HOLDEN, La. (The Livingston Parish News) — John Schneider was 16 years old when he skipped school, climbed over a fence, and snuck onto the film set for “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Though he had only performed on stage and in a few local commercials at the time, Schneider knew enough to “find the guy with the radio” and talk to him first.
“If you wait for him to talk to you, you get kicked out,” Schneider recalled.
After spotting the man with the radio, a teenaged Schneider walked up, tapped him on the shoulder, and apologized for being late, even though he wasn’t expected. Schneider then asked the man with the radio to point out where hair and makeup was.
Schneider wound up being just an extra in the 1977 film starring Burt Reynolds, but he has called that day in Atlanta “one of the most vivid memories” he has. After successfully talking his way onto a movie set, he spent the day chatting with actors such as Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, and Jackie Gleason, who came from the same area in New York as Schneider.
“As soon as I mentioned a few bars [from Westchester County, New York], Jackie Gleason said, ‘You’re from my neck of the woods,’” Schneider said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
More than four decades later, Schneider is paying tribute to that life-changing day with his latest film, “Stand On It,” which wrapped up filming during his annual Bo’s Extravaganza last month.
Over three days, visitors came to John Schneider Studios in Holden to celebrate Schneider’s 60th birthday, a party that was pushed back more than three months because of the coronavirus pandemic. The celebration featured live music, a car parade, a look-alike contest, meet-and-greets with celebrities, vendors, and a food court, among other activities.
The outdoor event also gave fans a chance to be extras in “Stand On It,” which begins and ends at a fair. Schneider used Bo’s Extravaganza to film the two major car stunts for his latest film: A police car landing backwards into a mobile home, and a car jump over the Tickfaw River.
The latter was performed on the final day of Bo’s Extravaganza, with professional stuntman James Smith taking a muscle car on a 100-foot jump over the river. Four cameras captured the dramatic jump, which a crowd of spectators watched nearby. People broke into cheers once Smith exited the vehicle and hugged Schneider, who then gave the crowd a thumbs-up.
The stunts were coordinated by Jack Gill, whose credits include work on the “Fast and Furious” and “The Hangover” franchises.
Filming for “Stand On It” — the 11th movie Schneider has made — ended with Smith’s car jump, concluding a shoot that began in March. The entire shoot was supposed to last about 15 days, but the coronavirus forced Schneider and his crew to alter their schedule.
However, Schneider called the delay “a blessing in disguise,” saying it gave him more time to edit scenes “as we went” and make sure nothing was left out.
“We’ve shot this movie so piecemeal, but I think it will be much better because of this whole COVID thing,” he said. “I’ve had the chance to edit the movie as we go and not say, ‘I wish I had that shot.’ I could just go out and get it the next day. I’ve had the opportunity to know what I need.
“If we would’ve shot for 15 days, there would’ve been things we’d miss, and we wouldn’t have been able to go back and get it.”
Written and directed by Schneider, “Stand On It” follows the same general plot as its predecessor, “Smokey and the Bandit”: Schneider’s character, The Duke, makes a bet with local hustlers to deliver goods within 24 hours. If he succeeds, he wins half a million dollars. If he loses, he forfeits his truck.
And of course, there are plenty of car stunts and chases throughout, as well as playful nods to “Smokey and the Bandit.”
During an interview with The News, Schneider said “Stand On It,” more than his other films, brings his career “full circle,” recalling the day he snuck onto the set for “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Though his uncredited role in the action-comedy classic didn’t lead directly to another, Schneider said his experience on an actual movie set in 1976 “fueled” him during his audition for his star-turning role as Bo Duke in “The Dukes of Hazzard” two years later.
Hearing that the producers wanted “real country folks” for “Dukes,” Schneider borrowed a pickup truck, wore boots everyday before and at the audition, and arrived at the building with a six pack of beer.
He recalled popping a beer open after he walked inside and even offering one to the secretary before heading to the audition room, beer still in hand. He said he didn’t acknowledge the producers until after setting his beer down.
“I had heard they didn’t want actors, but wanted real country folks, so that’s what I gave them,” Schneider said. “I gave them 1,000 percent what I thought Bo Duke was, and I was right. And had I not been successful talking my way onto ‘Smokey and the Bandit,’ I don’t think I would’ve had the nerve or idea to do that for ‘Dukes.’”
The bold move worked: Alongside Tom Wopat as Luke Duke and Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke, Schneider ended up starring in “The Dukes of Hazzard” for the vast majority of its seven-season, 147-episode run from 1979-85.
The show drew as many as 20 million viewers per episode and became the second-highest rated show on television by its third season.
Schneider said that his success on “Dukes” and all that followed likely wouldn’t have happened if he had not snuck onto a film set when he was a teenager. That’s what makes “Stand On It” even more personal.
“I’m excited for ‘Stand On It’ because, for me, this is full circle,” Schneider said. “‘Dukes’ is not full circle. ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ is full circle.”
David Gray | The News