You may not know her name, but you’ve likely seen Beth Aylward’s face in some of your favorite movies and TV shows. Since 1989, the SAG actress has worked steadily as an extra on series such as Seinfeld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Married with Children, and on films such as Wayne’s World.
“I run across my face on TV all the time,” she says. “It makes me laugh.”
These days though, you’re just as likely to catch one of Aylward’s classic cars on screen as you are Aylward herself. Her 1961 Rambler American was featured as a core car in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, and her white 1969 Valiant is a veteran of the Netflix megahit, Stranger Things. In fact, it was the Stranger Things crew that gave the now well-known Plymouth its name.
“I was [on location in East Point]. It was zero o’clock in the morning, and I was sitting in my car off the side of the road. And in the dark hours, I heard [the crew] saying ‘Can you get Howdy to move?’” referring to a bumper sticker on the back of the car.
Howdy can be seen cruising the town square behind Winona Ryder’s character Joyce in the second episode of the first season as she walks into the store to buy a new phone. Fans can catch Howdy again parked on the street near Joyce’s ex-husband’s house in episode four, and throughout the show’s three seasons, in the scenes in downtown Hawkins and in the lot at Hawkins High School. Most often, it’s Aylward, who, at 60 years old is also a precision driver and founder of picture car company Y’allywood Film Cars, behind the wheel.
“The Starcourt Mall scene [from season three] was fun,” says Aylward. “There were like 70 cars on set, and maybe 90 percent were ours. And the actors were wonderful. Millie [Bobbie Brown] is the sweetest thing. And I’d always run across Noah [Schnapp]. They’re the sweetest boys; I just love them. The pool scenes were also super groovy fun.”
Aylward picked up a love of classic cars from her brother. She was working in Los Angeles as a unioned extra for film and television in 2002 when she decided to purchase her first classic picture car: the green 1961 Rambler American convertible.
“The first big thing I got on [with that car] was American Dreams, which was a show about bandstands,” Aylward says. There, she chatted with other car owners and drivers on set, learning about the industry’s need for classic and period-specific cars. At that time in L.A., she says, booking for picture cars almost always went through extras casting companies—folks were booked as “extras with cars” according to Aylward, and union drivers and extras typically received a good rate for the use of their vehicle—anywhere between $200 and $400 per day.
When she moved to Atlanta in 2005, however, it was a different story. The film industry hadn’t fully made its way east yet, and there wasn’t much work to be found. As the industry grew, she made connections with other picture car owners on various productions and learned many were going through extras casting for car calls—and weren’t getting booked for what Aylward considered a fair amount. Their “car bumps” were lower than the union rates Aylward had been used to in L.A. Aylward also said there weren’t generally extra pay bumps given for precision driving—a type of skilled driving that isn’t quite flying through the air or getting into a high-speed collision like a stunt driver, but that does require experience and training.
“People didn’t have a clue out here at all because the industry was still new. Everyone just wanted to be in the movies and were excited to get their cars on [screen],” so they would accept whatever rate was offered, she says.
A few years ago, Aylward booked one of her cars on the AMC drama Halt and Catch Fire, which is set in the 1980s and ’90s. There she met fellow car aficionado, mechanic, and classic car collector Jeana Lopeman. Lopeman was new to the picture car industry and suggested Alyward start a Facebook group where they and others in the industry could connect and share information about their cars, potential car calls (some of the films the cars appeared include American Made, The Frontrunner, and Shaft), and the rates they were getting.
And as a result, says Lopeman—whose 1972 Mercury Cougar convertible was used in Stranger Things‘s Starcourt Mall scenes and whose 1989 white Jeep Grand Wagoneer appeared in season two—“we [worked] as a group to better the car rates.” The group members advocated for one another for better car bumps, per diems, and treatment on set—a type of unofficial, makeshift union, organizing together and negotiating better rates for all.
“I have a union state of mind in me,” says Aylward. “I come with a union mentality, telling people, ‘Your car is valuable. Your car is worthy, and you are worthy.”
In February, Y’allywood Film Cars graduated from a Facebook group to an official LLC. With the help of Lopeman and fellow car collector and expert Stacy Frasure, the female-owned and operated company is beginning to directly connect film and television crews to the classic cars they need for their productions—without extras casting serving as the middleman. Productions can contact the company via a form on their website, and Aylward begins the process of matching the project to the right car and driver from the group. While the company is just Aylward, Frasure and Lopeman, the Y’allywood Film Cars group has nearly 200 members, some of whom, individually, have up to 25 cars.
“We strive to meet a production’s vision for a project,” says Lopeman, who handles the social media and online marketing for the company. Y’allywood can provide a television show or film with everything from decade-specific classic cars to military vehicles, junk cars to beautifully restored vintage fire trucks, vintage campers and rescue vehicles. They also have access to boats, planes, and motorcycles.
“I loved the idea of a picture car company that put the drivers, owners, and their cars first, not profits,” says Frasure, who grew up working on classic cars with her dad and grandfather. Frasure worked on film sets as an extra and production assistant before committing herself to picture cars. She helps Alyward book cars for productions and works on set with the cars’ drivers. She also recruits new cars and drivers to the group, and like Lopeman, works as an on-set car mechanic. Aylward claims Frasure as her personal mechanic but is quick to sing Lopeman’s praises as bona-fide engine expert, too. (“That girl can rip a car apart from head to toe,” she says of Lopeman. “She can pull it apart and put it back together.”)
“It is a field mostly dominated by men,” Lopeman says. “During car shows, I surprise men when I talk shop with them and know a thing or two about what’s under the hood—or when I go to the parts store, or into old car yards for parts. All those places are mostly men’s domain.”
Lopeman sees Y’allywood Film Cars as a bit of antidote to that, “a change,” she says, “a foot in the door with a step forward for women.”
Alyward sees it as a way to advocate for film car owners and drivers, and an avenue she can use to begin changing the way the picture car industry operates as a whole.
“I want it to change so that extras casting is no longer in charge of these cars,” she says. “That the people who are driving these cars, putting all this work into these cars, and loving these cars are making the living that they deserve to be making off of it.”
“And,” she says, “I want us to be able to go in with pride as females, showing that we can do the same thing that [men] can do.”
“Being a female-run company may make some productions dismiss us at first,” says Frasure, “but we’re here to prove that we can and will do the job. We aren’t going anywhere.”