HDTGM: A Conversation With Shane McDermott, Star Of 'Airborne'

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In 1979, an inventor/entrepreneur by the name of Scott Olson patented an idea for single-line roller skates. Not long after, with the help of his two brothers, Olson began to manufacture something called "Rollerblades." With a sleek design and fun neon colors, these inline skates appealed to a generation of leisure sports enthusiasts.

By 1987, inline skating had grown into a $10 million market. And by 1994, that number had skyrocketed to $650. Unsurprisingly, in the midst of this boom, a couple of producers thought it would be wise to make a movie centered around rollerblading; specifically, a movie centered around a rollerblade-lovin' California teen who suddenly finds himself exiled to Cincinnati. That movie was called Airborne and that teen was played by Shane McDermott.

Currently, McDermott is a real estate broker and artist living in Galveston, Texas. But he was kind enough to spend some time speaking with me about his acting days and the making of Airborne.

How Did This Get MadeHow Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Airborn edition of the HDTGM podcast here

Synopsis: Teenager Mitchell Goosen (Shane McDermott) loves to surf and rollerblade.  So when he's forced to leave sunny California for chilly Cincinnati, everything in Mitchell's life is instantly turned upside down. Well, everything but his love for extreme sports that is.Tagline: Man Wasn't Meant to Fly! Kids Were!airborne posterPart 1: From Modeling to MoviesBlake J. Harris: Thanks so much for speaking with me, Shane. Where are you living these days?Shane McDermott: I'm in Galveston, Texas. Been here since, oh by, since 2003. It's a very interesting little town. A walkable city. Has a lot of history; a lot of great stories. Right on the water. Turned out to be a really good place to live. And look at me now: I'm married, two kids [laughing]...Blake J. Harris: Excellent. Well why don't we start by you taking me back in time to when you were a kid? Tell me about how you first got into acting.Shane McDermott: I was young—I was 10 or 11 years old—and I was living in Texas at the time. The way it played out was I was a Ford Model. At that age, there was a good deal of business for however big [meaning age/size] I was; but the work was in New York. So at about age 11 I moved to New York City and started doing the modeling stuff. But as I got bigger—Blake J. Harris: —Wait, tell me more about that. What was it like to be a 10-11 year old model? What an unusual life...Shane McDermott: [laughs] Well it was...it's funny. How do these things kind of happen? It was just one of those situations where the opportunity presented itself. And my mother at the time seemed to be very interested in the kind of New York experience. And at that point my father, actually, there was a job opportunity up in New York. So the modeling ended up working out perfectly. We ended up moving to Roosevelt Island. And of course this was New York back in the day, when Dinkins was Mayor, so it was sort of a different New York. It was just a different city...Blake J. Harris: Yup.Shane McDermott: But it was a great experience. You know, you just jump around from different job to different job and of course you're going to school at the same time. I went to this school...what was it called? Professional Children's School. It was one of those schools that's kind of set up for actors; so you had the flexibility in your schedule to work and audition. And for two years it was crazy! You just go from job to job throughout the day. And of course, in the afternoon (or whenever you could), you got to homework.Blake J. Harris: Awesome.Shane McDermott: The memories of that time are a little bit fuzzy, but I look back on those memories fondly. And I miss New York a lot.Blake J. Harris: I assume that at some point, while you were living in New York, you made that transition from model to actor. How did that happen?Shane McDermott: That is one of the things that is crystal clear in my mind. The first opportunity I ever had to act was Ethan Allen furniture. It was nothing more than: fade in, you see a nice living room and then a bunch of kids come in and are having a good time. That was the extent of the commercial. So that was the first commercial I ever did. It was just when I was getting to big; I guess you grow out of size as a model. But of course at that point you have all these people who are helping you find work. And they start encouraging you to go toward acting. You're doing all this modeling print stuff, so they say, "you should try commercials." It really was commercials. So I did Ethan Allen furniture, Stove Top Stuffing and then I got Swans Crossing. I don't know if you've ever heard of that show. It was kind of a kid's TV show. And that was the first step into I guess what you'd call "more acting." We shot 65 episodes in 3 months.Blake J. Harris: Wow.airborneShane McDermott: [laughs] Yeah, it was crazy. Very intense shooting schedule. And there were a lot of talented people on there. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Brittany Daniel. There were a number of great actresses on there and that was really the first TV show I did. And then Airborne came a little bit after that.Blake J. Harris: Is it true that you were a good rollerblader and that was part of how you got the job?Shane McDermott: [laughs] Well, when I was younger—especially during the summer—the way I would get around to auditions is I would rollerblade. And, you know, I was pretty good; I'd go down the streets and I'd skate in the streets to get to my next audition. And that's really how when Airborne came up, it turned out to be something I was very excited about because I roller-bladed so much during the summers in New york City. And I remember I went in there and Mitchell Goosen was a great character. Very California, very laid back and then of course you have me as a New York City kid. And actually, at the time, I very much looked it. Because it was summer time, I was tanned. Had my rollerblades. I think I actually rollerbladed to the audition. Who knows, maybe the producers and directors got a kick out of that.Blake J. Harris: Ha.Shane McDermott: But I do remember auditioning for the part. And I did have my rollerblades with me because afterwards I went out and skated through the city for a bit and the director was there. Rob Bowman. And just kind of started off...it was of course one of those auditions that you always want it to go that way; everything just fits into the right spot. And the next thing you know they booked me. Which was crazy for me because I'd never done a feature before. And to star in a big film like that...I mean, I had no idea what to expect.Shane McDermott star of airborne

