. I drove up Sunset Boulevard to Solutions Repair. As I noted before, the wall outside was the site of Elliott Smith’s cover photo for Figure 8. I parked my car and walked across the street to the building. It wasn’t quite as I imagined it. It was in shadow from the late afternoon sun, there’s a door right in the middle of it, and while relatively clean (possibly recently repainted), was already adorned with many memorial messages, some not days old. I touched its heavily painted stucco, read the messages and lyrics written out with love by so many, and snapped photos of some of my favorites. I hadn’t brought anything to write with. If I had, I’m not even sure what I would have written. I think I’ve said everything on my mind already.
I’m glad this place still exists. Aside from the tons of music he had put out in his lifetime, this wall is the place to go for fans of Elliott Smith who wish to remember him. As long as it remains, it will be covered in messages of love and remembrance from fans new and old.
And then, I made one of the best decisions of my life.
I had planned something a few weeks earlier, and set it in motion before I left Northern California. Given that this trip may potentially have been my only time ever visiting Los Angeles, I decided I would go about looking for the home of one of my favorite online comedy groups, 5-Second Films. (I had also thought about not doing it, since it might be weird for a number of reasons… alas, keep reading!)
I’ve been a fan of 5-Second Films for years; I’m not even sure when I discovered them or how, but they’ve been a part of my life for awhile. Last winter, I immersed myself deep into their stuff, again for reasons I don’t really remember. Through the last twelve months, it’s grown to being more than just an internet project for me. With the production of their feature film Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 and the live streams they hosted in June and July for their Kickstarter, I found the cast and crew to be more than just distant folk making films on the internet, but people I knew I would be able to get along with and the kind who I would want as friends of my own. So, I set out to find them and bring them some gifts as a token of my appreciation of their work and the influence they’ve had on my life of late.
It took a little sleuthing to find the house, and I’m not going to say how I did it. If you really want to do the same, you can find a way. I parked at the bottom of the hill on their street and lugged a big box of gifts up the surprisingly steep incline. One of the guys was on the porch on the phone, so I casually walked up, box in hand, and stood there awkwardly while he wrapped up his call. I was worried it would have been a little weird, but to my delight I was greeted with sheer enthusiasm. I had prepared for any number of situations that might have arisen from my arrival; this couldn’t have gone better.
He invited me into the house to meet the group of guys who were on the back porch. I paused for a second, telling him I needed to take in what I was seeing. It was like a dream being in this house, the epicenter of so much classic micro-comedy. It could not have been more familiar; I’d seen it thousands of times in films, shorts, live-streams and comment videos. I was so excited to be there I was literally shaking. Even the guys were so familiar I couldn’t have felt more comfortable or at home around them, despite never have met them before. Unlike meeting celebrities in person who might appear different when they’re not in screen makeup or who don’t act at all like you might expect them to, when I first laid eyes on the 5SF guys in the flesh, it was like I had jumped into my computer screen. They’re exactly as they present themselves online in real life.
I was actually surprised at how welcomed I was. I was just a fan who showed up with gifts, yet they (especially Mike James and Michael Rousselet) seemed way more excited to meet me than I them. For the first time of many that weekend, I explained my story to them. It turns out I was only the second person ever to visit unannounced, and apparently I put in far less work to find them than the first guy. We hung out there on the back porch for awhile, a few more people stopping over in preparation for the afternoon’s shoot. We talked about a bunch of favorite films; I had about a million questions for them and they happily obliged all of them. I was even given some insider information concerning upcoming films, including their feature film Dude Bro Party Massacre 3. In fact, they let me take a peek at the first few pages of the screenplay, which is so hilarious I can’t even begin to imagine how the rest of the film unfolds. I have total faith in the creative abilities of these guys, so I have no doubt it will live up to expectations.
Soon, I was given a short tour of the house, including the messy basement wardrobe room, the random outhouse in the backyard, and the garage where they film on a green screen. The garage might also be known as the place formerly torn apart in Comments of the Week videos. The house itself is really old. It reminded me a lot of my old apartment in Troy: it has wood floors, high ceilings, big open living areas in the front, a kitchen (with yellow walls) in the back, and bed rooms all off on the left side of the building, all like mine did. If you’re a fan of 5SF, you can no doubt picture it yourself. On the walls, the mantel, the windowsills, shelves… basically anywhere you could put something, were 5SF memorabilia, figures, artwork, props. There’s so much history there. Anything I asked about, there was a story to be told to go with it.
As some of the crew set out for an afternoon filming session (for Questions of an Equine Nature and The Hunt) I was invited to go out to a party that night at the home of the guy behind the Toonhole webcomic. Of course I accepted, having literally nothing else I would rather have been doing. With a few guys still back at the house, I stayed around. Tomm put Tetuso: The Iron Man on the TV. I’m not that big of a film aficionado so I was incredibly confused the entire time. I wasn’t the only one to find it disturbing though. Ol’ drill dick still lives in my nightmares.
