BIRTH OF A LEGEND
by Roy Allen
In August 1998 my wife and I were attending the monthly meeting of the Cowtown Corvette Club when the Club President announced that a production company, Greene HDTV Productions, was looking for someone to volunteer their 1997 or 1998 red corvette to be part of a commercial for the new 1999 Corvette to be filmed in the latest technology, HDTV. The commercial would take about four days to shoot and would be filmed at various ghost towns, old abandoned service stations, closed down motels/ courts, etc., on sections of Old Route 66 in the Texas Panhandle and in Eastern New Mexico. My wife, Mary, grew up in that part of Texas and I spent several years there in the USAF so it sounded interesting to us. Plus the fact that we had just purchased a 1998 Carmine Red Coupe made it more exciting. So, we volunteered. The Club President said the Production Company really wanted to use a Torch Red Coupe. We offered again in case no one had the torch red they wanted. In a few days the phone started ringing with calls from some members of the Corvette Club, the Club President and the owner of the Production Company, Brian Greene. Everyone was saying that a Torch Red could not be found and that they wanted to use our car to represent the 1999 model for the commercial. We agreed and were invited to a meeting at the Production Company to meet all the players in the commercial.
At the meeting were Larry and Sylvia Hoaldridge of the Cowtown Corvette club who were volunteering their 1956 Convertible, Brian Greene, Alan Westbrook who would be in charge of filming, and the other various film production members such as grips, crane driver/operator, etc. Not able to be there due to a Corvette racing engagement were Steve Farr and his brother Ben who would be driving Steves 1963 Split Window and 1966 Hardtop. We were told we would be leaving in a convoy from Vandergriff Chevrolet (one of the film sponsors) at 3:00 pm on Saturday afternoon and would convoy to the town of Shamrock, Texas to spend the night and then start filming early the next morning. We were told to bring things like books, cameras as there would be long hours of waiting around to set the scenes, shooting take after take, etc. Oh, how right they were!
It should be noted that the 56, 63, and66 are all show cars in outstanding condition. They were trailered to each of the shots by their owners while we drove our 98.
We all met outside the motel at 7:00 am to drive to the first shoot, which was at the U Drop Inn in Shamrock on a still active portion of Route 66. At this site the filming would only use the 56 at first. It took over three hours to get this first shot done, all of which is about 10 seconds of the 56 pulling away from the old gasoline pump part of the Inn in the commercial! But, to get the crane set up, cameras all set, and take after take, etc., time was their least expensive thing. It ended up with a shot of our 98 driving by reflecting in the window glass of the Inn. Of special note is that the U Drop Inn was one of the very first Inn/Café/Courts in that area and it was The Spot to be 30 years ago. At that time it was all decorated with neon and really stood out. Still in good shape today but without the neon.
Next stop was at a trestle bridge just outside Shamrock. Here the film crew mounted a $500,000.00 HDTV camera to the back glass of our 98. This alone took over one hour to get it set up just right. Then it became exciting instead of just waiting. I was to make several passes over the bridge at low speeds to verify the camera was set properly. On the other side of the trestle bridge was the crane with another HDTV camera mounted on it to film me coming over the bridge. After many, many takes with the camera on the car they were finally satisfied. Then the camera came off and I was to make runs over the bridge at speeds of about 60 mph. I must have made 20 or more passes at ever increasing speeds, with the final ones at speeds of about 80 mph. My adrenaline was flowing! The actual commercial footage shows me entering the bridge from the mounted camera view and really shows the C5s lines on the top and hood. Yes, I thought of "keeping going with the half million dollar camera locked down", knew they could not catch me but figured they would find me!
Next stop was at the small Texas town of McLean. Here the 56 was featured pulling up to the gas pumps at the very first (circa 1929) Phillips 66 Service Station in Texas. It has been restored and looks great. We also did shots of both the 66 and 98 passing next to each other in the Town Square. Took about 10 takes to get it timed right. This was really fun, as the whole town seemed to come out to watch the filming and just loved all the beautiful cars and had dozens of questions of what we were doing, where we had been and where we were going next. All this took several more hours. Heck, just unloading and loading the vintage cars into the trailers was no easy or quick chore as many of you probably know.
Next stop was the small town of Alanreed where we filmed the 98 passing next to an old (1930) Texaco station that is still in pretty good shape. The historic sign on the station wall says "Downtown Alanreed". Only had to do about 7 takes to get this portion. By this time I am getting real used to hearing (by the way we all had portable radios to communicate with each other) "lets try it one more time".
