Die Laughing: Friends, Food, and Fun in Southern CaliforniaAug 29, 2022 04:16PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
“Daisy, come quickly, Jeremy “Wade” Rodman said one Saturday in mid-April. I stood in the shower, water running over me, as I heard these words. Thinking the house was on fire, I dried off enough to not drip through the house and ran into the bedroom, frantically pulling on pants, shirt, shoes.
“You don’t need shoes, we’re just going to the basement. You have to see this, though,” Wade said, holding out my lime-green bathrobe. Thoroughly confused, I wrapped the brightly colored material around my body and raced downstairs behind my normally calm-as-a-yogi husband.
“Look!” Wade exclaimed, pointing to the computer screen. There, on his page on the website filmfreeway.com, was the word “Accepted” on the icon for “Die Laughing Film Festival.”
My husband, who normally works in location sound and cannot spell the word “ambulance,” used the slower pace of 2020 to write a screenplay. It was based on the story of himself and his 20-something punk/goth/grunge friends, engaging in all the shenanigans 20-somethings did in the 1990s. He then quietly submitted the screenplay to a couple of small film festivals. One of those featured comedic-horror and horror films, and Wade’s screenplay about a road trip with a Weekend at Bernie’s twist fit perfectly.
Neither of us had ever visited Los Angeles. Our friend Heather Jack had lived there since the 1990s, and often asked when I was coming to see her. That mid-April Saturday, my phone rang as Wade produced sound for a film in Lincoln. “Oh. My. God,” Heather said by way of greeting. “You’re coming to L.A.” Wade rarely posts on, and Heather rarely views, social media, but fates aligned that day. “We’re coming to L.A.,” I confirmed.
The evening of Thursday, May 5, Wade strode into the house from his part-time job with purpose. “You ready?” he asked as he grabbed the packed carry-on. We flew out of Omaha to L.A., arriving at a respectable-enough hour to spend time with our friends and gracious hosts, Heather and her significant other, Scottie Rubens Solis.
We awoke ready for anything the next morning. Wade asked several times during the vacation’s planning stage what I wanted to do in L.A. My response was always, “This is your trip, I don’t care. The worst-case scenario is we spend three days with Scottie and Heather.” Wade had never visited the West Coast and wanted to see the ocean. Our friends drove us to Santa Monica Pier as it opened for the day, and, in the relative quiet of the late morning, we walked the pier and viewed the Pacific Ocean. We ate lunch at Del Frisco’s Grille looking out at the pier and water, then visited the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The exhibits included characters such as R2D2, and a 1942 model of Bugs Bunny. Looking at the figure of the cartoon character, I realized it was older than my parents. Another area showed costumes ranging from “Dorothy’s” ruby slippers to the gold Gustav Klimt-inspired robe from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oscar statues from the 1920s to the 2000s gleamed behind glass cases, and, from the fourth-floor balcony, we could view the landscape sign reading “HOLLYWOOD.”
The trip to the museum ended in time to arrive promptly at Die Laughing Film Festival, held in a two-stage performing arts theater called The Complex. We attended a meet-and-greet of the other screenwriters and watched a couple of short films before returning to Heather and Scottie’s house for the night. The event was different from our noted festival experience of Omaha Film Festival, which features more than 100 films, and, prepandemic, several after parties for networking and socializing. Die Laughing Film Festival featured one stage that screened films and one stage on which readings were performed. There were no movie snacks to munch on during shows, and no drinks with fellow filmmakers and writers afterward, but it was still lots of fun.
We ate breakfast with our hosts Saturday before driving around L.A. en route to the festival. I made one request for this trip: to see The Viper Room, the nightclub frequented by 1990s A-listers and site of River Phoenix’s 1993 tragic death the night before he was to shoot his scenes for Interview with the Vampire. Heather drove us down Highland Avenue past the Hollywood Bowl and Hollywood High School, around past Universal Studios, and down Sunset Boulevard, where we saw the famous clubs: Whiskey a Go-Go, Laugh Factory, The Rainbow Room, and The Viper Room.
Saturday’s festival ran from 2-10 p.m., and the screenplay portion consisted of eight readings held in two rounds of four. This was the first time Wade heard his written words performed, and I could hear the joy in his voice as he thanked the actors. Awards were presented at the end of the festival, and, to our surprise, Wade’s screenplay won one of about five screenplay awards; his was for Best Dialogue.
We flew back to Omaha Sunday following a few hours of conversation and laughter with our friends. Although short, our time in L.A. allowed us to live the life we love: full of friends, good food, and film.
Visit dielaughingfilmfestival.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.