Before the end of the movie, I went out for dinner with Mike and Tim at Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks, a small, but authentic cheesesteak place right off of Sunset near Solutions and the Elliott Smith wall. That outing saw the inception of the British surreal comedy titled “Faulty Pockets.” I’m still waiting for a pilot to show up on NBC. (Sorry, inside joke) When we returned we ate at the table. The big table! What’s routine for those guys felt like an honor to me, to be seated at that table. I had a long chat there with Dan Hollister, the guy behind the website and basically all of the other technical stuff. He also brought me two pairs of 5SF shot glasses; I had never received one I ordered back in February, which was apparently a common problem, so I got four for my trouble!
Being one of the original members, I picked Dan’s brain about the history of 5SF, about the future of the group after their coming end, the continuation of UPROXX, as well as a lengthy discussion about Brian Firenzi‘s (the original member of 5SF) solo channel, which to this day might be my favorite YouTube channel ever.
As it got later, I thought it best to find my hotel and wash up before the party. I took off down to Commerce, checked in and enjoyed my first shower of the trip. On a potentially tight schedule, I hurried back up to the 5SF house, where I was enthusiastically greeted once again upon my arrival. I felt like I was returning home to a house full of puppies eagerly waiting for their master. There may have been alcohol involved. Before the party we continued to hang out around the big table, shooting the shit and listening to music. When Tomm came back, he threw a few songs on the system from a band called Death. There’s a somewhat recent documentary on Netflix about how three guys from Detroit in the 1970s played punk music well ahead of their time, yet failed to find fame due to their controversial name. The music was discovered a few years ago and it’s actually really good. We were all kind of blown away by the sound.
When everyone was back and ready to go, we set out for the party. But not before first preparing a toast out of the aforementioned shot glasses. Vodka is my nemesis, and it would strike with a vengeance later, but it was early yet. We all went out to a Thanksgiving themed party at Toonhole guy’s house. Nobody in our crew was dressed for the occasion, though. I don’t normally do well in random social situations where I don’t know anyone (having literally known exactly zero of the people there just hours before) but I had a somewhat interesting story to tell. Being just some guy visiting a city for a few days is a great situation to be in. Whatever impression I made, the reality is I likely won’t see most of these people again. That sounds kind of pessimistic actually; I had an awesome time, and the party kept getting better as the night went on. I spent a good chunk out back watching 5SF wreck their opponents pong while having the most random chats with complete strangers. Honestly, how did the Romulans in Star Trek not see the supernova of their star coming? That doesn’t make any sense! …shame on a gentleman who would try to run game on a gentleman!
I ended up spending most of the rest of my time there in and around the crowded house kitchen. There I met a ton of people including a nice girl from New Jersey with whom I had a very long and meandering chat about the east coast. We were joined in conversation by a guy whose sister apparently lives right near me in Pleasanton. Once again, small world! While I had been using the 5SF guys as a social crutch for the start of the party, it was nice to branch off and make new friends on my own instead of being an extra wheel. I stayed around them most of the time though, and through someone (I can’t remember who), I met Matt from Cyanide and Happiness! Being a webcomic author, I had no idea what he looked like and even tried to quiz him to make sure it was indeed him. I was quite inebriated at this point and could barely hold conversation, but I told him Cyanide and Happiness was one of the very first webcomics I followed. He asked me if I could name all four of Cy&H’s illustrators and I managed to name just one of the other three; I could have done it if my brain hadn’t gone swimming.
And then we left for another party. As I headed out the door, I decided instead to run inside to say goodbye to the great people I met. I’m way more brave when I’m not sober. We popped into another cab and drove off somewhere. There might be a gap in my memory. Before I knew it, we were somewhere else, a smaller house with new people. But the 5SF crew was there with me, so I was content. This new party wasn’t as good. It seemed like it was ending when we got there and so we spent most of the time there hanging out on the porch under the stars (and Jupiter!). In my stupor, I finally put it together that one of the guys who had tagged along with us was the boyfriend from The Best Breakup Line Ever, my favorite 5SF. I had been talking to this guy all night before I realized it.
I had stopped drinking by then, attempting to hydrate with bottled water instead. I was so far out of it. I do remember basically everything about the party, however I was far more inebriated than I had ever been before. Thanks 5SF! And yes, I also remember consciously choosing to tweet drunken love to @5sf. I do indeed ❤ 5sf.
Based on the position of the stars and the moon, we got back to the house at around 3am. I took up residence on the couch. The couch. It was actually remarkably comfortable. As I tried to drift off however, I was unable to keep my stomach settled and found relief after an emergency rush to the bathroom. I’m so sorry.
