Racer's dreams fuel inspiration for Fairfielder's new movie
A trip to the Lime Rock race track in northwestern Connecticut more than a decade ago led to a life-long hobby and source material for the latest script by Fairfield filmmaker Bret Stern.
The film, "3 Weeks to Daytona," indirectly got its start about 1995.
"Lime Rock has these open drivers' ed(ucation) days where you get to drive your car on the track and they teach you about (racing). After I tried it that one day I immediately went home and started ordering car parts to make my car faster and work better," Stern said.
He was on the track at Lime Rock when another Fairfield County resident, the late actor Paul Newman, competed in his last race. "That was kind of a special day," Stern said.
Newman won that race.
Another Connecticut track, the Waterford Speedbowl in the southeastern part of the state, inspired Stern's script for "3 Weeks to Daytona," when he went there three years ago to watch a race.
The story is about a down-on-his-luck race car driver, said Stern, who has a sound stage in Norwalk called SoNo Studios, where he works on some of his own productions and rents space to other filmmakers.
"It's the story of a guy who is an airport limo driver by day and saves every cent he has to keep his (race) car running," Stern said.
The premise is about a short track, like Waterford, that runs a contest, and the winner gets a chance to take a car down to Daytona and enter a time trial in an attempt to qualify for the major competition.
"The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of auto racing," he said. Stern's resume, according to his production company's website, includes shooting more than 100 commercials, feature films and music videos for ad agencies such as Y&R and McCann-Ericson.
Recent spots include Coca Cola, Comcast, Mead and LL Bean. He started his career as staff cinematographer for a New York production company and then moved into feature film production. He has made more than 10 feature films, some which have won honors at film festivals from Sundance to Heidelberg.
Despite the Daytona film's low budget, Stern was able to attract some recognizable talent to join his cast -- actors Rip Torn, Georgia Fox, Scott Cohen of "Gilmore Girls" fame, and John Viener, a writer for "Family Guy."
"Rip Torn did it because he liked the script. Georgia Fox, from `CSI,' read the script and said she would do it for creative reasons, and Scott Cohen played the lead. He felt really passionate about the role," Stern said.
Viener played a part that's modeled after Bob of the Bob's Furniture television ads. "In the movie, he's Rob and he does all these cheesy commercials," he said.
Stern shot the film in September of 2009 in several Connecticut locations, including Bridgeport, Norwalk and the Waterford Speedbowl.
"They helped me out a lot. They got some cars for me to do race scenes and let me use the track at night when they weren't using it. They were really a big help," Stern said.
Terry Eames, owner and CEO of Waterford Speedbowl, said he was glad to help.
"We thought it was an interesting project. He seemed interested in learning about stock car races," Eames said. "There are few films done at the short track level, the hometown level." Eames has seen the trailer but not the entire film.
"All along I was very impressed. Initially I thought it was going to be sort of a film student's production. And then, as I got to see Bret operate, even though it's an indy (independent film) it's a very well-produced movie and the trailer shows that," Eames said. "The talent that he got connected to it, and the investment in equipment and technique that unfolded, it was pretty clear he was serious about making a good movie."
"I'm a little bit of a film buff. I'd look out one day and see somebody running around with a steady cam. That's expensive gear."
Eames said there were competitors who were willing to stay after their races at the track to film some scenes.
"We're excited about it," Eames said. "I've got a decade and a half of my life invested in this place and when I saw those nighttime aerial shots (of the race track) it was an emotional moment for me. It was nice to see it on film," Eames said.
Stern's "3 Weeks to Daytona" will be shown in the Hills Film Festival in Litchfield County Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Stern will have on hand his late-model race car, which was used in the movie and which he plans to race at Waterford this summer. The Waterford season begins April 2.
As a marketing tool, Stern has printed up 100 8-by-12-inch stickers bearing the name of the movie. Any racer who places a sticker on his or her car and wins a race will get $50 from Stern if they submit to him a photograph of themselves with their car and the sticker in the winner's circle.