To follow is a blog post written a couple of years ago. I’m posting it now to complete this series of posts. At the time, I didn’t know if the movie was going to be a hit or not. Like the vast majority, it wasn’t and posting about it faded as an interest for me.
When I left for Chattanooga to do the movie, I told people that I was going to a ‘job interview’, most people around here still don’t know that I worked as a ‘background extra’ on a feature film. It wasn’t the first time I had been in or worked on a film, since I used to be the Film Commissioner in Dayton, Ohio.
The experience was important, since it gave me insight on how the common man and woman reacts to being in or around ‘stars’ or people perceived to be of social importance or status. It’s fascinating to watch people modify their behavior, adapting to the circumstances of the moment. The star can act pretty funny, too.
On location in Chattanooga.
From breakfast, I went over to the wardrobe people. The men had been told to wear 'plain white dress shirt, dark dress pants, black or dark blue tie and lace up shoes'. They also wanted us to bring overcoats. This led to a quandary for me. In the past few decades, I've usually worn leather biker jackets, since that's the preferred gear when riding a motorcycle. When it came to business, I've got an almost antique trench coat to go over my business suit. Buried deep in the closet was something from out of the past, a cashmere overcoat. Hadn't worn it in years, but women love it.. .it's dark blue, didn't look or smell like it had died, so I took it with me. The only things I forgot was a scarf and gloves. No hat either, but they would fix me up in wardrobe. Like I would have a Fedora lying around the house. Cowboy hats, ball caps, watch caps, motorcycle helmets, an old ‘Civil Defense’ helmet, but no Fedora. I am so unstylish.
First thing the wardrobe folks did was take one look at the cashmere coat and pitch it. I was given some checked, beige-green wool thing, scarf, gloves and a hat. The gloves were a bit tight, as in too small. Not like I would need them, it was about 65 degrees on the set! It was going to be interesting, shooting a winter scene on an unusually warm spring day. It's the movies, they can fake the cold, right?
The tempo started to pick up around the set. Men were sent to their dressing room, which was a tent, as were the ladies. People were told to dispose of their cellphones, briefcases, unnecessary coats, etc. get ready to get on the train. It was already pushing towards 10 AM and we were about to lose our first background extra. One of the local wheeler-dealers was having a hard time getting separated from his cellphone. He was micro-managing his office from the set, got flustered, decided that they weren't going to shoot the movie on his timetable. So, he walked. Took his paperwork out of his briefcase, handed it to the casting agent, gave wardrobe back their clothes and headed for the office. Only thing he kept was his haircut. Now, he'll never be able to brag about being in a feature film. I'm sure his office workers are disappointed too. They probably would have enjoyed a day without his forced march attitude.
We all trooped out into the sunshine. Ladies transformed into wives, flappers and gun molls of the twenties, men looking like dissipated business men or flat-cap wearing college boys. We clustered around the tents, mugging and doing bad gangster imitations. Which may have led to the second loss from our ranks. One of the young ladies, flapper-type, evidently did a near swan-dive. Maybe she got too close to the Star as he moved through the area? It was a matter of conjecture for the rest of the day. She was immediately cared for by the medical crew, who insisted on hauling her to the hospital. You are not allowed to either faint or die on the set! Another poor soul with fame snatched from her grasp. The inhumanity of it all!
A production assistant came around and started the herding process, driving us like so many sheep, cattle, chattel? towards the train cars. We were picked over, sorted, graded and sent to our doom. Directed towards seats, shuffled, then moved again. I was pointed to a seat next to a window, a large 'X' on it. The train’s wooden benches faced each other. There were three other men sitting on the benches, we barely had time to introduce ourselves. Another PA came by and told us that the Star would come down the aisle, lean over and look out the window.
Since I was sitting next to the window, I nearly fell out of my seat. This meant that there was about a 50/50 chance that I would be in the shot with him!.
That's when another PA came by, told me to get up and move, I had the wrong type of hat, they wanted 'flat caps' in the seats. I was directed to another car. Here, they paired me with a lovely woman.
I was now ‘playing the part’ of a couple. Virginia didn't seem to mind that she had been stuck with me. We were placed in the center section of the train car, facing each other, both of us sitting next to the windows. The PA told us to fake conversation, lean towards each other, make hand gestures. The typical, "I'm interested in what you have to say" kind of stuff.
We did the, 'where you from, how did you get here' thing. After all, we were going to be on this train together for a few hours, might as well make it bearable. It went beyond that, it was great. Virginia loves motorcycles, traveling and movies. We talked about everything.
One of the PA's told us to be quiet and nodded towards the front of the train.
Suddenly, everyone in the train car got quiet. The Star had appeared. As director, writer and star of the movie, he wanted us to know exactly what we were going to be doing. At least, that's what I think he wanted to tell us.
As he talked, people around us looked over, shrugging, mouthing the words; "Can you hear him?"
I yelled "Speak up!" but he was almost done.
A PA gave me their version of a dirty look. I glanced around, nobody had understood a thing The Star had said, a trainload of blank faces.
Virginia shrugged, shook her head when I asked if she heard what the Star had said. Nope, it was all a mumble to me and everyone that I talked to later.
Perhaps he should do more stage work, learn to project his voice.
Filming was about to begin.