There’s nothing better for a filmmaker than when they're given the green light to make a movie. But as with everything in Hollywood, there’s a catch.
For director Jesse Moss ("The Overnighters"), the only way he could make a documentary about the classic 1970s movie “Smokey and the Bandit” was to also have its star involved.
“But I had never met Burt Reynolds,” Moss recently told Business Insider.
This led Moss to Jupiter, Florida, to find the reclusive 80-year-old legend and convince him to be in his movie.
However, Moss didn’t just nab Reynolds. He also stumbled upon an archive that turned his film into much more than a documentary about a famous movie.
“The Bandit,” premiering on CMT Saturday, August 6, does give a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most improbable hit movies of the late 1970s, but thanks to incredible archival footage, it also takes us inside the life of Reynolds, who at the time was the biggest movie star on the planet.
“There was such a rich archive. I thought let’s let these guys tell the story in their own words,” Moss said. “And, as you hope happens with an archive film, live in the period.”
Moss’ treasure trove was located deep inside Reynolds’ estate in Jupiter. After Reynolds came on board the project, he opened his doors to Moss, including a room dedicated to his achievements over the decades.
“We’re at his house doing the first interview with him and afterwards I ask him if he has old photos we can use, and he said, ‘Yeah, look in there,’” Moss recalled. “He has an entire room that’s a personal archive of things untouched since 1974. Scrapbooks that his mother kept. Copies of television appearances. For a filmmaker it was like that scene in 'Indiana Jones' where you see this vast warehouse of archived boxes.”
For a month Moss’ image researcher and coproducer spent their days in the room, scanning 6,000 images and shipping many of the tapes, which included rarely seen Reynolds appearances and footage of his short-lived talk show, back to New York to be transferred from video to digital for the movie.
“I was really flattered that they wanted to do it,” Reynolds told Business Insider. Smokey and the Bandit "was some kind of strange little miracle in a way, for the fact that it made so much damn money and it was so much fun to do.”
But there became a point when Moss was overwhelmed by the material.
The success of the movie (which had a worldwide gross of over $300 million on a $5.3 million budget), the stardom of Reynolds, the movie giving a spotlight to the South, even the popularity of being a trucker — there could be multiple movies dedicated to the “Smokey and the Bandit” phenomenon.
“And early on I was trying to put them all in one movie,” Moss said.
But taking a step back, he got to the core of the story: a buddy movie between Reynolds and his good friend “Smokey and the Bandit” director Hal Needham, who was Reynolds' former stunt double before becoming a director. (Needham passed away in 2013.)
“The film is an elegy to [Reynolds] and his career and his relationship with Hal,” Moss said. “When we started the project, someone who knew Hal really well said he hated documentaries because he thought they were boring, so I set a goal for myself to make a documentary that was fast and funny and had heart.”
“The Bandit” is certainly all those things.
Here’s a clip from “The Bandit.”
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