Jahnnalee Randall grew up with an airstrip in her backyard. Measuring half a mile long and 70 feet wide, it’s been there since she was a girl, though neither she nor her father can remember exactly what year it was constructed, only that it was before 9/11.
“It’s common, everyone has one!” she joked. But there’s also sincerity in her remark; the airstrip has become such a day-to-day aspect of life on her family’s East Balsam farm that it has ceased to feel unusual for her.
Jahnnalee’s father, David Randall, was and is a small-time pilot. But, with jobs both on and off the farm that had been in his family’s hands since the Second World War, he hardly had room in the day to drive the 30 minutes to Osceola or 20 minutes to Amery, where the nearest municipal airfields are located.
“I spent twice as long getting to the plane [than I spent flying in it],” David said. So instead of driving to the airport, he decided to make his own.
“This is a federal private airport, so I have to maintain it, ‘cause it’s on maps, it’s emergency landing,” you can hear him say at approximately 1:45 of “The Airstrip,” the first installment in John Deere’s #RunWithUs Instagram video series of eight. The series aims to share stories of how John Deere products are used in the lives of their faithful customers. David grew up on John Deere machinery, and owns about 45 tractors, most of them antiques. If you were to count the tires of every piece of equipment on the farm, you would come up with a figure over 5,000.
While no actual emergency landings have ever taken place there, the airstrip is a haven for other area pilots like David. It requires mowing weekly, which takes four hours, though some of the locals that land there help with the task, too.
Filming for “The Airstrip” took 20 hours, spread across two days, which was then whittled down to only 2 minutes and 47 seconds. In the video, you can see David taking off in his plane, Jahnnalee in the basement studio from which she runs her comedy short film company, Why Wait Productions, and, of course, Gizmo, Jahnnalee’s beloved Chihuahua and partner in filmmaking.
Jahnnalee’s been in show business since age 12, when she began modeling, though later acting entered the picture. A 2006 graduate of Unity High, she had no luck auditioning for the school plays, but went on to adorn her resume with appearances on networks like Disney XD and the Discovery Channel. Not long after her high school graduation, the airstrip was featured in film for the first time, on an episode of MTV’s Web series “Meet or Delete,” where Jahnnalee got to “swap lives” with a girl from New York City.
Jahnnalee then moved to California, where she modeled for Roxy but struggled to break into the acting business as a newbie.
“To get an agent, you have to have an acting reel, but to have an acting reel, you have to have work, but nobody wants to hire you if you don’t have an agent,” she said.
Her acting teacher solved this circular dilemma by suggesting she create her own videos to use in a reel. After receiving praise for the comedic shorts she wrote, directed, edited and starred in, she began entering them in film festivals.
Her series “Dating Disasters” won Best Web Series — Audience Choice as well as Best Script and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Hollywood & Vine Film Festival. In 2015, her “military short film” Lost in Time won Best Actress at Hollywood & Vine. She spends part of the year in Los Angeles and part in Balsam Lake. “Why Wait for opportunities when you can create them yourself!” is the tagline behind her company’s title.
Gizmo the Chihuahua, meanwhile, was first acquired eight years ago as a puppy. Jahnnalee spent two years searching for the perfect show dog, but it quickly became apparent that this was not the life for Gizmo. He had to be neutered in order to prevent him from developing a tumor due to a testicular anomaly, and show dogs cannot be neutered or spayed.
Shortly afterward, however, Jahnnalee received a call from a director she’d worked with in Los Angeles. The dog that was slated to star in a commercial for the city’s tourism efforts had dropped out- and that dog looked just like Gizmo, and rode everywhere in a purse like him, too.
“[Gizmo] nailed it. The camera was on, he was smiling away… and after that, we just kept getting referrals for more stuff, and then he became a working actor and he paid my bills in Los Angeles,” Jahnnalee said.
Jahnnalee found out about the John Deere series through an online casting call, much like “Meet or Delete” and many of her other early opportunities. After a few months of interviews, the producers took a liking to the novelty of a farm that boasts both an airstrip and a film studio.
“They don’t know anyone else that mows with a John Deere on an airstrip,” Jahnnalee said. “They also don’t know someone else that lives on a farm that is a one-person show and crew, and creates comedy short films.”
The project was almost halted, though, by the devastating storms of July 19. That day, the farm’s barn was destroyed. Many trees were uprooted and much of the corn and soybean crops were damaged as well.
“I wasn’t sure if John Deere would still want to come out and film, if everything was no longer usable,” Jahnnalee said. “But the airstrip was fine.”
“The Airstrip” can be found on John Deere’s Instagram account, under the hashtag #RunWithUs. Much of Jahnnalee’s work, and a link to her YouTube channel, can be found on whywaitproductions.com. In addition to doing all the technical work behind her videos, she plays all the characters, too — except those of the canine variety, which are played by Gizmo.
“[The producers of “The Airstrip”] asked you, ‘How do you feel about what she’s doing?’, and you said…” Jahnnalee recalled.
“‘Just as long as it makes you happy,’” David finished.