I slept so well.
When I awoke it was light, but the diffuse kind of light that indicates a cloudy morning. I fluxed in and out of consciousness before finally attempting to rise for the day around 10:30am. I couldn’t stand. My stomach felt uneasy. I’d never been hungover before, so this was an adventure. I hobbled to the kitchen to grab a mug of water. I could barely drink anything, but kept at it. As I attempted to clear the haze from my head, friend of 5SF David Nelson challenged me to a game of chess. I hadn’t played in a little while and being hungover, I thought I was doomed to a quite defeat. Somehow, after failing to pull off my usual opening of 4-move checkmate, I regrouped and made a quick victory. We both lost maybe one piece each. I was shocked at myself. I might just be a chess savant when I’m hungover.
As the morning progressed, more members of 5SF started to trickle in for the day’s activities. I met them each progressively, introducing myself with my story and excusing my condition as the result of a fun night out with these guys. The house slowly filled up and we talked about the night’s happenings, including a very very interesting cab ride (featuring a catatonic Rousselet in an intense stare-down with the cab’s security camera).
While I was in the bathroom once again unable to keep the water I’d been drinking in my stomach, I heard the group welcoming the arrival of Brian and Maria. I popped out of the bathroom a minute later to find Brian by the table looking at me like, “who’s this?” I happily introduced myself and my story was once again told. I was actually really nervous to meet Brian, the creator of 5SF and the apparent leader of the group. As I alluded to before, I’m a massive fan of basically everything he does, be it 5-Second Films, his solo channel, or his collaborations with other YouTubers like Freddie Wong (wait for it…). For the first time all weekend, I was at a near total loss for words when I finally had a chance to talk with him.
With the gang assembled at the big table, I retreated to the couch to relax. I still felt completely awful. Instead, I stayed out of the way, being a fly on the wall for a 5SF brainstorm. They had their meeting, discussing topics like their recent Larry King appearance (and upcoming 5SFs with him!), the upcoming (now complete) Bummer Week, and the plan for the day. I knew Sunday was the day 5SF did most of their work; I didn’t think I would even be around to see the process in person that day, much less be allowed to stay and be a part of it. It was a real treat watching them operate. I couldn’t have imagined ever getting the opportunity to be in the room where so many great film ideas had been born, yet here I was. It was unreal. The whole weekend was like a dream.
And then they took off to the front porch to shoot Comments of the Week. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing and, being nothing more than a hungover observer, felt it inappropriate to ask how they go about doing CotW while they were preparing for it. I decided I would watch and listen from inside the house, but when they began, I was beckoned out into the spotlight.
I didn’t say my name because I was drinking. Boy, is that ever true in more than one way.
Unlike most CotW videos, there was an actual theme to this one and it was hilarious. I wasn’t totally sure what the plan was with everyone leaving one by one. I probably should have gotten out of frame earlier, since I had no idea what to do there when just Brian and the girls were left. Still a ton of fun. Yes, Kelsey did actually slap Mike Peter. You can’t really see it well in the video, but his face was a bright red afterward. I had a ton of fun reacting to the Wikipedia article for ‘Vagina’ comment. Brian didn’t actually read the whole thing, thanks to the magic of editing, but a lot was cut out as well. After each section he would yell out for us to act even more tired/lazy. Toward the middle of the bit, we couldn’t have gotten any more exhausted looking. I had to lay down on the floor behind the chair, while the others (especially Mike James & Kelsey) had to resort to some hilarious contortions.
The segments where everyone signs up for Google+ were filmed after the porch shoot. All of it was improvised on the spot, with Ben playing it straight, Joey watching Multiplicity, Tomm looking at puppies on Reddit, and Alec watching… well yeah. My favorite of the bunch though is Mike James lighting up in his room. Those who watch CotW know about his love of the Colts and they were getting smoked that morning. (pun intended) It was really too perfect. I was actually standing just outside of frame for that.
With Comments of the Week wrapped, preparations began for the day’s shoot. I still felt awful. I’d contemplated leaving since I still hadn’t eaten and was dead tired and shaky. However, in the pre-shoot chaos, I was invited to join the crew behind the scenes, and maybe even be in a 5-Second Film! They wanted a scene with as many police officers as possible, so I put on some dark pants and practiced my acting with a gun.
