If you saw the news this week that “Magic Mike” heartthrob Channing Tatum has been named the grand marshal for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28, you might be wondering why – and what his connection to NASCAR is.
The answer: a forthcoming film comedy titled “Logan Lucky.”
Here’s what we know so far about the biggest movie set in the Charlotte area since last year’s “Masterminds.”
1. That’s right, “Logan Lucky” is set in the Charlotte area. At Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, to be exact. The entire plot revolves around the Coca-Cola 600, which – as racing fans well know – is an annual 600-mile NASCAR race held at the speedway every Memorial Day weekend.
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2. It’s not a NASCAR movie, though. That is to say, it’s not about the actual race, not about drivers, not about the sport at all, really. It’s about two brothers trying to pull off a massive heist at the speedway on the day of the Coca-Cola 600.
3. There’s some serious star power in (and behind) the movie. Tatum (of “Magic Mike” and “21/22 Jump Street” fame) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) play the brothers, Jimmy and Clyde Logan; Riley Keough (“The Girlfriend Experience”) plays their baby sister; Daniel Craig (Bond. James Bond.) plays a convict they plan to spring from prison to help them with the heist; and Hilary Swank, Seth MacFarlane and Katie Holmes also star. The director is Steven Soderbergh, who won on Oscar for “Traffic” in 2001. And although it’s not a NASCAR movie, USA Today reported last fall that there will be six driver cameos: Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play West Virginia state troopers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards, Kyle Larson is a limo driver, and Ryan Blaney is a delivery boy.
4. Soderbergh and other key cast and crew filmed multiple scenes at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October during the Bank of America 500. (According to the USA Today story, in the movie the speedway “is robbed using an underground hydraulic tube system (which exists in the movie but not in real life).”) “It was great,” Soderbergh told Entertainment Weekly recently, when asked about shooting in N.C. “We had no problems. It was all really well organized. NASCAR took really great care of us. I think we got everything we needed, and we didn’t get in anybody’s way. It couldn’t have gone any better. It was exciting. That event’s pretty crazy. The scale of it is massive, and on that day, we had five cameras running around. But we had it all plotted out. Everybody knew where they had to move at what point in the race and what they should be shooting. We got all of the stuff we needed.”
5. However, the majority of the 36-day shoot took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, reportedly because of Georgia’s considerably more-attractive tax incentives for filmmakers. In an October story for USA Today, writer Jeff Gluck noted that Atlanta’s track “is similar in size and style to Charlotte (they are both Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks and have some of the same grandstand characteristics). The crew had the walls painted yellow at Atlanta in order to resemble Charlotte and get the details right. Sometimes, the shooting had to get creative. In one scene, Craig walks near the Atlanta concession stands, but the shot had to be framed to remove Atlanta’s identifying characteristics.”
6. Why the Coca-Cola 600? And was it Soderbergh’s original intent to incorporate that specific race? The director told EW: “We worked very hard to get NASCAR on board as a partner because we really felt that it was critical, because if you couldn’t shoot at the real race and put your people there, then it just wouldn’t be compelling. Luckily, we started conversations with them very early. This script came to me while we were shooting ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ so that would have been fall of 2014. And we immediately started conversations with NASCAR to get their assistance. If we weren’t able to do what we did, I don’t think we would have made the movie. It’s such a unique event.”
7. “Logan Lucky” was originally due in October, a fertile ground for award-worthy fare, but is now set to be released in theaters on Aug. 18. And other than the photo seen at the top of this story, we’ve been given no hints about how the movie will look or feel; with just over three months to go, Bleecker Street (“Logan Lucky’s” film distribution company) has yet to issue a trailer for the movie.
8. Soderbergh – who had announced his retirement from film directing after 2013’s “Side Effects” – has already made one of the great heist films of the modern era: the crime-thriller “Ocean’s Eleven.” (He also directed two sequels to 2001’s “Eleven,” which itself was a remake.) “On the most obvious level, (“Logan Lucky” is) the complete inversion of an ‘Ocean’s’ movie,” Soderbergh said in the Entertainment Weekly interview. “It’s an anti-glam version of an ‘Ocean’s’ movie. Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber band technology, and that’s what I thought was fun about it. It seemed familiar to me, but different enough. The landscape, the characters, and the canvass were the complete opposite of an ‘Ocean’s’ film. What was weird is that I was working as a producer on ‘Ocean’s Eight’ while we were shooting ‘Logan,’ and it was kind of head-spinning. That’s like a proper ‘Ocean’s’ film. This is a version of an ‘Ocean’s’ movie that’s up on cement blocks in your front yard.
Charlotte Motor Speedway: Movie star
Other NASCAR-centric movies that were filmed at Charlotte Motor Speedway: 2006’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (starring Will Ferrell), 1990’s “Days of Thunder” (starring Tom Cruise), 1983’s “Stroker Ace” (starring Burt Reynolds) and 1968’s “Speedway” (starring Elvis Presley). Also: In 2006, Charlotte Motor Speedway became the first motorsports facility to host the world premiere of a major motion picture; Paul Newman, Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt and Larry the Cable Guy – all of whom provided voices for the main characters – were on hand for the debut of Disney-Pixar’s animated “Cars” movie.