Part 2: Fish Out of Water (aka Sink or Swim)

Blake J. Harris: So obviously you're excited: you're 16, you're about to star in a Hollywood movie...but were you also nervous at the same time?Shane McDermott:  Oh yeah. The nerves were definitely...it was definitely intense. But I think a lot of times when you get around to the people who have the experience—guys like Seth Green, or the director Rob Bowman or even the producer Steve McEveety—when you're around people with that experience you just kind of watch what they do and get into that same mindset. And I'm gonna have to say that that support there is what really helped me through it. Because when I walked in, I didn't know what to expect. So of course I was nervous. But then you see them and they're not nervous, and they're just a pleasure to work with, the next thing you know it has a life of its own. It just creates a good product, or a good movie; and in this case that's exactly what happened.Blake J. Harris: What was Rob Bowman like as a director?Shane McDermott: He was great. He gave the attention needed. But also he seemed to be...he was kind of perfect for me and maybe for Airborne because he was very laid back in his approach. He would work with me on lines, but not only that: he'd create that environment to really allow you, without even working that hard, to fit into what you needed to do. And you know of course in Airborne the way it played out...who knows if this added to it or not: but Mitchell Goosen, he was kind of a fish out of water in Cincinnati. So any of that uncomfortableness kind of played in to the character.Blake J. Harris: Ha, good point.Shane McDermott: And it ended up working. So, yeah, Rob was great. And actually, I'm not as involved—I'm definitely not as involved in Hollywood these days—but he's gone on to do a large amount of work. A lot of good films and so forth. It was nice working with him. Him and all the other actors.Most recently, Bowman served as an executive producer on Castle, during which he directed 29 of the show's 170 episodes. Blake J. Harris: A few of those actors also went on to big things. One, of course, being Seth Green. What was he like to work with?Shane McDermott: Oh...I mean, Seth's the best. As you know, Seth is probably one of the most experienced guys out there. And funny. He kept me laughing throughout the whole time. And the way that the movie was shot; I didn't spend as much time with the other actors as I did with Seth. Seth and I were together almost every scene.Blake J. Harris: Yeah.Shane McDermott: It just seemed wherever you went with Seth, and I mean wherever you went with Seth—if you went out to a restaurant or just the lobby of a hotel—there were always people smiling because Seth was always doing something. Either making jokes or just...and actually afterwards, Seth and I became pretty good friends. And I spent a good deal of time after the film in LA. Just, you know, flying in for reshoots and stuff like that. So whenever I'd come in Seth and I would hang out and I got to kind of know Los Angles a little bit through him...We definitely had a lot of fun. Definitely had a lot of fun.Blake J. Harris: What about during the movie, off set? Any camaraderie or nightlife amongst the cast?Shane McDermott: Well, first of all, we were still pretty young. And also we shot in Cincinnati, Ohio so there were just so many things going on.Blake J. Harris: Right, right.Shane McDermott: So that definitely kind of limits you on what you can do. And also I worked a lot. I mean, it must have been (if I remember right) but I was working almost every day. Mitchell Goosen was in almost every scene so I was on set quite a bit. And the hours are always kind of odd; you're waking up at 4 in the morning, then you get onto set...very long days. I would say: the camaraderie