Next small town to visit was Groom where the 63 was the sole participant in some shoots at the 66 Courts, probably once one of the hottest places to stay on Route 66. The camera was mounted on the crane in front of the almost falling down old service station. Several local teenage boys came out to watch and just drooled over all the Corvettes, all saying they would have one someday. I remember saying that myself back in the mid 60s!
We then went to Amarillo where we had steaks at the Big Texan restaurant. Then off to the town of Vega where we spent the night. This was a long day with us not hitting the bed not until about midnight.
Up and rolling at 7:00 am the next morning to head out for the town of Glenrio which is on the Texas/New Mexico border. Shooting here was exclusively of the 63 and 66 in various scenes. Most notable a drag race simulation. Keep in mind these two are immaculate show cars and have only been driven from the warehouse to the trailer and to shows. No highway miles at all in many years! Steve and Ben Farr were worried that they would really heat up badly in the hot Texas sun. They did fine though. The rest of us were wandering around the old ghost town, which still has many old buildings still standing. The Courts that were so famous back in the 60s say on the Texas side of the border "Last Motel in Texas" while on the side facing New Mexico it says "First Motel in Texas". Mary was wandering around behind the old deserted post office building when she came upon her first (and hopefully last) rattlesnake! Needless to say she turned white as a ghost and ran like crazy away from it! What a sight. This shooting had many takes and we spent hours, again for just a few seconds on the commercial!
Next stop was along some small-unnamed ghost town in New Mexico where we shot some hitchhiking scenes with the 63. This took about 10 takes to get it right. Hot afternoon sun kept Mary and I in the 98 with the air going.
We then made our journey into New Mexico and did some shooting of the 98 coming around a hillside with some pretty background rocks. This was a pretty simple shot of me just going about 50-60 mph around a curve. But, I kept hearing "lets do it one more time" on the radio. The problem was with getting some foreground flowers to be in the right position. This ended up having one of the grips moving the flower stem while another had hold of it with duct tape! Everything you see in films these days is fake, believe me! This scene ended up being fantastic though as the take used has a train going past the hill in the background at the time I come around the corner. We could not have timed this so perfectly if we had tried.
Onward to San Jon, New Mexico where we filmed in front of the "Old Route 66" service station. The owner, I forget his name now, was used to stand out front and wave as the 56 went by several times. The 98 made two passes also and one of them is the closing scene as the credits are rolling. These scenes were probably the fastest we did in the four days. There were no camera mounts, no cranes, and no big delays at all. Nice little town.
Next to a point outside Tucumcari, New Mexico where most of the rest of our shooting would be done. This is up in the hills where there is still an active stretch of Route 66, probably over 20 or so miles long. We did some shooting with all the Corvettes and then went back to Tucumcari to spend the night. Again, a midnight bedtime.
We hit the road again at 7:00 am and headed back to the previous spot in the hills outside Tucumcari. This was a full day of shooting all the cars going up and down the hills at various speeds. One of the first scenes was the one that would be used in the commercial as the first real good view of the 98. It involved going through a smoke screen that was set up using a smoke machine and blowing it across the other side of the road. We started off doing this at about 30 mph to get used to it and I will tell you that even at that speed it is scary not knowing what is on the other side of the smoke! We did several practice runs and then had me go through it at about 60 mph! Alan, the filming person (by the way he works on Walker, Texas Ranger) kept telling me on the radio to get closer to the yellow line. I should have said that the camera was set up on the yellow centerline about 60 feet past the smoke machine. Now this is hard to do knowing a person is on the other side of the smoke. He kept insisting that I miss him and the camera by only one foot, so I tried, and remember saying that if I veered too far left that he would never know it! Would you believe it took 32 takes to get this one done right? Seems like every run the smoke was just not perfect and did not look just right. 32 takes! Finally got it and then pressed on getting many shots of the 63 and 66 going up and down the hillside. They were running pretty rough and getting hot by this time. They were just too used to looking pretty instead of sowing their oats, as they had no doubt done back in the 60s.
They had the HDTV camera mounted again on the left door area of the 98. Like the first time, it took over 1-˝ hours just to mount the camera. This mount was used for the shots of the front wheel/tire. Maybe ten seconds of commercial time!
