Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
Once you've been cast in a Hollywood movie, it begins to get in your blood. Almost two months to the day—following my filming debut in Clint Eastwood's upcoming project, The Mule —and after my good friend, Cat Hurst, shared a Facebook post that called for extras in another movie being shot in Savannah, I was off and running again.
The new movie features Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and John Bernthal—that's Jason Bourne, Batman, and Shane from The Walking Dead. Is it any wonder I wanted to be in it? The plot revolves around the true story of Ford and Ferrari's epic racing rivalry in the 1960s.
Ford attempted to buy Ferrari back in the 60s. The deal fell through, angering Henry Ford II, who put together a team, led by former successful race car driver, Carroll Shelby, to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 34th Grand Prix of Endurance. Ford's GT40 Mark IIs finished in the top three positions while none of the Ferrari 330 P3s made it past the 17th hour of the race.
Once I was accepted as an extra, they requested I bring any of the following: white tank top undershirts—flat front pants—off-white short sleeve tee shirts—leather dress shoes—Keds sneakers and button front shirts—to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center for a wardrobe fitting. Inside the cavernous room were several big RVs, electrical and wood-working crews, and, in the back corner, the wardrobe and haircutting department.
I filled out the necessary tax paperwork and signed a disclaimer from Twentieth Century Fox that I would not in any way blow the cover on any of the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Next, I moved over to the wardrobe area, where a nice young lady took my measurements. She asked where my navel was in order to position her tailor tape, explaining that the pants in 1966 were of the high-waisted variety. As she went for my inseam, I turned my head to the side and coughed—old reflexes never die.
She turned me over to the next nice young lady, who sized me up and vanished into the clothes horses, leaving me to sit patiently next to some big boxes labeled Western Costume Company, a supplier in North Hollywood, California since 1912, whose clothes have been featured in Gone with the Wind, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Bonanza, and Mad Men.
The nice wardrobe girl returned with a pair of dark green, high-waisted pants, a multi-colored, checkered dress shirt, a coffee-colored, lightweight jacket, and a pair of size 11 chukka boots. So, I slipped behind a black curtain in the makeshift dressing room and put all the clothes on over my old wife-beater tee shirt. They looked me over, grabbed a faded, brown belt to complete the outfit, gave their approval, and snapped a couple photos.
Next up, a '66-style haircut free of charge. I explained to the stylist, who had just moved to Atlanta from New Orleans, that back home I usually pay $10 for my cousin, Lisa Cheshire Ellison, just to search for my hair in her backyard She Shed Salon.
She giggled, tearing into my head with her scissors as we talked about Mardi Gras, Hurricane Katrina, and the New Orleans Saints. Once she was done, she took a picture on my cell phone, and said, “Style it just like this when you come back for your first day of shooting on Tuesday, September 4th”.
The weekend prior to filming started with a festive bang as I celebrated my 65th birthday playing a gig at Zachry's Seafood and Steak in Brunswick, Georgia, followed by late night karaoke at Boondock's right up the road.
Forgoing much-needed Sunday sleep, September 2nd saw Lynne and I hustling up Woodpecker Trail to perform at Curly Fest, a beautiful annual music festival put on by our good buddy, Curly McLeod, and located on the banks of the Ohoopee River just outside of Cobbtown.
There, we met up with Lane and Donna Middleton, who invited us to stay over at their spacious, country abode near Register, Georgia. Another night with little sleep turned into Labor Day Monday, sitting comfortably on the Middleton's back porch overlooking a lovely pond surrounded by wildflowers, strumming acoustic guitars, and listening to rockabilly music at a very loud volume until the sun began to set.
Only an hour away from the movie shoot in Savannah, Lynne and I planned to set out at seven Tuesday morning, only to find our Toyota with a dead battery. Reminded of my ill-fated Glory debut starring my ol' blue pickup in the parking lot of the Waycross Post Office, I began to consider the gods of Hollywood surely must be against me. We hung around till Lane woke up, jumped us off, then headed toward the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.
On arrival, we wolfed down scrambled eggs and sausages, courtesy of 20th Century Fox, from a plentiful breakfast buffet; and, I changed into my acting clothes, getting a last-minute shave and sideburn trim before being directed to a large, black bus that took me and my fellow extras a couple miles to the set—a section of racetrack nicely redone to look like Le Mans, France in 1966.
We disembarked and for the next six hours, stood in the brutal Savannah sun cheering a convoy of high-maintenance race cars in twenty-second takes over and over again. Fully clothed in jackets, sweaters, and undershirts, there was nowhere to hide from the heat. The crew kept us hydrated with plastic water bottles and electrolytes, and fed us our choice of bananas, crackers, or granola bars.
I had plenty of time to get to know those next to me on the racetrack boundary, piled high with hay bales, concrete barricades, and chain-link fencing. Dan Shindelbower, Jr. of Jacksonville, Florida stood next to me for most of the afternoon and kept me in good conversation even as my head and face began to melt into a bright, Ferrari red. He had never heard the term—“bear caught”—so, I explained it to him, citing my current living self as proof of such a condition.
By the time we finally broke and boarded the buses back to the Convention Center for a fine meal of braised fish, mixed vegetables, squash, and mustard greens, I was praying for a second wind. The shoot was to go on that night for an additional six hours, followed by action again on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The Hollywood gods, who so conveniently warned me with a dead car battery earlier that morning, took pity on me. Along with 40 other extras, I was told that we were wrapped for Tuesday's filming. Changing out of my film wardrobe, I said to another extra, “I thought we were filming a movie about race cars. Turns out, it was just another episode of Survivor”.
It was like going to the beach. Only, there's no water—no sand—and, you're completely clothed. The movie will come out next summer. Whether I'm in it or not I could care less. From here on, I think I'll spend my time acting like a songwriter.
American Spirit: Uncle Dave and The Younguns Download or Buy
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin