Hammer Time: Halt and Catch Fire Jeep Cherokee

Steve Lang
by Steve Lang

“Extras with cars! This way!”

A 20-something assistant to someone else’s assistant guides us to where the next shoot will take place.

“You! You! And You! We need you for wardrobe!”

Me? This can’t be good.

My wife and I were already dressed in early 80’s clothes for the upcoming scene since they emailed us the specifics on the night before the shoot.

Our outfits, pretty much a combination of earthly browns and worn out beige, weren’t too hard to find. Any thrift store will do. Here in the Deliverance country that is North Georgia, nobody pays any mind to what you wear, so long as you’re wearing something.

Unfortunately, for Hollywood standards, we’re both old now. She’s forty, and I’m forty-two. Or to put it another way, we’re both really 42 and climbing too damn fast.

Hollywood doesn’t want us. But they do want our Jeep.

You see this Jeep Cherokee? It’s apparently the Hollywood version of Michael Caine before he became famous. It’s old enough to play in a variety of movies without ever seeming out of place or out of fashion.

’80s, ’90s, or Y2K era, this Jeep even fits the modern day world of 2015. Even though it’s old enough to buy itself a six-pack and light up an unfiitered Camel at the back of my used car lot, it’s young enough to be appealing to those who enjoy all things that are truly American.

AMC and Chrysler made this Jeep forever and, bless em’, the look hit the bullseye of bullseyes – especially when it comes to show business.

There are two things that make this Jeep such a workaholic when it comes to it’s booking as an extra car.

The first is the color. Forest green is pretty much the perfect color for blending a vehicle into the background of any given scene. Dark greens may be as unfashionable as MC Hammer pants when it comes to today’s new car market. But in movie scenes, forest green offers the right blend in the background without being too bright.

Red, white, black, and zonker yellow tend to be big rolling no-no nadirs when it comes to using cars for a given scene in the movie world. The director wants the actors and plot to take over, not a 40 year old van that looks like a rolling Cheech and Chong pinata. So it’s the blues, the dark greens, and the grays that usually win out.

The other big plus for this Cherokee is class. What movie studios want wherever they can find them is cars and trucks that were owned by middle-class Americans.

There must be 27 silver diesel Benzes within a 25 mile radius of every movie shoot. Nobody wants ’em anymore. Lincolns and Cadillacs? There are probably more of them running now than 10 years ago when old-school American bling wasn’t yet retro.

Movie studios aren’t looking for these high-end cars on a regular basis. What they do want are Cherokees, old Camrys, pre-sporty Maximas and Malaise era cars that were designed in the unholy automotive era that covered most of the ’70s and ’80s.

Cars more square than Lawrence Welk – the blander the better. That’s what sells in the movie world if you decide to become an extra who furnishes an extra car.

The pay for doing essentially nothing with an old car except parking it is surprisingly strong. $100 per day for the car. Sixty-eight dollars for eight hours, plus time and a half for overtime – just enough to make my wife a habitual extra with a thick reading book for the endless hours of waiting.

My wife was also in the movie business for years before settling down for full-time motherhood. Sadly enough, this ‘job’ represents the best combination of good pay and low stress in her entire show business career. The work is more steady as well.

We’re now in the third season of Halt & Catch Fire, a popular show on AMC (the channel, not the defunct automaker) where I furnish old cars on a regular basis. Try to imagine the tech world back in the early ’80s, plots that are designed with intelligent souls in mind, and toss in some sci-fi special effects into the mix. It’s a perfect fit for hopelessly geeky folks like me and my wife.

“Hey Susan! Go ahead and park the Jeep over there.”

She does as told, walks back in the shade, and reads her thick book. For a mom with two pubescent kids, this is heaven.

For me, it’s a matter of making money and buying her happiness while selfishly finding a bit of my own. As many of you know, I have a love for old cars that just won’t quit. It may be the late models that pay my bills, but it’s the modern day classics, like the Jeep, that regularly capture my heart.

A lot of my writing work beyond TTAC now revolves around the idea of helping folks figure out older used cars. That career path has reached a mainstream audience but, in my soul, I’m still that strange guy who finds a deep sense of joy in reviving old beaters. What better way to do that than to cater to an industry that has the means to make that hobby worthwhile. A paid mini-vacation for my wife? I’ll take it!

Show business is now my side business thanks to Hollywood getting cheap and spreading out across the USA. These days, once I finish buying cars at the dealer auctions in the early afternoons, I like to take a break from what used to be a 16 hour work-day and hang out with my wife at a shoot. Sometimes, if it’s at a movie set like this one, we sit for a while underneath a shady tree, look at all the young people using their walkie-talkies, and watch them move props, cameras, and movie equipment for hours on end. We remember being just like them in our own tough jobs. Trying to get ‘established’, whatever the hell that meant, and just how chaotic and difficult our lives seemed to be.

In truth we really weren’t doing much of anything useful except moving things around, big and small, and following the orders of others. We live out our careers where everything is, “Hurry up… and wait!” Just like a movie set, but with people and papers instead of props.

It’s all chaos in slow motion. You solve a crisis that is hopefully suitable for a G-rated sitcom and then, if you’re really smart, you remember to have a shitload of fun before the next unwelcome episode takes place.

When you get older, you also realize careers don’t really matter. Not usually in this life at least. What does matter is that we nourish our souls in the things that bring us true joy and enough unique misery to open our eyes a bit. Kids. Spouses. Friends. Old cars. Whatever makes our boat float as we drift along this long journey.

Steve Lang
Steve Lang

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  • Balto Balto on Jun 01, 2015

    A friend of mine has one of these, a '98 model in blue-grey, known as "El Jeepo". It is a beast, 300k+ miles, and has more character than any car I've ever known. He got it free from a wealthy neighbor who had it parked in Boston, only to have some hooligans drop a few cinderblocks off of a rooftop and crush the roof in. The neighbor brought it to VT with hopes of having my friend's welder dad cut the roof off and make a summer cruiser, but the bill proved too expensive and he decided to give it away. We took it thorough mud, snow, and roads not fit for driving, completely stock. The windshield was caulked in, the roof was comically warped from hammering it back into shape in the backyard, the driver window wouldn't shut and all of the gauges would stop working at random (which could be fixed by violently flipping on the right blinker and then punching the dashboard, I kid you not), but it took us everywhere we needed to go. It survived a road trip from Vermont to Miami and back at 250K, and still lives on to this day.

  • Tomas De Torquematic Tomas De Torquematic on Jun 03, 2015

    Look, if Donnie Wahlberg's character on 'Blue Bloods' won't trade his Cherokee, thankyou very much, well, nice work, writers of said show. And; AND Tom Hanks in 'Castaway' got his HANDED BACK by a re-married-thought-you-were-dead-ex. And 220,000 miles, 19 years and counting on mine personal daily droner. Yup. S'good.

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