Then the film crew mounted the camera on the hood of the van they were using. This van was then used to follow, lead and go side by side while filming all the cars at various spots and speeds. Amazing how close they got to the front and back while filming. My instructions from Alan prior to them following me were two rules: (1) do not hit the brakes and (2) do not look in the rear view window! I had to look though, and man, were they close.
Then they had the 98 and 56 come down the hillside at separate times with me going about 60-70 mph on the higher speed runs. The camera was set off in the distance. Then during one of the shorter and slower (40 mph) runs as I was letting off the throttle and braking, a small deer came darting across in front of me! If this had been 10 minutes earlier I would have been going through that area at about 70 mph. Hate to think about what could have happened.
As the day was winding down the filming crew wanted some shots of the Corvettes doing some straight runs down another section of this area. Alan at first told me to go 80 mph. Did a few runs, then he said go 100. I said GREAT! Did about two or three runs, and he said one more at any speed I wanted to go and I was finished and could head home. I did two at 120 mph and loved it immensely! Imagine, a new Corvette doing this on Route 66 just like the C2s and C3s had done many years earlier.
Let me say though, at all times, we had spotters on each end of the road where we were shooting and radios on all the time to make sure there were not any potential problems jump up at us. I felt very safe the whole time; even though the smoke scene still gives me the chills when I think about it.
Mary and I then headed home, tired already and still 450 miles to go. But, we arrived safely back in Saginaw, Texas about midnight and slept great for about 10 hours. By the way, we put over 850 miles on the 98 from the time we left Vandergriffs until we departed after the last shoot. The trip home was only about 450 miles so you can see how many miles we logged doing all the many takes. Lots of miles to have a commercial that took four very long days to film and end up with a commercial that is only 12 minutes long, and that includes the introduction! It starts off with vintage shots of the first 53 and then other 50s models. It also has several scenes of the NCM and the Assembly Plant. All in all it was a blast to do. Would we do it again? Heck yes. Would we do it again for just gasoline, motel and meal money? Probably not!
I did forget to mention one scene that was particularly funny. While filming the 1963 at the long ago deserted 66Courts, the script called for Ben Farr to drive the 1963 in front of the empty rooms of the Courts and then stop prior to entering Route 66. The pavement in front of the Courts has long since been gone and is just a dirt area now. As the Split Window Coupe came to a stop the camera caught a large amount of dust settling around and over the car. It made a beautiful sight, but Steve Farr was heard to mumble "it will take me months to get the dust off and out of that car to make to ready for the next show." For those of you who spend so many hours (days, weeks?) preparing your beauties for a show you know what he was talking about.
The film (titled BIRTH OF A LEGEND) debuted at Vandergriff Chevrolet in Arlington in mid December. Huge crowds got to see it over a four-day period. We had all the Corvettes in the film there on display too. I must say that in HDTV it turned out to be awesome! If you have not had the pleasure of seeing anything filmed in HDTV, go see it when there is a display in your area. The picture quality is 100% better than regular TV. The commercial also debuted in Surround Sound so that made it even more spectacular. The next showing is at the Tarrant County New Car Show next month. I have heard that Greene Productions is working with Chevrolet and major distributors to have it go nationwide in the next year.
All the commercial participants received a regular VHS tape copy (which is NO where near the quality of the HDTV end product) of the commercial and I have shown it to a few other C5Net members for their viewing. It is, naturally, copyrighted but I will loan out my copy to anyone who wants to see it for personal use only. Brian Greene has indicated that his Production Company can make clean copies, for a small fee, for whoever so desires. He can be contacted at his web sitehttp://home.earthlink.net/~greenevideo. Visit this site to see more about the commercial plus other HDTV information. He also told me that the NCM wants to run the film in their theater but needs a corporate sponsor to underwrite the cost so if any of you know of one, please contact Brian.
A web site that has stories and pictures of many of the locations we filmed ishttp://cem202c-1.che.ttu.edu/~route66/route66.html and click on the Texas and New Mexico areas. I would also like to suggest you visit site http://www.national66.com/index.html and click on the Photo Gallery area to see some pictures of the U-Drop Inn and the Phillips 66 Service Station. Both sites have general information on Route 66 and its history.
Following is a quick listing of the various scenes in the film:
I apologize for this taking so long to tell but I felt it needed to be that way. I hope you get to see the commercial someday in your area. It really does the Corvette up nice. It portrays the Corvette in the appropriate and well-deserved level of esteem that Corvette has earned over its unparalleled history in the automotive world! We are very proud to have been participants and to have our 1998 portray the 1999 Corvette.
Ft. Worth, Texas