that I got was when we had gotten through most of the big scenes and I started doing the rollerblading. Now, of course we had a really great stunt guy, Chris Edwards, and I was a very big fan of rollerblading at the time. And Chris Edwards was just like this genius on rollerblades; like gravity didn't exist; that guy could do whatever he wanted. So the thing that I enjoyed the most once we got to the point where they would kind of let me partake in some of the skating activities, that's what I loved the most. I loved going down those hills and skating with the professional skaters and just trying to make it look as good as we could.Blake J. Harris: You had done television stuff, so it's not like acting in a feature film was completely foreign. But it is different. this was foreign. What were some of the most surprising things to you about the movie-making process that stand out in your memory?Shane McDermott: Most surprising? I don't know. I think I didn't expect...airborneBlake J. Harris: What about...I was talking to a former child actor the other day and he said that—for him, on his first feature—it was hard to get used to shooting scenes out of order. Did you notice that at all? Did it create any trouble capturing Mitchell Goosen?Shane McDermott: I didn't find that as hard. Because when you're prepping for this stuff, you read the script so many times. You read it, read it, read it; you get to the point where you don't need the script, you can jump to any scene; you know it. And once you get to that point—this is kind of the way I always looked at acting—then that allows you to really start brining in your own pieces. Your own creativity, your own thoughts about the character; things that can add to the character...I felt like I knew the script so well that you could do any scene and bam it's there.Blake J. Harris: That's great.Shane McDermott: Oh, I just thought of something that really surprised me. And it's in the film. It's kind of an interesting scene. So I showed up to Cincinnati before the rest of the cast...and I remember I got there early and, you know, we had nothing to do. So they sent the B Team to take some footage at the airport. And I remember it had just started snowing and one of the things I was most surprised by was they got an airplane that was basically just sitting on the runway and then the just opened it up for us to shoot in. And this was my first experience...I'd only been there for a day. Then the next thing you know, I'm in the taxi area where they have planes and so forth... you know, waling into a 737 airplane with nobody on there. I remember looking around: wow, this is...a whole new level! We got an airport here!Blake J. Harris: [laughing]Shane McDermott: And also the scene turned out really good: Mitchell Goosen showing up in Cincinnati in his California clothing, and his surfboard coming off the plane and he's standing in the taxi area freezing. They put it in the trailer. It's how the trailer starts off. I always liked that scene. It was the first scene that I shot and it was probably one of the scenes that I remember the most. But also the scene where Mitchell meets the love interest...Nikki.Blake J. Harris: Yeah, the great Brittney Powell!Shane McDermott: Yup. And that was a big scene for me because it was kind of the moment of truth; either you can do it or you can't. And you know when you're standing there, it's that sink or swim moment. And it was one of those moments where it worked. I remember finishing the scene and hoping it went well and I walked over to Steve McEveety, the producer. And I said, "How did it go?" And he just: huge smile. He said, "That was it. You got it." So that was memorable for me...it's nice when things work. And at that point I said: I got this. I know who Mitchell is and I got this.airborne

