“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” Henry David Thoreau
2015 has been a memorable and exciting year. I spent quality time with my friends and family. I met fantastic people through my new Airbnb business and on my travels overseas. But, without a doubt, the highlight of my 2015 was finding the Supernatural set in Vancouver.
As readers of my blog would know, I’m a frequent visitor to Vancouver. I have family there, I adore the city and, in the last three years, I’ve also attended an annual Supernatural convention (see my blog Supernatural: it’s more than a television show).
I fell in love with this little show 11 years ago, but I really only became immersed in its fandom after I happened upon filming in 2011 (Supernatural, Twitter and the reluctant groupie). Back then, I had no idea about fan conventions, or the incredible online community, or the way the stars of the show interacted with fans. But now, I can honestly say that Supernatural has changed my life. It has given me new friendships that I cherish; experiences outside my comfort zone; travel to new and interesting destinations; and, most importantly, so much joy and laughter – bucket loads of it.
Supernatural, at its heart, is about family. Although the two brothers (Sam and Dean Winchester) are heroes, they are also complicated and flawed. They try to do good, but often make terrible mistakes. And fans of the show can identify with them. Life isn’t always easy and – while we probably aren’t dealing with powerful demonic or heavenly forces like the brothers are – we do have to deal with our own set of circumstances. The underlying message from the show is that the brothers will always keep fighting and they will always support one another and their close circle of friends, because “family don’t end with blood”.
‘Always Keep Fighting’ is a concept that has also seeped off the screen and into our everyday lives with an incredible fundraising campaign by Supernatural star Jared Padalecki. At the beginning of 2015, after Jared had lost a friend to suicide, he decided the time was right time to start a campaign to raise money for the non-profit organisation To Write Love on Her Arms (supporting people who struggle with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide). He also chose this time to speak out about his own battles with anxiety and depression. It struck a chord with fans, I think in some part because now we weren’t just relating to Sam Winchester; we were relating to Jared Padalecki, the star of the show we loved and a celebrity we genuinely admired.
A short time later, Jared joined forces with his co-star Jensen Ackles to create the PACK Fund (PACK being a portmanteau of Padalecki and Ackles). Together, they hope to raise money and awareness for a variety of charities through the sale of ‘Always Keep Fighting’ merchandise. To date, there have been four different designs and approximately 190,000 shirts sold. I’m not sure what that equates to in dollar value, but I know it’s probably well over a million. Even more importantly, it has started a conversation which will hopefully help to destigmatise mental illness.
I should also note that this is not the first time the stars of Supernatural have lent their hand to fundraising. Several years ago, Misha Collins founded Random Acts and he has been involved in countless inspiring projects (which I’ve written about previously).
So I guess this is just my very long-winded way of explaining that while I love the television show Supernatural, I adore the stars of the show even more for using their celebrity to do so much good in this world. And I’m not just talking about their fundraising; it’s through every single interaction they have with their fans – whether at a convention or a chance encounter on the street. They are always humble, gracious, appreciative of their fans’ support, and often very generous with their time; which brings me back to my story.
On Monday 31 August, I set out with friends Rachel and Anne to see if we could find the Supernatural set. It was the day after the convention weekend so we were exhausted. It was also cold, wet and miserable, so the incentive to stay in bed was very high. But Anne was due to fly home to Florida the next day, so we decided it was now or never. Earlier that morning, someone had posted on Twitter that they’d seen a Supernatural crew sign in Ladner, so that was our only clue.
We hailed a cab and half an hour later, $60 poorer, we found ourselves in a fast food café drinking coffee and pondering the ridiculousness of being in the middle of nowhere with no idea what to do next. We’d also heard from another fan on Twitter, a conflicting report of a crew sign seen at the Department of Defence lands. That wasn’t too far away, but on foot it was a little bit impractical. So we stuck to plan A. Go to the address where the first sign had been spotted.
Umbrellas in hand, we wandered a couple of blocks to Ladner Village. And there it was, in all its glory. A street sign with the beautiful letters JMATWB and an arrow pointing in the direction of the set. You’ve probably never seen three more excited people, standing at the traffic lights, talking photos of a random street sign. (I think the choice of letters is in reference to Executive Producer Jim Michaels at Warner Brothers).
And so began our trek down River Road. We walked for miles in the teeming rain, with the wind making it difficult to keep our umbrellas functional. The houses began to thin out until we were actually in farmland; the rich scent of manure confirming this without a doubt. I believe we’d left Ladner behind and were now in Delta.
I should also note that I did not have appropriate walking shoes and my feet were beginning to scream.
We stopped at the entrance to a fishery. There was an old abandoned gift shop with a doorway under cover. It was edged with barbed wire and adorned with cobwebs and spiders. But we enjoyed a moment out of the elements. And, by now, we were delirious with laughter.
