It’s said art imitates life, but in John Schneider’s case, the two are intertwined.
The actor-director’s latest film, “Christmas Cars,” roughly follows recent events in his life through a fictional plot. He premiered it Sunday with a red carpet event at Celebrity Theatres — Baton Rouge 10.
The theater also was one of the filming locations for the movie, filmed mostly in Livingston Parish with a mixed cast of local and established actors in the film industry.
Schneider drove up to the theater in the red Dodge Charger called the “General Lee” from the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which aired on CBS from 1979 to 1985. Schneider played Bo Duke in that series opposite Tom Wopat, who played his cousin Luke Duke.
The action-comedy’s 40th anniversary in 2019 partly inspired Schneider to film “Christmas Cars” last March at John Schneider Studios in Holden.
“This woman inspired me to put all of this together,” Schneider said, looking at his wife and producer, Alicia Allain standing beside him on the red carpet. “We’ve had some of the greatest times in my life and some of the worst times in my life in the last year and a-half, and she said, ‘You know, this is tragic, but it’s entertaining. You should write a screenplay about it.”
Two floods in 2016 caused financial problems that led to Schneider’s losing his Holden studio in January 2019. But a deal with the buyer allowed for the actor to remain on the property and continue making movies there.
That real-life story line fuels the fictional one in Schneider’s “Christmas Cars,” as his character, Uncle Denver, tries to figure out a way to keep his property from being auctioned in a sheriff’s sale.
“And, of course, there’s ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’s’ 40th anniversary,” Schneider said Sunday. “And there have been a lot of faceless people who have put ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ into an unfair category, so I thought it was about time that somebody came out and fought for that show and what it stood for. And I guess that’s me.”
The movie addresses what has become a controversial symbol of the show, the “General Lee,” with its Confederate flag painted on top. At one point, Uncle Denver’s real-life General Lee starts trending on social media, and a hometown kid, Mica, played by local actor Elijah Evans, sets up a web page to sell die cast reproductions of the Dodge Charger.
But the fundraising solution isn’t without its own set of problems as a social media outcry against the car and its flag begins trending the next day.
“I think it’s a loud minority,” Schneider says of the “General Lee” controversy. “I’ve never had anyone come up to me and go wild in public. So I don’t have any problem with the car whatsoever. ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ was a wonderful family show. The flag on the car was a symbol of Gen. Robert E. Lee or the rebellion against a repressive society. It was never a symbol, for us, of racism in any regard, or intolerance in any regard. A very small amount of people just suddenly shifted and decided that that flag and anybody involved with it in any way is an intolerant racist. I don’t believe they have the right to make that decision. That’s not their decision.”
Los Angeles-based actress Mindy Robinson plays Ms. Tisdale, Schneider’s love interest and business mastermind in the film. Robinson has appeared in numerous thrillers and independent films, but said she’d never made Christmas film.
“I called this lovely young lady, and she came out with only three days’ notice,” Schneider said. “And she knocked it out of the park.”
“He sent me the script, and I never read it,” Robinson added. “I agreed to do the movie — I trusted these guys that much.”
Schneider said making the film was a healing experience for him.
“It was very healing to me because I got to express what all of that felt like,” he said. “No one was in the courtroom when the sheriff’s sale was going on, and I remember it very well. And now people will see that, and it’s healing, I think.”
He added the central message of his story is the importance of community.
“I want them to see and hear that community is important, that friends and family are vital to success,” Schneider said. “You don’t do things alone, and you shouldn’t, and neither should they. I think that’s what the message of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ was. That’s why people still love it.”
Schneider said DVD copies of the movie are available at his website, johnschneiderstudios.com.