— story by Clifford Fewel
In the olden days of the 1980s, the Stuart Rowlands PR agency would mail me paper press releases and black-and-white glossies in shiny folders. Often, while cranking away on my next Motorwise section for the late, pretty great Sacramento Union, my desk phone would ring and it would be Stuart Rowlands on the line.
“Just following up on that Honda press kit we sent,” the ever affable Rowlands would say, and he always had a question or three about what car I was driving, how my girls were doing, and if the Sacramento heat made me miss my old auto beat at the Oakland Tribune. In short, Stuart was a sincerely good people person. I felt good after speaking with him, and I would always find use for his tight, newsy press releases and those glossy photos.
Thirty years later the game has changed. I get regular email press releases from SRPR about successful ventures such as motorsports-focused MavTV and the once tiny, now giant Lucas Oil Co. with its lineup of lubricant additives and high-performance products for racing, commercial, consumer and industrial/agricultural applications.
The email I got from Stuart on July 5th was about a movie premiere. Huh?
It seems that Lucas Oil founders Forrest and Charlotte Lucas have strong feelings about people with strong feelings. Now multi-millionaires with many passions and causes, the Lucases founded a group called Protect the Harvest that is pro-hunter and pro-carnivore and stridently opposed to those who frame such activities as cruelty to animals. They have no love for the Humane Society of the United States, for example, for reasons they share on their website.
What I like about the Lucases in this regard is they don’t just rant and rave. They sponsor a $150 million movie featuring actors we know and love to tell a story to illustrate their own point as well as a larger, healthier one. “The Wrong Side of Right,” the film about which Stuart Rowlands emailed me, had its premier at the (former Sid Grauman’s) TCL Chinese 6 Theaters in Hollywood last week.
I was invited, but could not go. So I have made use of conversations with a couple of the principals and have used a superb electronic press kit to tell this unusual tale of an atypical film produced by improbable allies against a tide of explosive summer blockbusters that may have catering budgets larger than TWSOR‘s entire cost of production.
The story revolves around a young woman (Allison Paige) hired by a humane society-type organization to infiltrate and expose large-scale hunting dog breeders who may not take proper care of their animals. Along the way she grows fond of the family on whom she spies (James Remar, Lea Thompson, and Jayson Blair), and they her. When she doesn’t find the abuse she came to expose, the pressure builds from her employer.
What happens next remains to be seen. As I said, I couldn’t attend the premier and it’s not yet in theaters. The trailer is superb. What kept my interest beyond its unusual financier and my automotive connection were the comments made by cast members and others after the screening.
“Animals have a huge place in my heart,” said Allison Paige (undercover intern Sara Gold). “I love the message. My dad in the movie says not everything is black and white, and it’s so true. With so many topics in life there are people on this soap box over here and on this soap box over here, and sometimes in the middle is OK. The common goal gets pushed down because people want to be right and people want (others) to be wrong. I learned a lot about the grey area in between, and being in that grey area is OK. “It kind of got me hooked after Ali opened my eyes about the whole thing.”
The Ali to whom she refers is Ali Afshar, executive producer, who first met Forrest Lucas as a National Hot Rod Association champion drag racer. Afshar is also an actor and car collector who counts Aston Martins and COPO Camaros among his favorites. When I dialed the PR phone number listed on the invitation, I expected to speak to a low-level functionary who might see if I could maybe wrangle a press credential for the event. Instead, it was Afshar himself who handled press inquiries. “I like to know who’s going to be there,” he told me.
Much like Paige, I was hooked by Ali’s infectious enthusiasm. We talked about the mint condition 1955 Chevy pickup featured in the film, and about Afshar’s recent hot laps in his new COPO Camaro around the Sears Point Raceway road course in Sonoma, where I took my daughter when I would cover races.
Ali is a renaissance man of many pursuits. Reared in Petaluma, where the movie was filmed, he recently started ESX Entertainment with Lucas, and plans to produce five or six movies a year. After a few minutes on the phone he made me feel like a friend.
The moral of this story is to be careful about whitewashing an entire population, for example, “Hollywood” or “big business,” with words designed to criticize and minimize. When standing on one’s own soap box, be aware that the person or people you seek to demonize just may turn out to be the help you need when broken down, stranded, on a rainy highway. You just never know.
We are made to get along. We’re all Americans, and those who aren’t bear an uncanny resemblance to our forebears who, in most cases, weren’t Americans, either.