‘Madison’ Movie Mania

Actors, crew, extras give film ‘thumbs up’
at Heartland Film Festival premier

Don Ward

(November 2001) Indianapolis – That popping sound you might have heard the night of Oct. 18 was caused by the buttons flying off the chest of Madison, Ind., as those watching the long-awaited showing of the movie “Madison” swelled with pride and emotion.

Bill & Scott Bindley

Bill & Scott Bindley

Playing to a “hometown” crowd for the first time, the Heartland Film Festival premier of the not-yet-released film gave this sellout crowd of 1,750 a night to remember as they watched with excitement – and often emotion – their home town come to life on the silver screen.
Not since the 1959 movie “Some Came Running” had the Ohio River bridge connecting Madison, Ind., to Milton, Ky., served as the scenic backdrop to the opening of a feature film.
Only this time, the sweeping aerial shot of the river valley gave way to a dramatized account of the true story of the late Jim McCormick’s victory in the 1971 Gold Cup unlimited hydroplane race aboard the community owned Miss Madison. Seymour native and pop star John Mellencamp reads the opening and closing narration in the film. Mellencamp is writing an original song for the final cut.
From the moment the first frame lit up the big screen, applause filled the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis. As expected, the crowd only got wilder as the film progressed, making stars out of many local landmarks, legends out of several residents who played extras, and heroes out of brothers Bill and Scott Bindley, the film’s director and writer, respectively.
Since its filming on location in summer 1999, Bill Bindley has tried to secure a distribution deal in Hollywood for a nationwide studio release. After a couple of false starts, the film now appears scheduled for release in spring 2002 by the newly formed Premiere Market and Distribution Group, headed by Mitch Goldman, a former executive at New Line Cinema. Goldman plans to release the film in April in 2,000 theatres, bolstered by $15 million in advertising and promotion. Bindley must still negotiate a $2 million deal for a final score for the film.
Making the film cost $15 million, according to executive producer Carl Amari, 38, a Chicago businessman who financed one-third of it himself.
Bindley says he plans some of kind of spring premier in Madison, either at the Ohio Theatre on Main Street or on a giant screen to be set up at the riverbank on Vaughn Drive.
“I just want to thank the people of Madison for their patience, and I hope that very soon everyone will have a chance to see the movie,” said Bindley, 39, an Indianapolis native who studied filmmaking at Northwestern University. He called the premier “a special and emotional night for me” because of so many family and friends in attendance.
The movie’s premier served as the official opening of the weeklong Heartland Film Festival, which was marking its 10th year. Festival officials put on a real show. With the Oh Boy Oberto-Miss Madison unlimited hydroplane parked outside the theatre in downtown Indianapolis, the actors arrived Hollywood style and posed for photos on a red carpet leading from the theatre door to the Circle Center street.
Inside, the anxious crowd awaited their arrival and introductions. For many who had made the two-hour trip from Madison to Indianapolis, it was like watching a home movie at a family reunion.
Familiar faces that sprinkled many scenes drew shouts and cheers. There was frequent laughter and applause. But for those perhaps most touched by the film’s true story – Bonnie McCormick and her 40-year-old son, Mike, there were tears flowing almost throughout.
“It was hard to hold back the tears, especially when you’ve lived with this story your entire life,” Mike McCormick said afterward. “I could see my dad up there, and it brought back a lot of memories.”
“It was wonderful, and it meant everything to me,” Bonnie said. “I’m so proud, and it’s a great legacy to Jim.”
Mike McCormick is played as a youth in the film by then-9-year-old actor Jake Lloyd (“Star Wars – The Phantom Menace”). Lloyd is now 12 and living in Indianapolis. Jim Caviezel (“The Thin Red Line”) plays McCormick’s father, Jim. Filling the film’s other main roles are veteran actor Bruce Dern (“The Cowboys), Paul Dooley (“Breaking Away”), Mary McCormack (“Private Parts”), Chelcie Ross (“Rudy”), Vincent Ventresca and Frank Knapp. Caviezel, Lloyd, Ross and Knapp attended the Heartland premier, along with many camera and film crew members.
But on this night, the bigger stars were the city itself and those locals who made their way into a scene, either as extras or actors. Three local residents had brief speaking roles.
Ovo Cafe owner Greg Thomas, who had studied acting in New York, earned an entire, albeit brief, scene with McCormack. Tony Steinhardt, the Miss Madison crew chief in 1971, is played by actor Brent Briscoe. But aside from providing technical support and allowing filmmakers access to his personal collection of hydroplane photos and memorabilia, Steinhardt himself delivers a line on screen.
