2015, Jul - Aug

1969 Beetle gets a second chance to adorn the silver screen 

By Lois Grace

Movie star car

The owner of an unassuming 1969 Beetle experienced the raw emotions of a pending movie role, careening from the highs of a planned three-day shoot for a little VW named Bogie to the crushing lows of a busted budget. 

But in the end, my Bogie did more than just spin his wheels in search of movie stardom — he shined in his brief moments in the spotlight cruising the California coast near the Big Sur and a promised spot on the silver screen. 

His owner — yours truly — went right along with him on that emotional roller coaster, as we were told Bogie’s big moment had been cut to nothing. It’s hard to describe how it felt to have something this exciting be snatched out from under your nose. 

The filmmaker seemed even more disappointed than I was, so I tried hard to cheer him up. Thinking I could suggest an alternative approach to getting Bogie back into the film, my powers of persuasion were not needed as he came up with a solution himself.

As described in the July/August 2013 Autoist, the producer of a British production company contacted my affiliate of the Golden Gate Chapter of the Vintage VW Club of America and after much communication and emailing of photos, he found Bogie to his liking. 

The producer/director is Nic Saunders, the founder of the independent company. Nic and I had been in regular contact after he announced the plans for his trip to California to begin filming, and he and the crew would arrive in April 2014.

Nic’s company, 14167 Films, has already made three movies based on short stories by Jack Kerouac. Our movie, “The Good Blonde,” had been adapted from a short story by Kerouac, the famed novelist who pioneered the Beat Generation in the 1950s, and was the final film in a four-part series. The previous three parts have been shown at the Berkeley Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, and this one will be also.

Bogie’s scene was planned for scenic Highway 1, south of Carmel, Calif. Originally, Nic was prepared to pay for the use of my car, as well as put Rob and I up in the hotel where the crew would be staying. We were to have all expenses paid in the three scheduled days of shooting. But as time went on, it became obvious that the state of California was going to eat up a lot of Nic’s budget, just for permits. 

This movie, being shot on the central coast, required many permits for use of public land, roads and beaches. That is some expensive scenery, because the permits for just using the road and going in or out of any nearby state parks was nearly the entire sum that the company had set aside for the movie!  

As a result, Bogie’s part was pared down to nearly nothing. Nic emailed me right before the crew left the UK and laid out the bad news: The revised schedule was one day of filming (not three), with no reimbursed expenses (like food or gasoline), and the hotel stay for Rob and I was no longer required, as we could just drive the 80 miles home after we finished. Probably the worst news was that Bogie would not collect a tidy little sum for his appearance, because the company simply did not have the money. 

I thought about offering to play the part of “The Good Blonde” myself and save them a few bucks, but they already had an actress for the part. Nic’s tone was gloomy because he was thinking he would have to do the film with one of the important pieces missing: the white VW Beetle that picks up the hitchhiker.

Just when it seemed that Bogie’s role was going down in flames, Nic emailed again with a barmy (crazy, in Brit speak) idea: What if Rob and I just happened to be free the day they were shooting? And what if we just happened to drive south 80 miles or so and ran into the company in Monterey? We could exchange greetings and then film a scene with Bogie doing his thing whilst driving across the Bixby Creek Bridge and traveling south or north down Highway 1 amid the trees! 

While Nic admitted freely that he “would not be so cheeky as to ask you to volunteer” for this adventure, it was too late as my mind was already in the same place. In an instant, I had thought the entire thing through (what a great opportunity! And why do I need to get paid for this?), I’d told Nic we’d be in Monterey on that day. I just could not disappoint the Beetle by telling him we were not going. 

And so it came about on a cloudy early morning in March 2014. We packed some snacks and headed south to Monterey and the hotel where my group of UK friends was waiting. After introductions all around — there were the two stars, the cameraman and sound guy and, of course, Nic and his assistant —we all piled into our cars and headed south out of Monterey onto scenic Highway 1. 

