In Memory of Chane’t
This post might seem a bit off subject. But it isn’t.
Currently, people know me primarily as an endurance athlete. But that is only my recent past. Before 2007, I didn’t even own a bike, let alone know how to race one. And back in the early 2000′s – years before I had any idea I would be competing athletically in anything, let alone vegan — I had aspirations of becoming a screenwriter and director. For whatever reason, at the time I thought this was my path (funny how that works). So in 2005, Julie and I co-wrote a short film called DOWN DOG, which I directed. A satire loosely inspired from our many comedic experiences journeying the Los Angeles yoga scene (Julie and I met in Steve Ross’ Brentwood yoga class back in 1999), the film was a passion project and a total joy to make. Surrounding ourselves with countless talented friends I had met along my way as an entertainment attorney, it was a beautiful collaboration with a devoted core group of inspired people who worked tirelessly to bring our little film to the screen. And it was successful, screening at over 25 film festivals throughout 2005 and 2006, picking up a few “Best Short Film” awards along the way. It was even featured in the Washington Post.
To watch the film, scroll to the bottom of this post where I have embedded it for your viewing pleasure.
The short was intended as a fun teaser for a feature film project of the same name, based on a full length comedy script that Julie and I wrote along with my friend Drew Hayden. And there was a moment in time when it looked like everything was going to break in our favor. The talent agencies were calling, responding favorably to the screenplay. Even Matthew McConaughey’s production company j.k livin expressed great interest in developing the project as a vehicle for the A-list star.
Then Mike Meyers’ project THE LOVE GURU came out. It flopped. And that was that. The bright light shining down on the project dimmed. The project was suddenly no longer “viable”. Excitement morphed into unreturned calls. That’s just how Hollywood works. So for the last several years, that script has been collecting dust deep in a dark drawer.
I’ve always loved the project. After all these years it still makes me laugh when I watch it. But over the last several years I never gave it much further thought. Our focus shifted – mine to ultra endurance sports, wellness and nutrition. And Julie’s to art and music.
Then a funny thing happened. The boys at Fog and Smog, the brilliant team behind the viral hit “Whole Foods Parking Lot” recently came out with a new video called “Yoga Girl”. If you havent seen it, check it out – it’s very funny, not to mention well done, with a taste of our Down Dog flavor. So I started getting a bunch of e-mails from friends who had seen Yoga Girl, including my DOWN DOG producers Brian Adler & Jason Weiss — as well as from one of my actors, the eminently talented and funny Richie Keen — which gave me a push to devote some thought to bringing the project back to life.
Then, last week my friends at the yoga and wellness website MindBodyGreen posted a list of the funniest yoga videos over the last year — “Yoga Girl” topping the list. I jokingly tweeted them wondering why Down Dog wasn’t listed. Obviously Down Dog didn’t come out in 2011. But I also knew that they had never seen it. Because nobody has seen it, other than those few who might have stumbled into a screening at some obscure film festival. Why? I just never bothered to share it online. Never really saw the point. Then I moved on.
But Jason & Colleen Wachob at MindBodyGreen got a kick out of it. So they posted it the other day on their heavily trafficked site. And suddenly what was dead was brought back to life, garnering a ton of views in the last couple of days. OK so maybe not brought back to life entirely; let’s call it life support.
But it did make me think. Maybe it is a good time to see if there is something to be done with the feature project.
But more importantly, it made me think of Chane’t.
Chane’t Johnson stars in the film as the enlightened female yogi who ultimately gives our main character — Guru Dave, played by Jeffrey Johnson — his comeuppance. She was a total joy to work with, beautiful, effervescent and and extremely talented. She loved the part, brought so much life to the work and was always quick with a smile to brighten the tension often present on a film set. And on our set, there was a lot. We were under huge time and money constraints to get everything done in just 3 mere days of shooting. Chane’t made fun what could have instead been incredibly trying.
She was a true friend. And I cherish the experiences Julie and I had with her. I’ll never forget that she visited us in the hospital when Mathis was born – the day after we wrapped shooting the film.
Then something happened. Last year Chane’t passed away. The victim of a heart attack. She was only 35.
How is this possible? NOBODY should be the victim of heart disease at such a young age, let alone perish.
I wish I could say that over the years Julie and I stayed in close touch with Chane’t. But we didn’t. Sure we checked in from time to time. Certainly we were friends, and she would send the occasional e-mail keeping us up to speed on her latest project, or asking about the kids. But the truth is we hadn’t seen her in a few years. And this I regret.
Given my own personal trajectory over the last few years, including my own little brush with health and what I have learned over the last five years (particularly as it relates to heart health), I wonder – could I have somehow helped her avoid this fate somehow? Maybe, maybe not. From all accounts, it appears she was struck out of the blue. But that’s not how heart disease works. Without proper diet and exercise, blockages begin to form early in life. In truth, most (young) Americans are walking around with the early stages of heart disease, totally unawares. It’s simply a condition that begins early and continues to progress unless measures are taken to abate it. And for all too many, by the time it matures, it’s often too late to arrest, particularly for those genetically pre-disposed.
I was lucky. Five years ago I had a scare. A scare profound enough to change my course. Unfortunately Chane’t wasn’t so lucky. So she carries the message a bit differently than I do.
Chane’t was a bright shining star. She was deeply loved. And now terribly missed by many.
My hope is that her life can continue to hold meaning. Not just in her work that lives on screen, immortal. But that she can serve further as a reminder of just how precious and fleeting life — and our health — can be.
The new year is upon us. A time to make plans for the future. Goals and dreams birthed. My hope is that for anyone pondering a health or fitness goal, that you take measure of our collective delicacy. Pause and reflect. And if you have twenty minutes, give the film a watch. Not for me, but to appreciate what Chane’t brought to the project.
May 2012 find you with a renewed inspiration for taking your long term wellness to the next level. As for me, I promise to my part to serve this end as best I can.
Happy Holidays and may I meet some of you along this path in the unfoldment of the new year.
And I hope you enjoy the film. Chane’t, this is for you. We miss you.
[NOTE: DOWN DOG contains adult language and sexual situations -- NSFW -- maybe not for those easily offended]
PS – I don’t own a Hummer.