Oh yeah, Freddie Wong came over. WHAT. Somehow, before this trip, I hadn’t even been subscribed to his channel, but I knew him from collaborations with other YouTubers like The Fine Brothers and… everyone on Youtube, as well as the occasional retweet of his stuff. I really enjoyed his Geek Week video Skyhook with Grace Helbig and Brian Firenzi, and most recently, the brilliant Mexican Standoff with Key & Peele. Despite not being a regular fan, I knew of his importance to the YouTube community and was definitely starstruck when he walked in, dressed in motorcycle jacket and helmet from riding over. Later in the afternoon, I praised him for his work in Mexican Standoff, but in the commotion was never able to formally introduce myself. I wish I had at least watched Video Game High School or something before meeting him.
Soon, we all headed on down around the block to shoot two new 5-Second Films. Both have yet to be released, so I won’t give out any details. I will say, however, that watching them work their magic was amazing. There are so many behind the scenes secrets and film-making techniques I didn’t know about. For example, they used a sheet of posterboard to brighten the foreground focus (they called it a light bounce, I believe). They also used a deployable green screen to clean up the backgrounds and add special effects later, as well as doing numerous takes of the same scene at different angles, which I would imagine is standard for a single-camera shoot, but I’d never actually seen it done live.
Everything about the shoot was hilarious. Thankfully, the films are only five seconds long, so the fact that we behind the scenes could barely contain our laughter won’t be a factor in the final trimmed down product. Between shots, I chatted with Brian and Kelsey a bit about how I thought these films seemed like instant classics. Brian told me they’ve had some old ideas they were been saving for the end, and at least the first one they filmed that afternoon was one of them. I cannot wait to see the finished product up online.
(EDIT: 2013-12-11: First of the two films is up!)
(EDIT: 2013-12-20: The second is up!)
I was almost in that first one too, but didn’t have enough cop costumes. Yeah, they’ve only got seven. I was a little disappointed. Moreso, I was just really happy to be there. They filmed for probably an hour in that cul-de-sac. I snapped a few pics with my phone, though I won’t be posting anything until those particular films are released, if at all.
With the shoot finished for the day, everyone began to disperse for food and drink. I walked back up to the house with Kelsey, Mike Peter, and Freddie, where I changed back into my own clothes and collected my stuff. I meandered around awkwardly for a little while before I ended up on the porch. I chatted a little with Brian while he edited the Comments of the Week video. I also met the Jons (Salmon & Worley) there; they had both arrived late in the shoot. As I finally headed out, I thanked everyone I ran into for having me over and being so welcoming. I had no idea a simple stop over would turn into a full weekend of shenanigans and awesomeness.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity before the official end of 5-Second Films. They’ll still be around, sure, but it likely won’t be the same. They’re all working on their own projects in addition to 5SF, so the daily production of short films won’t be going beyond the end of the year. It was basically now or never for me, and without a shred of doubt I made the right choice.
In all, I ended up meeting 14 of the 17 regular cast and crew. They’re all incredible, insanely talented, and incessantly hilarious people. I’m really glad I got to meet them and I’m fortunate to now be able to call (at least some of them) my friends. You guys are the best!
Thus ends my weekend adventures with 5-Second Films. I had taken barely any photos since showing up at the house, so I have to rely on my memory to hold all of these experiences. Again, lucky for me, with the 5SF house so well documented throughout all of their films, there was really no need for me to take photos of my own. Plus, I’ll be in the Comments of the Week forever.
I finished the day at Griffith Observatory, looking at the glowing Los Angeles Valley below with a half moon shining above. There were a surprising amount of people there! The view there is nearly unbeatable. I walked around to the front of the observatory and snapped numerous photos of the city lights. It was so pretty, I actually forgot to go inside. I’m not sure if there’s anything worth seeing inside; I’ll just assume yes. I was still beaming with such happiness at the whole weekend’s events that I couldn’t have possibly considered missing out on something as a possibility. I had (the opposite of missed out, missed in?) on so much already.
Later in the night, after stopping briefly again at Elysian Park to see the city at night up close, I went out searching for Chinese food. I drove through a bunch of random neighborhoods in Central Los Angeles, like Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, and Commerce with no luck. I have no idea if those areas are “safe” or not, so I spent most of the time in my car. Out there are strip malls upon strip malls, seemingly ad infinitum. Some of them were signed entirely in Spanish, while others featured characters I was unfamiliar with. Thai, maybe? After a long frantic search, I finally found a place in sort-of-nearby Montebello. It was closing in ten minutes. I got in just under the wire. The food was okay, but I ate enough to satisfy my hunger. My appetite wasn’t quite back to normal and Chinese food was just what I needed. After eating in my hotel room, I passed out in my bed in no time. Given the low price of the room, it was surprisingly comfortable.
What a weekend. Unforgettable doesn’t even begin to describe it. Lucky doesn’t come close. Awesome falls short. Life-changing, for sure. I’ve had a lot of experiences in California that I’ve considered among the best of my life: this one sits at the top.
Now, if only the rest of the trip could have been that good…