Hammer Time: The First Set

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Coffee. Old magazines. Quiet murmurs of conversations. I am stuck in an old office with two dozen other people who are awaiting instructions from a young tattooed lady with a clipboard and a shrill nasal voice.

“Follow me!”, I hear six inches from my ear. It seems like the perfect moment to have a rendezvous with the doctor, the dentist, or the job interview. Or at least someone who doesn’t instantly give me an instant flashback to my New Jersey upbringing.

Not this time. I’m in…

Hollywood. Or at least the Atlanta version of it.

24 hours ago I posted an ad on Craigslist for a 1983 Mercedes 300D. Nothing special. Great interior. I had priced it for a quick sale in a business where well used early-80’s vehicles have limited demand.

Within ten minutes I received the following response.

“Hi, We are actually looking for a few additional cars for a scene we are filming tomorrow for a new pilot ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ for AMC.”

Now I have been selling on Craigslist for over 10 years now. So I am acutely aware of the scam side of this world. One that is typically loaded with aspiring Nigerian bankers who need your exclusive help with freeing up millions of Euros. Or my personal favorite. The listing for a car where the phone number is written like ( 5^7^3) 286 – 1 ^ 4 ^ 2 ^ 3).

This one was a bit different. A complete sentence. An unusual attention to grammar and punctuation. It was a boring Sunday afternoon, so I responded.

“I would be interested if I could bring a second vehicle along with my wife as well. Let me know if you are looking for a particular era of vehicles.

All the best!”

The emails went back and forth and my wife, bless her film and video background, was able to confirm the rest. The listing was likely legitimate. A bit random. But metro-Atlanta often has anywhere from 5 to 10 movie shoots during the spring season and yes, they do need old cars.

This was to be a shoot for the year 1983. It just so happened that I had that Mercedes and a 74’ Chevy C10 pickup that would be the perfect background vehicles for a set that would try to recreate an office park in Dallas right after the famous early-80’s oil crash.

The clincher was that it was only 15 miles away and the Monday auto auctions are horrifically expensive this time of year. Cars that sold for only $6000 this time of year now sell for $7500 thanks to Uncle Sam redistributing refunds and unearned perks to millions of people who usually get a big wad of cash only once a year.

Tax season is an incredibly difficult time to buy cars on the cheap. This is why I will buy as many as twelve a day in the final quarter of the year and fewer than 12 a month from January through late May. It’s cheaper to buy a holding yard and replace a few batteries than it is to pay a four figured price premium on a per car basis.

The pay for 2 extras on the set comes out to $120 each for 10 hours; plus $35 for each of our two glorified clunkers. The family revenue would be $310 in total for a short drive and interminably long waiting periods in a long line of small offices.

Would it be worth my time?

Well… you live life once as the old saying goes and since this is a minimal hassle deal, we take it. 5 A.M. buzzer. My wife and I eat our fruits and pack our coffees. I get the keys to a 39 year old Chevy with the 350 V8, while the wife gets the screaming ‘Eeeeeee!!!’ buzzer of the Mercedes Turbodiesel.

20 minutes later. No traffic. We’re there. A parking lot that will soon look like the 70’s version of American Graffiti.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • MadHungarian MadHungarian on Apr 19, 2013

    Is there going to be a Part II? I was all set to read about your experiences on the set and that was precisely where you stopped! Last July a movie about the CBGB nightclub was filmed here in Savannah, and I spent a day as an extra along with my '64 Corvair. Most of the day was spent going back and forth on an overpass filming multiple takes of three or four scenes in which my Corvair and a group of other 60's and 70's cars served as background traffic. Actually, most of the day was spent sitting around waiting for the next take or next scene to be set up, punctuated by a few moments of actual shooting. It is an interesting exposure to what is involved in making a movie and to certain "tricks" of the process. However, the one word of caution I will put out there is that it is not necessarily the kindest thing to do to your vintage car. This was one of the hottest days of the summer and because there is so much "hurry up and wait" involved, all the cars spent a lot of time idling in the baking sun. A couple of times we had to back all the way across the overpass to set up a scene, and after one of those runs a '69 Mustang was boiling over. The extras were boiling over too -- after 12 hours spent mostly sitting in an un-air-conditioned car in the sun, I stank and desperately needed a shower!

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on May 19, 2013

    Odd controversy here about tax refund season. Most products have a seasonal sales pattern. It was once commonly based on harvest season when farmers and ranchers sold their crops/herds and had a pocket full of money. Now it is a little bit based on tax refund season for some products. Just a simple fact, but one that seems to have brought the fools out in the open. Merry Xmas to each and every one, Jimbob

  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.
  • THX1136 I would not 'knowingly' purchase a Chinese built or brand. I am somewhat skeptical of actual build quality. What I've seen in other Chinese made products show them to be of low quality/poor longevity. They are quite good at 'copying' a design/product, but often they appear to take shortcuts by using less reliable materials and/or parts. And , yes, I know that is not exclusive to Chinese products. When I was younger 'made in Japan' was synonymous with poor quality (check John Entwistle's tune 'Made in Japan' out for a smile). This is not true today as much of Japan's output is considered very favorably and, in some product types, to be of superior quality. I tend to equate the same notion today for things 'made in China'.
  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.