Ronnie Thomas from the DecaturDaily.com reports on the classic cars “cast” in ‘Water for Elephants‘.
Teenage fans of British heartthrob Robert Pattinson would have paid a premium for a Hillsboro man’s seat Friday in a rural area outside Chickamauga, Ga.
While the teens gathered with their cameras at a blocked-off road leading to a movie set at a farmhouse, Eugene Glenn sat behind the steering wheel of a 1930 Model A Ford as members of the crew gave him a push to start his car. Pattinson, 24, who appears in “Eclipse” with Kristen Stewart, sat in the passenger seat.
“I didn’t say a word to him,” Glenn said, “and he didn’t offer any conversation.”
Filming scenes of “Water for Elephants” brought Glenn to the cattle farm about 28 miles south of Chattanooga, although the story from the Sara Gruen novel during the Great Depression originates in Tompkins County, New York.
Pattinson, the star of the “Twilight” movie series who appeared in two Harry Potter flicks, portrays Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student shy of a degree who abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a third-rate traveling circus as the veterinarian. The story unfolds as Jacob meets Marlena Rosenbluth, a beautiful equestrian star played by Reese Witherspoon, and her husband and animal trainer, August, played by Christoph Waltz.
The behind-the-scenes saga for Glenn and his wife, Rita, began when Scott Owens, a Trinity firefighter, responded to a Craigslist ad placed by David Tinsley of Ragtop Picture Cars in Lebanon, Tenn.
“The movie starts in 1930 and concludes in 1946,” said Owens, who has six vintage cars. “David specifically wanted black cars and a black four-door for the sheriff’s car. I have a green 1928 Model A Ford. He e-mailed me back and asked if I knew anyone who had a black car about the same model year. I told him about Mr. Glenn.”
But Tinsley also asked Owens to come to Lebanon and pick up his maroon-colored 1946 Plymouth and transport it to the set.
Owens brought the car back to his home on Wednesday on a Ragtop Picture Cars trailer.
On Thursday morning his wife, Kim, also a Trinity firefighter and EMT, and their teenage daughters joined him in taking the Plymouth to the set. The Glenns transported their Model A.
“We had to be there Thursday to get the car checked out,” said Glenn, 74, a retired farmer who served on the Morgan County School Board for five years. The crew transformed the vehicle into the Tompkins County sheriff’s patrol car.
“They removed my tags and put on a New York license plate,” Glenn said. “I had to take off a third stop light in the rear window to make it look authentic but that wasn’t any trouble. We returned on Friday about 8:30 a.m., and they began shooting about 3 p.m.”
The sheriff was veteran actor Dan Lauria, 63, best known for his portrayal of Jack Arnold in the television series “The Wonder Years.”
Glenn said his first question to the sheriff was could he drive a straight stick.
“I gave him some instructions on how to operate my car,” Glenn said. “He drove while I sat in the passenger seat. He made a couple of rounds around the set to get familiar with the car. I had a casual conversation with him that morning, and he was very personable and seemed like he was easy to talk to.”
Glenn said the crew first took several still shots of the car for camera positioning.
“Every time they wanted to move the car, I drove it and repositioned it,” Glenn said. “After they finished with the still shots, I moved the car down to where they were going to do the moving shots with Lauria and Pattinson. I cut the car off and got out. When they got in, the car wouldn’t start.”
Glenn said he believed the ground to the battery came lose but that in order to save time, he asked the sheriff to step out.
“They were running late with the filming schedule,” Glenn said. “That’s when I got behind the wheel with Robert beside me and asked the crew for a shove. I pushed in the clutch, and when we got going, I let the clutch out and turned the motor over. I stopped, left the motor running, got out the sheriff got in. It was as hot as it is around here, and they wanted to finish the job as quickly as they could.”
While the Glenns and Owenses had limited access to the actors, they got the royal treatment for the trip.
“They had a tent on the set with water and snacks and a caterer served a full buffet meal Friday,” Glenn said. “They served Robert in his trailer. Reese Witherspoon was never on the set for our one-day shoot.”
Neither Eugene Glenn nor Scott Owens would discuss their compensation, but Glenn said “it was a very reasonable compensation. We spent Thursday night and Friday night at the Marriott in Chattanooga.”
Owens said it was a fun time for both families, especially their daughters, Margaret Thompson, 15, a sophomore at West Morgan High School, and Brie Ann Owens, 13, an eighth-grader at West Morgan Middle School. He said they were the only teen girls on the set. The movie has a release date of April 15.
Owens said he was in limbo Thursday because when the parties arrived, Tinsley told him he might have to return to Trinity to get his 1928 Ford.
“He thought they might need it, but instead for the scene they used a 1926 Chevrolet they already had on the set,” Owens said. “Ironically, it was green, about the same color as mine.”
This marked the first time either Owens or Glenn had worked on a movie set.
“Who knows?” said Glenn. “I’d give it a try again, depending on the circumstances. I’m working on my other classic car now, a 1929 Model A Ford.”
On Monday, Tinsley said it was a pleasure for him associating with both families.
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