Students play extras in movie

When Universal Pictures sent a movie-making circus to Huntsville last week, scores of SHSU students were on the set as extras, delighted to have the rare opportunity of being in a movie. However, as many found out, it was no easy task.

Last Wednesday, students who received a call back from the casting call on Nov. 17 were told to meet at the Huntsville Walls Unit rodeo arena at 7:15 a.m. Braving the rain and 30 to 40 degree weather, they came in droves for a chance at fame and fortune.

After gathering in a tent on the muddy and cold field, one RTV major said the experience wasn’t quite what she expected.

“It’s cold. My feet are frozen. I was about to leave,” she said. She decided to stay, however, when she learned she would be playing the part of reporter.

Junior Jinny McCormick, an interior design major, got a part as one of the victim’s family members.

“It’s not very glamorous,” she said. McCormick played the cousin of the victim and had to walk with the other mock family members across the street from the Walls Unit main door to the TDCJ administrative building on 11th Street.

The group said they had to walk back and forth about 20 times.

The film crew took about 10 shots for each scene, according to junior Dan Conrad, who played the victim’s brother.

For each scene, one walking across the street, the other standing in front of group of reporters, McCormick and Conrad had to meekly stand in back of the mother of the victim. They followed Director Alan Parker’s instructions on facial expressions and body language.

Parker, on the other side of the camera from McCormick and Conrad, resembled a field general. His hands usually behind his back, the director was constantly surrounded by an entourage of assistant directors, cameramen, location managers, wardrobe staff, technicians, make-up artists and other movie making personnel. There was even someone walking around with a silver-platter of cheese and snacks. Not to mention a plethora of high-tech sound and video recording equipment.

Conrad, an RTV major, said he was “very impressed” with the equipment he got to see.

“And it was fun. They’re nice guys to work with,” he said.

Parker’s right-hand man in the production appeared to be the first assistant director, who wore a black beret and headphones (just about every permanent crew member would communicate via headphones with an attached microphone). Whenever Parker said something to the first assistant director, the black bereted man would bounce into action, barking orders in every direction, “Move that truck over there, I want that camera over here, Move those tents around, Hurry up peopleWhat’s taking so long?”

The student extras, many of whom made up the part of protesters in the movie, were treated to some good food for their hard work. On Wednesday, they were given the choice of honey glazed salmon, Caesar chicken breast or Italian marinated pork loin. On Thursday, McKenzie’s Barbeque catered lunch for the hungry extras at a cost of a reported $3,000.

Other student extras on the set were Liz Lacy, Ted Childers, Danny Early and Kim McCullough, whose mother, Dorice, also landed a part as an extra.

Lacy, a theatre major, would like to one day direct, and therefore paid special attention to how things worked on set of the $50 million movie.

“It’s all very interesting,” she said.

Although it is Lacy’s first movie, she said, “It’s pretty much what I expected. I already knew a lot from reading.”

On Friday and Saturday, the movie magic continued, with more protest scenes involving a lot of student extras and movie star Kate Winslet (Titanic). Three hundred to 500 protesters were needed for one scene, filled with media vans and helicopters.

Paparazzi reporters trying to get on set to take pictures of Winslet also complicated the production.

“They were trying to buy people’s ‘Extra’ badges,” said one student extra who was on the set.

All the extras were issued a bright orange badge when they reported to work each morning and had to turn it in when they were released for the day, which happened to be very long.

Most of the extras had to report to work around 6 a.m. and stay for the next 11 to 12 hours in order to get paid. Their payment is supposed to arrive in the mail in the next couple of weeks.

On Saturday, the movie crew finished up filming in Huntsville by getting some shots of Big Sam on Interstate 45.

Big Sam may have not gotten paid for his role in the movie, but students were paid $75 per day unless they had a speaking role.

The movie-making circus packed up its convoy of wardrobe trailers, equipment trucks and other vehicles on Saturday night, and made the journey back to Austin where they will finish up filming in about three weeks. The movie, “The Life of David Gale” is scheduled to open next fall.

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