Part 3: If You Want to be Known for Something, 

Mitchell Goosen is the Right Way to Do It.Shane McDermott: So you just say "Okay, let's go." And to this day, I'm very proud of the work. It was a good film and, of course, an amazing experience.Blake J. Harris: You should be proud. I mean, even if just for the fact that you made me and my childhood friends jealous at the time.Shane McDermott: [laughs]Blake J. Harris: But I'm wondering...so there's stuff I've written years ago that I'm proud of but, even so, there are some aspects of the writing that—looking back now—they kind of make me cringe. Is there anything like that for you in Airborne?Shane McDermott: There's only one scene. I mean overall I say everything in there worked wonders. But there was only one scene that I look back at today...and that's when Mitchell Goosen is standing up in front of the class. And then for whatever reason, I always hated standing up in front of classes. Whenever I was a kid going to school. Your teacher asks you to read or whatever it was, you just get that thing in the pit of your stomach: oh god!Blake J. Harris: Yup.Shane McDermott: So it's funny...he stands up—and once again I think it kind of played well; but I look at it and I remember standing up in front of all these actors...as I look at that scene, for whatever reason, it always brings back—just momentarily—that one feeling you got. Which is probably good. I mean, as a writer isn't that what you want out of your actors?Blake J. Harris: Yeah. That's a kind of authenticity, isn't there?Shane McDermott: Yeah, exactly.Blake J. Harris: And tell me...what about when you finished the movie? What do you remember about the film being finished, seeing the trailer, coming out?Shane McDermott: Seeing the trailer for the first time was magical. And I remember where I was: I was back in New York City, at the movies with some friends. And it was, you know, it was the preview for an upcoming film.Blake J. Harris: Did you know your trailer would be playing?Shane McDermott: No! We were just going to see a movie. It was an awesome surprise.

I remember it coming on and that scene that I told you about with that airplane comes on... and all of the sudden you're there, all your friends are right next to you, and the movie theater is packed full, and you're just floored.

Blake J. Harris: That's a really magical moment.Shane McDermott: It was. And the trailer was great. I mean, it was really well cut together. The music worked, the timing was perfect. It was like: oh my god, this is going to be big. It was great.Blake J. Harris: And was it? Was the movie was big as you thought it would be?Shane McDermott: Well, I still didn't understand...that's the one thing. I didn't understand a lot of the release aspects of the film. And I was a little bit far away from it, because I was back in New York City at the time...and I know the timing was real important with the release of the film. And I think there was an issue with timing; it didn't release at the right time.Blake J. Harris: Gotcha.Shane McDermott: The interesting thing about Airborne is...I honestly don't even remember how it did at the box office, but I would say that it really wasn't until some time after that I started getting the attention for the film. And I'm talking years afterwards, that I got attention for the film. I think it was the time when Airborne was just playing on HBO and on the different channels. It would just be repeated and repeated and so many people just enjoyed the film. And then it kind of became this cult classic. Which is great. If you want to be known for something, Mitchell Goosen is the right way to do it.Blake J. Harris: One last question: when was the last time you saw the movie?Shane McDermott: Last time I saw the movie? [pause] Okay, so, I recently turned 40. Which is...you know, the direction life goes. We had a little party at the house for friends and family, so we thought it would be really funny to play Airborne for everybody. And that was the last time. So it wasn't that long ago. We put it on and everybody got a huge kick out of it. And I got a huge kick out of it. And we had a lot of my nieces and nephews there and they loved it. They loved watching their uncle on TV. I mean, it's just a really special film, you know? It's kind of a time piece, especially with rollerblades being the crazy of the 90s. And then just memorable moments. I still, to this day, people talk about that scene between Seth Green and me. Where Seth is trying on all those clothes. You know, just when you have these memorable moments that people can just latch into and remember, they kind of have a life of their own. And I tell you: Airborne definitely has.