“You know who does this? Crazy people!”
Actually a lot of crazy thoughts did go through my mind while we were standing there huddled in that doorway, such as ringing my brother who was working on the other side of Vancouver. It would only take him a couple of hours to drive over and pick us up. Or perhaps, he’d be able to give me the phone number of a couple of his friends who actually lived in Ladner. Never mind that I haven’t seen them in years. Maybe I could call them and say, hi, remember me?
In the end, quite sensibly, we called for another taxi. It took 20 minutes for the cabbie to arrive and then – as we weren’t quite ready to be defeated – we asked if he could drive us a bit further down River Road. We said, rather vaguely, that we were looking for something and if we couldn’t find it we’d get him to take us back to Ladner Village.
As we got into the cab, Anne said, I bet the set will be just around the next corner… and, sure enough, the cabbie drove us a paltry 500 metres and we’d found the Supernatural set!
“How does this whole psychic thing of yours work?”
If we’d continued walking, we would’ve been there 15 minutes earlier than the taxi got us there. But we were so damn excited that it didn’t matter and we weren’t at all concerned that the taxi driver thought we were quite mad! Luckily for him, there was another fan wanting to go back to Ladner so he got a decent fare for minimal effort.
The first thing I saw when I got out of the taxi was the Impala, parked in the driveway, with cameras and lights set up around it. My heart soared. If the Impala was there it was quite likely that Jared Padalecki and/or Jensen Ackles would also be there.
We joined a group of about 20 fans, who’d been watching filming for several hours, and one of them offered us ‘poor man’s raincoats’. So we donned green garbage bags, appreciative of the extra warmth that was sorely needed. I was so excited to be there and, I’m really pleased to say, all the fans watching filming that day were quiet and respectful whenever the cameras rolled.
Jared and Jensen were filming a scene where they had a conversation inside the Impala, then got out of the car and talked across the roof of the Impala. This is something we’ve seen so many times, on screen, during 10 years of Supernatural. But, here we were, actually witnessing a similar scene being filmed for episode five of season 11. My heart was bursting with joy.
There was a guest star sitting in the back seat. When Jensen (aka Dean Winchester) got out of the car, he grabbed the guy’s arm and handcuffed him to the door. Occasionally filming stopped because a plane flew overhead, or machinery started up at the property across the road. Jared and Jensen looked to be in good spirits… and it was really wonderful to watch them work.
Initially, I didn’t get a good look at the guest star, as he spent most of his time in the car, but I did get a photograph of him walking alongside Jared in-between takes. In hindsight it’s quite funny, because we now know that his name is Jared Gerner and to save confusion the crew called him ‘little Jared’.
Between shot set-ups we also chatted to some of the crew, who were all very friendly. Cameraman Jose Manzano took a group photo of us, which he later tweeted, as did bodyguard Clif Kosterman. First Assistant Director Kevin Parks also took time out to chat to us about the filming.
After about 90 minutes, Jared and Jensen left the set to take a break and Clif told us that we wouldn’t see any more filming today, as they were moving inside the house. Even so, I was a little surprised that all the other fans left. But I guess they’d been out in the inclement weather for longer than us.
We decided to hang around, hoping that the guys might have time to say hello when they’d finished filming inside. While we were waiting, we checked out another Impala that was parked just up the road. The production has about eight Impalas, with three that are road worthy. The spare cars are used when they need to shoot particular camera angles or if the Impala needs to be crashed.
In the season five finale, the prophet Chuck Shurley talked about how important the Impala is, saying: “Three days later another car rolled off that same line. No one gave two craps about her, but they should’ve. Because this 1967 Chevrolet Impala would turn out to be the most important car… no, the most important object in pretty much the whole universe.”
So, understandably, we were pretty excited to be up close and personal to ‘Baby’, as the car is affectionately known. Admittedly, this wasn’t the number one Impala (or the ‘hero’ car, as production calls it), but we still took great pleasure in having some selfies with this version of Baby.
“The Impala, of course, has all the things other cars have… and a few things they don’t. But none of that stuff’s important. This is the stuff that’s important: the army man that Sam crammed in the ashtray – it’s still stuck there. The Legos that Dean shoved into the vents – to this day, heat comes on and they can hear ’em rattle. These are the things that make the car theirs – really theirs. Even when Dean rebuilt her from the ground up, he made sure all these little things stayed, ’cause it’s the blemishes that make her beautiful.” Chuck Shurley, 5.22 Swan Song
Rachel, Anne and I were joined by Stacey, who lives locally. She had been sending us tweets earlier in the day while we were searching for the set and had volunteered to drive us around once she finished work. So it was great to meet her and the four of us shared a picnic dinner, sitting on the side of the road. By now the rain had stopped, but it was still bitterly cold.
At about 7pm, Jared walked over to the Impala and opened the trunk. We could see the Devil’s Trap painted inside and wondered why he’d opened it. But then, after a moment, he walked towards us and motioned for us to come and join him.
I think we were collectively pinching ourselves. Had we really just been invited onto the set of Supernatural?
Jared took great delight in showing us the ‘hero’ Impala. Inside the trunk, he showed us the hidden weapon’s cache and explained that it was empty because they can’t drive around Vancouver with a trunk full of weapons (for some strange reason, such as obeying the law). So the weapons are only kept in the trunk when the Impala is at the studio. He opened the hood to show us the powerful engine and then got into the car to turn it on. It was so cool to hear Baby purr and right at that moment I thought we couldn’t possibly be any luckier.
But then we were!
Jared told us to get in the Impala and I’m pretty sure that I looked at him in utter confusion. Was this really okay? But he insisted we get in the car and, honestly, who are we to argue with someone who looks just like Sam Winchester? I took Sam’s seat, on the front passenger side. My only regret is that I didn’t yell out “shotgun”, and I’ve also forgiven the four of us for being so star-struck that we neglected to look for the army man in the ashtray.
Stacey, Rachel and Anne were sitting in the back seat and one of them asked Jared if he planned on taking us for a spin. He laughed and said he might get in trouble: “Ah Jared, what were you doing driving an unregistered car with four unlicensed and uninsured people?”
Then Jared told me to lean over and kill the engine and I must’ve, once again, given him a stunned look, because he had to reiterate that it really was okay. At the same time I think he sensed that I knew absolutely nothing about cars, as he quietly added: “Turn the key to the left”. I still can’t believe that I got to kill Baby’s engine AND sit in Sam Winchester’s seat.
“Is this real life?”
We spent the next 10 minutes talking about lots of things, including the ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaign and episode 1104 (Baby) that they’d filmed from the Impala’s perspective. When Stacey asked Jared for a selfie, he made sure we all got selfies and said that we needed to have the house from the set in the background. Anne muttered something about looking great in a garbage bag and Jared, ever the diplomat, said: “It’s very stylish”.
While we were chatting to Jared, Jensen emerged from the house. He’d apparently heard Baby’s engine revving and came out to check what was happening. He looked at Jared and said, “Hey buddy, not on my watch,” and Jared pointed to one of the crew and said, “It wasn’t me.”
We all laughed and Anne later said: “I briefly thought Dean Winchester had manifested into reality to kick my ass”. I think we can safely say that Jensen is as protective of Baby as Dean is.
And then our impromptu set visit was over. Jensen went back inside to work and Jared told us that he wanted to give us something, but it was back in his trailer. He told us to wait and he would send his driver back with it. He waved goodbye and blew us a kiss as he was driven away.
Five minutes later, his driver returned with an awesome AKF pin for each of us. Apparently Phil Sgriccia (Director/Producer) had had them made for Jared. A few days later, on a Facebook video, Jared talked about this pin. He said that they were super special and that “only I have them, unless I have given them to you”.
It’s impossible for me to explain how much it meant to me that Jared gave us these pins. I love the message behind the words ‘Always Keep Fighting’, so much so that, earlier this year, I had the letters AKF etched into my arm as part of a larger tattoo. It is a reminder to me, for those times when life gets tough, to not give up on my dreams.
I was also overwhelmed by Jared’s kindness and generosity. Not because I expected anything less of him. I’ve seen him interact with fans at the conventions and online. But it was overwhelming because it was happening to us – two women from Australia, one from Florida and another from Vancouver. We ventured out that day to find the set and hopefully watch some filming. That would’ve been exciting enough. We never expected to go on the set. And we would never expect it again. But I guess that is what made it so surprising and so very special. It’s a day I’ll never forget!
I debated for some time about whether to share this story or not because the last thing I’d ever want to happen is for a fan to turn up at the Supernatural set expecting anything from the cast and crew. We certainly didn’t (and wouldn’t, if we ever found the set again). Jared and Jensen (and all the cast and crew) work incredibly long hours and have many commitments outside of work. It would be impossible for them to chat to fans on every occasion. To put things into perspective: this was the third year since I began attending the Supernatural convention and the last two years I didn’t even find the set. Last year, they were working on the 200th episode and the producers wanted to keep everything as a surprise. This year, I was lucky enough to find the set several times. On one occasion we arrived after the actors had left and the crew were packing everything away; another time we saw the guys but they didn’t have time to chat with fans. My point is that if you do happen to find the set, please be respectful. Understand that the guys are there to do a job; that they are creating the show we all love. And, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, as we were on this occasion, then you might be lucky. And I hope you are.