The film crew had already shot some of the scenes on the beach the day before, and all that was necessary were Bogie’s Big Moments. The story involves a hitchhiker who is thumbing his way north on Highway 1 along the California coast. While in Big Sur, he catches a ride with a blonde in a white VW Beetle. Trying to get to San Francisco, the story is about his adventures and observations along the way. You can find this story, usually in a compilation with others by Kerouac, on Amazon.com.

The day was cloudy, foggy and cold, punctuated by a stiff breeze. Nic wanted a long shot of Bogie driving north onto the Bixby Creek Bridge, traveling across the bridge and around the corner of the beach cliff. This is a popular spot with tourists and locals alike, a short stretch with  some of the most breathtaking scenery in the entire state. 

The Bixby Bridge was built in 1931 and is one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world: It rises 280 feet above the chasm below. When the sun is out and shining on the waves, the bridge affords a view like no other. For this reason the spot sees a lot of traffic and there are various pull-offs for photo-taking. 

All of this is great for sightseers and tourists but not so good for movie making. All I really had to do was drive Bogie from about a half-mile while the male lead rode, Philip Bulcock, in the passenger seat. It turned out to be pretty handy that I am also blonde, like the female lead, as when seen in the final cut, the driver will be barely visible and if anyone does get a glimpse, I will just look like The Good Blonde herself. 

The original filming plan involved a helicopter (for offshore shots of my car) and, later, another camera was to be attached to Bogie’s hood for in-car shooting. With the budget cuts, the filming took place from a camera on a tripod, stationed on a nearby stub of a hill. That meant I had to drive past that hill, over and over and over. I’d turn around and drive back toward the camera, thinking “OK, this time he’s got it.” 

And each time I’d see Nic waving me around to do it again. At every pass across the bridge, enormous motorhomes and tour buses would appear out of nowhere, blocking Bogie from the camera’s view. Or, we’d make it halfway across the bridge and a camper towing a boat would start across the other way. It’s very hard to make one of the most famous bridges in the country seem unused and remote. It seemed that the traffic would just not stop coming.

On each of our runs, Bullock seemed to be trying hard to stay in character and didn’t say a whole lot while we were moving. He asked about Bogie, in a cursory, uninterested way.

After getting this done, we piled back into our cars and drove 20 miles south on Highway 1 to the redwoods near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Here, the redwoods take over and the highway becomes a paved, two-lane path through the forest. The ocean is not visible from inside this secluded place, but it is nearby. The script had our leading man walking out of the woods, carrying a ratty, leatherbound valise. He sets it down on the road’s shoulder and waits for the white Beetle carrying The Good Blonde to drive up. 

For these next few shots, Rob became the driver, and it was his turn to pick up “Jack” and drive off down the road with him. All they needed was some footage of the white Beetle picking up our hero and driving away but, of course, this was also problematic as the cars kept coming. They had to wait while the gap between passing cars grew big enough to not be included in the scene. It was cold and cloudy, so while the guys were occupied with this task, I hung out in the BMW station wagon with the female lead, Kasia Halpin, and a crew member named Sadie Osbourne, as Halpin did her hair and makeup for the next scene. 

With the work all done, we chatted and relaxed before getting into Bogie for the long drive home. 

Busted budget notwithstanding, Rob, Bogie and I had a fabulous time hobnobbing with for-real movie people. Even though we didn’t make any money that day, we came away with something far more precious: new friends and an experience that doesn’t happen to just anyone. And how’s this for a capper? Nic says the movie’s credits will include “VW Beetle played by Bogie.” 

I don’t think any of us (including The Good Blonde’s automotive star) is going to win any awards with this little indie film, but if Bogie is up for anything, you can bet I’ll be there. Just look in the audience for the proud mom with the VW oil under her fingernails. VWCA

See more about the film and the company at 14167films.com

Lois Grace | vlkswmn@sbcglobal.net 


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