He said the film brought him to tears. “We’ve always said that the Miss Madison was our floating chamber of commerce, and how much better can it get than having a whole movie about it?” Despite the fictionalized story line in the movie when Steinhardt’s character desserts the team and later comes back, Steinhardt assured, “I never walked out on that team. We were all together; we were inseparable.”
Fourteen-year-old Kyle McClanahan of Madison also has a brief line and is seen at least twice. Betsey Vonderheide, who in real life works as special projects coordinator for Madison Mayor Al Huntington, plays Gertie, who without speaking provides a humorous “stamp” on things in a brief shot.
Dozens of other locals grace the screen as extras. Bindley’s own father, Bill Bindley, has a line in the scene that was filmed at the Brown Gym. Bindley’s own 9-year-old son, Will, is an extra.
“In this business, you never know if your scene will even make it to the screen,” said the elder Bill Bindley. “One time I spent a whole day on shooting a scene for my son in another movie and it wound up on the cutting room floor. So I know how exciting it is for the other extras to watch for themselves in this movie tonight.”
Whether they saw themselves on screen or not, Madison residents absorbed it all with pride. “There were a lot of people in the theatre from Indianapolis and Madison, and it made me feel proud to be one from Madison,” said extra Kelly Campbell, 25. “I was also excited that Jim Caviezel remembered me.”
“It was a lot of fun to see Jake again,” said McClanahan. “I just hope the movie comes out soon because I want everyone to see it.”
“There were so many familiar faces back here tonight it made it even more exciting,” said Thomas, who plays a construction worker in a scene with actress McCormack. “I think the movie portrays Madison perfectly with beautiful shots of the river and Main Street.”
Scott Tebbe, Madison Regatta festival chairman, played an extra on the Miss Madison boat crew in the movie and said the film should do wonders for the sport as well as the city of Madison. “It was great to see all the hard work over a decade long come together on the screen. It portrays Madison and the people in a great light and it should increase the awareness of unlimited hydroplane racing nationwide.”
Except for parts of the movie shot in Miami, Seattle and San Diego, Madison area landmarks, such as Shipley’s Tavern, Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop, Roger’s Corner, Vaughn Drive, the Brown Gym, Crystal Beach, the Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp. power plant and Madison’s Main Street, provide much of the local setting. Scenes were also filmed on the Belle of Louisville, at Hanover College, Clifty Falls State Park and Marengo Caves.
In addition to the real actors, local landmarks and townspeople, however, the stars of this movie included the vintage hydroplanes, many of which had to be reconstructed and retooled and transported to Madison from around the country. Many of the boats were driven in the movie by their owners, who had to follow strict instructions on formations to recreate race scenes called for in the script. On many days, the boats broke down or failed to start. “And it’s not easy to find parts for World War II era Allison aircraft engines,” Bindley said.
Given the obstacles he faced in casting the movie and reviving 50-year-old boats, plus only a three week preproduction schedule, Bindley now admits, “What we did was insane.” While addressing the crowd in the moments prior to the premier, Bindley said, “What we have been through in making this film has been incredible. It was a real community effort. We closed down Main Street, we closed down the Ohio River and we closed down Shipley’s Tavern on more than one occasion.”
Bindley joked that the recent victory by the Miss Madison at the 2001 Madison Regatta spoiled the movie’s tag line, which states that the Miss Madison is still racing on the circuit but “hasn’t won a race since 1973.” The closing narration by Mellencamp also says the real Jim McCormick retired from racing in 1975 and died in 1996. Bindley told the crowd he regretted that McCormick did not live to see the finished movie, which has been in the making since Scott Bindley began writing the script as a college project in 1989.
Nevertheless, Bindley said he fulfilled his promise to the late McCormick to get the film made. Bindley pays tribute to McCormick during the film’s credits by showing the original ABC-TV black-and-white footage that was shot that day in July 1971 at the Madison Regatta when McCormick emerges from the Miss Madison and is interviewed on the dock by broadcaster Keith Jackson.
The young, handsome Jim McCormick is then whisked up the riverbank and showered with congratulatory hugs and cheers from his crew and the crowd. He is wearing Rayban-type sunglasses. He makes his way up through the crowd, high-fiving shirtless men and signing autographs for young and old alike. A young Mike McCormick is seen at his side peering up at the camera and at his father with adoring eyes and a wide smile.
Bonnie McCormick said that while visiting the movie set of ‘Madison’ in 1999, she gave those very sunglasses to Caviezel to keep as a momento. “When I saw him at the premier, I asked him what he did with Jim’s sunglasses. He said they are in a very special place.”

Back to November 2001 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta