Scott Shuffitt is living The Big Lebowski super-fan’s dream. Eleven years ago, Shuffitt was just another struggling musician and casual movie buff who watched and re-watched The Big Lebowski religiously and quoted lines with his friends. Then, after being thoroughly bored by an underwhelming tattoo convention, Shuffitt and buddy Will Russell started to think they could host a convention of their own that would be a whole lot more fun, a simple idea that exploded in ways they never could have anticipated.
When Shuffitt and Russell decided to hold a celebration of The Big Lebowski called Lebowski Fest at a Louisville bowling alley back in 2002, their expectations were low. But when the turnout far exceeded even their most optimistic predictions, the accidental entrepreneurs realized they’d tapped into a massive tidal wave of cultish love and appreciation for the 1998 film, its lovable slacker antihero “The Dude” (indelibly played by Jeff Bridges), and the shaggy yet exquisitely detailed universe the Coen brothers created for the film, with its unforgettable supporting cast, classic setpieces, and eminently quotable lines.
What began as a modest Louisville affair morphed into a national and then international phenomenon as Lebowski Fests popped up all over the nation, including soirees in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, and Las Vegas, in addition to overseas celebrations of all things Dude in Edinburgh, Scotland and London, England. With each new city, Lebowski Fest’s legend grew. During one particularly memorable Los Angeles Lebowski Fest, “achievers” (as cultists are ironically known) were favored to a musical performance by a very special guest: The Dude Himself, Jeff Bridges.
So when Pop Pilgrims went looking for a guide to usher us into the world of The Big Lebowski, the affable Shuffitt seemed like an ideal candidate for the position. Upon touching down in Los Angeles (before we had an opportunity to shower or shave or otherwise do things that might allow us to look presentable and vaguely human on camera), we were immediately taken to Dinah’s Family Restaurant, a coffee shop where the only scene in The Big Lebowski that doesn’t feature Jeff Bridges—a sequence involving henchmen played by the likes of Flea and Aimee Mann—was filmed. Once there, we had a long conversation with Shuffitt about the origins of Lebowski Fest, the places it’s taken him, and The Big Lebowski’s enduring appeal.
We then went gallivanting across the greater Los Angeles area looking for, and occasionally finding, places of interest to The Big Lebowski achievers. Of course, time marches on and the shooting locations of The Big Lebowski weren’t all commemorated as national landmarks (some folks have no appreciation for film/pop-culture history), so some of the film’s main shooting locations now look much different than they did in the film. For example, Hollywood Star Lanes, the bowling alley where the film’s lovingly choreographed bowling sequences took place, is now a school where a young man on a skateboard took perverse pride in yelling loudly while scooting past the film crew on his skateboard.
Many of the locations where The Big Lebowski was filmed are now shrouded in mystery, which is a very dramatic way of saying that we looked for various locations where we thought the film might have been shot, with only intermittent luck, even with the help of I’m A Lebowski, You’re A Lebowski: Life, The Big Lebowski, And What Have You, a book Shuffitt co-wrote alongside Lebowski Fest pals Russell, Bill Green, and Ben Peskoe. But if we had difficulty nailing down the specifics of where individual scenes were shot, we felt a warm glow of affection for The Big Lebowski everywhere we went. A Dude-shaped halo sits atop every evocative place in Los Angeles even vaguely associated with what is shaping up to be one of the definitive cult films of our time. Like its impeccably rumpled, bathrobe-clad antihero, The Big Lebowski abides and leaves even the heartiest Pop Pilgrim with an insatiable craving for The Dude’s beloved White Russians. And what-have-you.
(And yes, we debuted this video on Yahoo Movies this morning; you can read what they had to say about it here.)