“It’s amazing how I came up with the concept.” says Blake Laitner, the Eugene-based co-writer and director of indie stoner flick We Need Rent Money making its Portland debut Saturday, Aug. 19, at 5th Avenue Cinema. “I came to the conclusion that I’m not going to get a million people to stream my movie, so I’m like, all right, let’s do a 420 Tour.”
It’s hard to tell if Laitner is being authentically self-congratulatory or if he’s poking fun at himself. He speaks with the extra-crispy vocal fry West Coast super stoners are known for—drawn out and turned up to a comical degree. It’s a far-off comparison, but the vocal performance reminds me of another midnight movie director whose own charmingly delusional, over-the-top persona overshadows his work: Tommy Wiseau.
It’s a compliment that Laitner’s uber-stoner character charisma is what’s required to propel the 420 Tour, whose first stop is in Portland thanks to the support of Ascend Recreational Cannabis Dispensary. After that, he hopes to make stops in every state that has legalized recreational weed and screen the low-budget feature that follows a trio of burnouts as they scramble to, you guessed it, make rent.
High-femme stoners with in-home libraries, executive potheads juggling gigs, contracts and high-falutin’ responsibilities, and low-dose parents hoping for some artistic reprieve probably won’t find many cannathusiast touchstones in We Need Rent Money, but film-hobbyist bros clinging to big Hollywood dreams despite their creative shortcomings certainly might.
“It is based on a true story,” Laitner laughs. “My buddy that I wrote it with, Sampson Ray [Simon], told me a story where he and his roommates couldn’t pay rent, so they decided to have the neighborhood drug dealer move in the house to help.”
The movie’s premise allows for all manner of tomfoolery, which means it comes off as the kind of project a group of friends made after one of them confessed their filmmaking dreams during a particularly debilitating blunt rotation. Sure, the dialogue is trite, and yeah, the performances are OK. The production quality is flimsy AF, but, for a select few, therein may lie its ephemeral charm. Not unlike Wiseau’s The Room, We Need Rent Money is a clarion call to any half-baked daydreamer with a filmmaking goal. It’s almost as if the subplot to this film is simply that anyone with the will can write and make a movie, take that movie to festivals, and sell that movie to a streaming service. You do not need expensive equipment, or extravagant locations, or frankly, hardly any acting, writing, sound production, or directorial experience at all. And if you believe you are amazing, you might even be able to tour through Portland.
“It can inspire your readers to go out and do something and accomplish something,” Laitner says in a flash of self-awareness. “Maybe not this quality. I mean, you have to actually rent a lens that you can’t afford to buy, but anybody can get out with a camera.”
I attempt to commiserate, but Laitner then nonchalantly cuts me off to deliver an unprompted, Oscar-worthy “thank you” speech to his cast and crew. I get it, and I want to let him indulge in the fantasy, so I mute myself, take an offensively loud bong hit, and act the appreciative audience member.
SEE IT: We Need Rent Money screens at 5th Avenue Cinema, 510 SW Hall St., 503-725-3551, weneedrentmoney.com. 6:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 19. Get your tickets for both the screening and a $300 dispensary gift card raffle at the door day of or in advance at Ascend Recreational Cannabis Dispensary, 13826 NE Sandy Blvd., 971-279-4769, pdxascend.com. $10.