Face of Malibu Rebuilds is a series from artist Johanna Spinks, featuring Malibu residents and their experiences before, during and after the Woolsey Fire. If you have a fire story you would like to share with The Malibu Times, a person of note or courage, or a person who just needs some cheer around this difficult rebuild time, to be sketched for this series, please contact Spinks at firstname.lastname@example.org or The Malibu Times Managing Editor Emily Sawicki at email@example.com.
Spinks, a professional portrait artist and longtime Malibu resident, is donating her time to this series for the interviews and sketches. Readers may remember her original Face of Malibu portrait series that ran monthly in The Malibu Times for five years. You can see more examples of her portrait work at johannaspinks.com.
World-class production designer Alan Roderick-Jones, with a list of film and TV design credits as long as his arm and far wider than his trademark black beret—including the famous Cantina Star Wars scene—says lessons from his profession have prepared him for dealing with the rebuild of his lost home, with wife of 46 years, Rachel. An avid photographer, collector and Malibu Cultural Arts Commissioner, Alan, 78, zen-natured with silver fox good looks, has always relied on an inner awareness, revealed to him some 40 years ago by a young Master.
What is your back story with Malibu? Tell us a little about your life and old home.
Rachel and our family came here in 1978. We sold our farm in Wales and bought a 34-foot airstream trailer that we lived in for a while, and then we rented. It was hard for me to get work in the beginning, even after working on two Oscar-winning movies including “Star Wars” and “Nicholas and Alexander,” as I wasn’t in the union. Money was tight. In ‘83 we purchased our house. Malibu Park was an extraordinary place. The love we shared with family and the love we shared with our friends there—all these great one-acre lots. I know most people are planning on rebuilding because it is so special there. Rachel found the house. We purchased it, and in those days it wasn’t really expensive, but it was still expensive for us.
What was your direct experience of the Woolsey Fire?
We had driven up to where our son Rowan lives, in Mill Valley. We had a call at 5:30 a.m. that there was an evacuation. We had a weekend bag with us. That bag became the only clothes we had. By the time we got to Point Mugu, I have never seen a sky like it. The road was blocked so we couldn’t get through. My daughter, Ella, who had spoken to my son before, did a joint call and gave us the sad news that the house has gone. It was devastating. You can’t explain it. It was nine-and-a-half days before we saw our house. We all met in LA and drove to the house together and could not believe the devastation we saw in Malibu Park; it was like something bombed out in the war. As we went down our driveway, we just had to hold each other and feel the emotion of the loss. It took quite a while to let go. Memories still flood in. It’s a process. It takes longer than you imagine. There is a silent stress that is there. I lost all my photographs; I lost my collection of first-edition books. I had the first edition set of Wizard of Oz. I would say, at least, over 900 drawings and maybe 30 canvases are lost, along with the original Star Wars drawings of Cantina, 1,000 irreplaceable books, some original illustrations, and all my reference books for work. One has to let go. I did wake up one morning and say, “Oh my God! My Mont Blanc pen that I always love to draw with, in sepia ink—that’s gone too!” (With the aid of that Mont Blanc pen, Alan’s designs garnered him numerous awards, including six Cleos, designing commercially for major corporate clients across every industry.)
After, I said, “How about going and being with the grandkids?” We have three. What else is there? And it’s so nice to see them. We are gong to stay here (San Anselmo) for a while, but then want to be in Malibu for when the house is cleared, the trees, the building. We will rent an airstream trailer, probably. We will be back to the trailer where we started. (Laughing) I still think of the 1,000s of people in Malibu, the parents, the children, and relatives, who are going through the same process. You can really feel it in Malibu. Everyone is working so hard and the city is being great.
What will your rebuild look like?
I have already redesigned the house, keeping it to the footprint. I am going to be doing polished concrete and steel! I am saying to myself, “Am I really going to be doing this at my age?” We have had four different arborists come in the last few days to try and tell us what trees can survive. Sadly, two-thirds of our trees were lost.
What has been the hardest aspect of this experience for you?
Accepting and letting go. No matter who I am, or what I have done in life, it is still surrendering to the moment, knowing that within that moment there is perfection. So few people on the planet are consciously aware. Even having that awareness? It is hard.
Any shining moments?
Everyone has called. All the set companies I worked with? They were some of the first people to call us, saying, “If you need us, do call.” I did 30 commercials a year (with these companies), and all on stage. Seeing what I have in my family and the value of family life. That is really the truest—the value we share with love and friends.
What is the biggest challenge ahead for you?
I don’t see things as challenges. I never saw things that came up at work as challenges either, which is why I was so successful. You are called on a Friday afternoon from Lee Iacocca’s office in Chicago to be on stage by the following Thursday. In that minute, you do the sketch, send the plan, you arrive Monday, you borrow a few things, and by Thursday you are shooting. Whatever I learned in the world of film design has really set me up for dealing with life. I do get a bit impatient from time to time and I pick myself up.
Any suggestions or advice for others displaced by the fire?
As a displaced community, we have lost our lifestyle: The community needs to rebuild itself but you can only do that with the help of each other. In Rachel’s tennis club, five of her friends lost their homes. Other tennis clubs came and helped. The beauty of support—we can’t do without that. I am working on my memoir, “The Empty Stage.” For me, every day is like the empty stage, as I have no idea what will be fulfilled. I had written the outline before the fire. This fire story will be the end chapter, obviously. Chapter 45! (Laughing)