live in upstate New York, and in the fall of 2004 a friend of mine told me that he had heard Spielberg was filming a new movie in the area. I thought it was exciting, but just kind of made a mental note to keep an eye out for any info if it came up. Sure enough, around Thanksgiving, most of the local news stations caught wind that Spielberg was filming in Athens, NY and they would be auditioning extras for a scene.
Being a Spielberg junkie I knew it was something that I simply HAD to try for. So a college buddy of my and myself went down to this little town on a frigid Saturday morning at around 6AM and found hundreds and hundreds of people already standing outside in a line that wrapped through the entire village. We waited for a few hours and by the time we got into the local school gymnasium where the crew was taking people’s headshots, excitement had reached a peak.
A younger guy took both of our headshots and asked us a few quick questions like whether we had any props that they could use, and so on. I was still kind of awe-struck by the prospect of everything, but right before they young man ushered us away, my buddy slipped in “Oh, we’re film school students too.” Now, while I’ve always known that I wanted to make films, this was only a half-truth at the time as we were both enrolled in the crappy Communications program at our local community college. Sure enough, the young guy raised his eyebrows, took out a red permanent marker and wrote “FILM STUDENTS” on the top of our headshots. I took that as a good sign. A couple of weeks later I got a call from one of the extras casting people informing me that we were selected and I was on cloud nine.
If you remember the film, the scene that I was involved in takes place about halfway in, where throngs of people are rushing to get onto a ferry boat to escape the pursuing Tripods. When my friend and I reached the set, we were assigned to groups that all began with different letters ranging from Group A to Group J. Now in this scene, there are about a thousand people going from the ferry docks all the way back up this sloping street. All of the Group A people were up front on the dock and the Group J people were chilling in the back, hundreds of feet away. We were assigned Group ‘I.’
I’m not generally a very daring individual, but I recognized pretty quickly that there was no chance I was ever going to make it on screen from way back where we were. I knew that I had to get closer to the cameras. Every time some British dude yelled “ACTION!” people just started running down toward the docks. I wasn’t told what we were supposed to be doing, but I figured it out fairly quickly. When we heard “ACTION!” it meant run forward, and when we heard “RESET!” we were all supposed to go back to our original positions.
I knew that this was my opportunity. During the next few instances of hearing “ACTION!” I would sprint and weave among the other extras, pushing as far forward as I could each time. Upon hearing “RESET!” I casually hung to the side of the road, very slowly giving the appearance of moving back. After a few takes, I found myself all the way up in Group A. Those suckers back in ‘I’ had no idea what they were missing. From that position I got my first view of Steven Spielberg himself, sitting behind an actual Hollywood camera which was pointed in MY direction. “Surreal” does not begin to describe the way it felt.
Everything was right in the world for that first hour I was rubbing elbows with the A’s. Until I heard the words “Hey you!”
I acted oblivious until again I heard “Hey!” aimed at my general direction. I turned to see this tall, lanky dude staring at me with a dead-serious look on his face. Some kind of movie extra ‘SS’ member. “Were you here the whole time?”
My heart was pounding. I knew I wouldn’t get another opportunity like this and I didn’t want to get kicked out over something so stupid. I licked my lips and simply responded by looking down at my feet, back up to him and saying “You know what? … I was actually right over here.” I stepped to my right a couple feet and hoped that that would be the end of it. It wasn’t. “What group are you?”
“Uh… Group A!”
This redheaded Sherlock Holmes wasn’t letting up. “How many days have you been here?”
Fortunately I knew that the Group A people had been filming since the two nights prior and responded “Since Monday.” He shook his bulbous stupid head and said “I don’t remember you. I don’t wanna start trouble, I just wanna make sure that the continuity of the scene is kept intact.”
Because I’m sure audiences will be paying close attention to where each of the twelve hundred extras are standing from shot to shot. Douche.
“I’ve been here the whole time, man.” There was a brief pause before the white knight behind me exclaimed “Yeah, this guy’s been here. I remember him.” I turned and with my eyes I thanked the chubby Italian man in the dirty Yankees jacket.
Finally, turning back to Detective Numnuts I bobbed my head with certainty. Now I had someone on my side. The guy stared at me for a moment, squinting, before ultimately popping out his hand for me to shake and simply stating “Name’s Brian.”
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and the rest of the night went swimmingly. I got to watch one of the greatest directors of all time do his thing. I was able to witness 5-foot Tom Cruise throw back giant chunks of watermelon in a tent nearby while his 6-foot stunt double jumped onto the back of a ferry boat. I stood right next to Dakota fanning, completely creeped out by her 50-year-old personality embedded in a 7-year old body.
One thing that blew me away was just the amount of money that I knew had been spent. There was an entire Red Cross camp built out that you never even see in the movie. Giant lights, snow machines, Tanks… I even got to stand next to Dennis Muren for a few minutes!
It was an unforgettable experience made even more so by the fact that I made it into the finished film. I got to see myself on a movie screen in a Spielberg film. Even if I never make it in Hollywood (and that’s not even an option for me), I’m glad that I’ll always have that.
Sorry this turned into such a long story, but I’ve never actually put it down in words. I hope I didn’t bore you to death!