Monday, November 1, 2010

Hollywood comes to Talladega: One NASCAR fan's brush with fame

"The Legend of Hallowdega" star David Arquette and Sharon King
on the set at Talladega Superspeedway in September.
By Rebecca Kivak

When Sharon King heard on the radio about a “commercial” being filmed at Talladega Superspeedway in September, the Talladega, Ala., resident knew immediately she wanted to be a part of it.

“I'm a huge NASCAR fan! I love Talladega Superspeedway and their staff. If there is ever anything going on at the track, be it a blood drive, or Fan Appreciation Day, I am always there,” King said.

The “commercial” turned out to be the short original film “The Legend of Hallowdega,” which debuted online yesterday on Halloween following the Amp Energy Juice 500 Sprint Cup race.

King and her husband were extras in the 18-minute short, which was directed by Terry Gilliam, a member of the “Monty Python” comedy group and director of such critically acclaimed films as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “The Fisher King.” The film also stars David Arquette and Justin Kirk.

The mockumentary, presented by race sponsor AMP Energy Juice and production company Radical Media, attempts to find the “truth” behind the claims that the famed superspeedway is haunted.

“I consider ‘Legend of Hallowdega’ to be a spoof film! It is going to be crazy! The characters are outrageous,” King said. “It is one of those ‘you really gotta see it to understand it’ kind of things.”


Star Justin Kirk, center, and director Terry Gilliam, right, on the set.
King and her husband learned about the opportunity from their local radio station, WTDR Thunder 92.7 FM. George Cox, assistant marketing manager from Pepsi Sports, was looking for fans to participate as extras in a “commercial” to be filmed at Talladega Superspeedway. He asked for the station’s help in rounding up people, King said.

“They wanted about 20 people and their guests to bring their camping gear, RVs or tents to the track and set up as if it was really race weekend. They wanted it to look authentic, so we were asked to wear our Dale Jr. gear, etc.,” said King, who counts Dale Earnhardt Jr. among her favorite drivers. “We were told that everyone who participated would receive a race ticket and have the opportunity to win autographed gear and other Dale Jr./ AMP merchandise.”

Those interested were asked to call the radio station, King said. Then the crew from the station narrowed down the list and submitted the names to Cox.

King had already gotten to know the Thunder 92.7 FM staff through their "Bake A Christmas" event, a one-day, live NASCAR-themed auction that takes place every December. She even occasionally tweets for the station on its Twitter account, @Thunder927. “Through all of those things, and following me on Twitter, they knew how big of a NASCAR fan I am, and my husband and I were among those selected to participate in the filming at the track,” she said. “They knew I would be able to get some pictures to post on their Twitter account and post updates so that those who did not participate in the filming could see what was going on at the track.”
King's campsite, which they had to keep moving around on the set.
“The Legend of Hallowdega” filmed for three days in September at Talladega Superspeedway, King said. But when she arrived at the track, the filming ended up being very different than how it was initially described on the radio.

“We were told that all the producers wanted us to do was set up our campsites, and hang out all day as if we were truly camping during race weekend,” she said. However, “when we got there, we were told that we would have to be moving our campsite from one place to another, for each scene. … We were constantly having to move our campsite from one place to another.” The extras were also asked to act out different scenes, she said.

King spent one day on the set and was asked to come back the next day for a four-hour shoot. The crew alternated between filming in the grandstands and the infield, she said.

It was King’s first time as an extra, and she did whatever she was asked to do.

“In some scenes, I'm standing in the ‘infield’ when ‘the race’ starts. In other scenes, I'm in the grandstands as the ‘investigator/ reporter’ character tells his story. In another scene, as Justin Kirk is walking through a ‘campsite,’ he is telling a story. As he walked by where I was standing in the ‘campsite,’ I was asked to move from where I was standing, walk behind him and walk up to another group of campers and ‘talk to them,’” King said.

“In many scenes, I'm either in the grandstands, ‘reacting’ to some of the famous wrecks that have taken place during past races at Talladega Superspeedway, or in the infield ‘cheering’ as the cars raced down the frontstretch,” she said.

The "race" is starting. The production assistant is gesturing  for King and the extras to cheer.
There was a lot of waiting time between scenes, but King put the time to good use. She took photos and updated her Twitter page. She also manned the WTDR Thunder 92.7 FM Twitter page, posting tweets and photos from the set.

King enjoyed interacting with “The Legend of Talladega” cast and crew. “The producers and directors were really friendly. Terry Gilliam was amazing. He never acted like he was a hotshot, even though he is really famous for the films he has produced and/or directed. Terry never treated us like we were extras. He was ‘one of us.’” She said Justin Kirk spoke with the extras but was “a little reserved.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Darrell Waltrip appear in the “The Legend of Hallowdega,” but King did not get to meet two of the sport’s most recognizable figures. Earnhardt Jr.’s and Waltrip’s scenes were filmed in Charlotte, N.C. Stunt drivers were used at the track, King said.

Although Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t at the set in person, he was on the minds of King and her guests during filming. “While standing around in between scenes, the camera guy came up and zoomed his camera in on our Dale Jr. shirts. He asked us to give Dale Jr. a message. My sister-in-law started saying, ‘I love you Jr.’ One of my friends that went with me started spitting out her telephone number. What did I say? Ha! I said ‘Hey Jr., will you be my baby daddy?’ or something to that effect. I seriously hope that part is left on the cutting room floor. The scene in which I say that is in the movie trailers on www.LegendOfHallowdega.com, but thank goodness, it is just the scene, without the audio as well,” King said with a laugh.
 
At the end of that day of filming, the production company Radical Media held a drawing for a meet and greet with Dale Jr. himself, for the Saturday before the Amp Energy Juice 500. The lucky winner was King. “When that scene was done, I didn't know that later in the day I would win the meet and greet in the drawing. If he sees that scene, and then meets me, he'll know it was me because of my red hair!” King said, laughing.

David Arquette's character's camp set up in the infield
King’s debut as a film extra netted her something else - a paycheck. “Since the things the production company wanted us to do changed from one thing to another, they decided they would pay us as well. We each received a check in the mail about a week ago, for about $88,” she said.

She and her husband also received six tickets for tower seats at yesterday’s Amp Energy Juice 500, two tickets to the Mountain Dew 250 truck race, an autographed No. 88 Amp Energy Chevrolet and an autographed mini-helmet, in addition to the meet and greet.

King’s brush with Hollywood came with some perks any NASCAR fan would envy. But King said the experience itself is one she will never forget.

“I am very happy that I got to participate in the film. Opportunities to be in any kind of film are very rare in a small town like Talladega. Even more rare for ‘regular’ people like me! I'll always remember my experience! It's a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of thing!”

To see "The Legend of Hallowdega," visit the film's official site at www.LegendOfHallowdega.com.

The character of the "Banana Man" in the stands
Bake A Christmas: Mentioned earlier, Bake A Christmas is a cause close to Sharon King's heart. The annual, one-day NASCAR-themed auction takes place in December. "WTDR Thunder 92.7 FM in nearby Oxford, Ala., has been doing their Bake A Christmas event for about 12 years now. The event pairs NASCAR memorabilia and baked goods that are donated by the listening audience into packages, and each package is auctioned off over the air. The proceeds go to help needy families in the area who have families and need a 'helping hand' during the holiday season. The radio station helps them with a 'hand up,' and not a 'hand out,'" King said.

"I've tried my best to help the cause by bidding on these items. I look forward to the event every year. And this year, I have been asked to help out with the preparations for the event," she said.
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King will be talking with people, including NASCAR PRs, teams and manufacturers, etc., in the hope they will donate merchandise that the station can then auction off, with the proceeds going to help those who would not otherwise be able to provide a Christmas for their families. If you are interested in donating an item to Bake A Christmas, contact us at admin@skirtsandscuffs.com and we will put you in touch with King.

All photos used with permission from Sharon King.

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