“Everyone looked like a broke-down movie extra,” Sal, On the Road
I arrive on Monday in time for a full breakfast of pancakes, eggs, grits, bacon, fruit, yogurt, orange juice and coffee courtesy of Sessions Productions.
I see Tommy while I’m eating.
We talk about our weekends.
“I rode my bike down your street over the weekend,” he says.
“Did you check out the lot we are building on? It’s the one with the big live oaks in the front.”
“Is it next to a house going up?”
“Yeah it is.”
“It’s a nice piece of land and those trees are beautiful.”
“Thanks, stop and say ‘hey’ if you see me on the lot while it’s being built.”
“I’ll do that,” he says.
I have time to socialize and find out how Friday night at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club went. Extra Bobby says it was a great time and the party didn’t end until 3 AM.
I’m still waiting around Base Camp at 10:30 AM so I open On the Road and start reading.
Finally they call the extras. Several of us, including Extra Bobby, a retired Navy Veteran with two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and the special effects people take the boat ride to the rig. We hear from big hat and big beard effects guy that the plane is on set today and we are shooting the rescue.
“After that,” he says, “we’re moving locations to film at night.”
The day hasn’t even started and he speaks from experience as he says, “Shooting at two locations is a lot for one day.”
I don’t go directly to make up on the rig today. I hang out with the extras on the back of the platform, and we battle one another for a place to sit. We get our face, hands, and necks made up in the back of the rig shadows. Prop man hands us all our dog tags.
“Thanks, you gave me Sledge’s the same ones I had Friday.
He looks at me, confused, “that doesn’t happen very often.”
“It’s a good sign,” I say, as he hands a set to extra Barrett. He’s a professional disc golfer I met while introducing some people to the sport at the course in Fairhope. It was great to see a familiar face and we pass the time chatting. He knows Tommy too because they play disc golf together.
“Man,” one extra says, “It’s 12:30 and we haven’t even gotten wet yet.”
There’s a buzz as Nic arrives on set.
Sam calls me up to Video Village. I say hello to all the make up and wardrobe women who are are busy with actors, not extras.
The rig is unusually full today. Everyone involved with the production is on set and there are lots more chairs set up for the movie’s producers under the Video Village tent.
One producer is barking at everyone to “pray for the sun.” Everyone ignores him.
“The PBY is in the air,” Mario announces with the bullhorn about the incoming seaplane.
A few minutes later he walks by Marley and I, more excited and animated than his son and says, “You’re being rescued today!”
“Awesome Mario!” I shout, and a few guys yell, but it sounds lame because no one is in sync.
“ETA 10 minutes.”
It should be arriving from the north any minute now. It comes into sight over my right shoulder and is cruising fairly low. It looks like a boat with wings.
As impressive as the sight of it is, the sound is even better. The steady Bwaaa bw bwaaa is mean and powerful, and a little worrisome, like it’s not firing on all cylinders. Everyone is standing, craning their necks to get a good long look at the seaplane. It makes a second pass for the camera. It circles again and lands rather roughly. It has a massive wake as much of the plane seems to be below the water line.
An hour passes, and Nic comes out of the galley, his makeshift trailer, and says, “I’ll see you for the night shoot.”
Everybody is looking at each other wondering what’s happening. It takes another half hour to reach me that the plane broke down and that there will be no plane rescue scene.
They are shooting underwater scenes with the sharks circling and attacking the rafts.
The animatronic shark is swinging over our heads from a crane. I grab my iPhone.
Just as I’m ready to tap, I hear, “No pictures Alan.” Sam, the PA is in the right spot at the wrong time. I listen this time. It’s a tiger shark, and it looks very real, glistening in the sun, yet still seawater slick.
I got this picture of the animatronic shark suitcase. It’s the blue thing directly behind the trash can.
At 3 PM, Tiffany removes my leg make up.
“That’s 30 minutes.” We break for lunch. Lasagna, salad, collard greens, watermelon and lemon bars for dessert.
“This location is a wrap.”
Still in our movie wardrobes, we wait for the boats to take us to Base Camp while they move the whole production from the rig to a barge on the Intracoastal Waterway, about six nautical miles away.
We arrive at the Base Camp location,which practically empty, like a carnival that has up and disappeared. All that remains is one trailer and a wardrobe truck.
Under the bridge, I pour Skittles directly into my mouth like a confectionary troll. We wait for someone to call our name, give us some news, tell us where to be, or what to do. Your life as an extra is to follow instructions. The only problem is we receive very few instructions. It’s been a hurry up and wait day. There are 20 extras today and nobody, including my eastern European friend and Gulf Shores resident, “have been in the water.”
We are told the new base camp is off Canal Road, not far from the breakfasts and Bloody Marys at Brick and Spoon.
We have two hours before we are due at the new base camp. I have an extra take a picture of me.
I drive to Dairy Queen. I walk in and order a Reese’s Blizzard. I wait for it, and a family of four wait beside me. The little girl is staring at me. I’m used to being stared at. Does she think the amputation is recent? There have been shark sightings along the Gulf, including Hammerheads.
“I’m in a movie,” I tell the girl with braids like Pippi Longstocking. Her expression doesn’t change. I know thanks to make up my face looks fried and blistered, but Pipi’s dad looks like he’s burnt crispier than I am. His sunburn is going to hurt for a while. Mine will wash off, sometime today.
“Reese’s Blizzard,” someone says, and I move up to the counter to see she’s already inserted the spoon. She flips the cup upside down. ‘I should put some of this on that guy’s face.’ Naw, that’s wasting it, and I think how foolish I would be to expect a third meal as part of my extra benefits.
When I get to the new Base Camp, I see Tracy chucking a football in a parking area near the trailers.
More people arrive on scene around 8 PM. We are all hungry, and can smell food, but only the actors get to eat.
Another hour goes by and I pass the time chitchatting and reading from the parking lot light.
“It’s a wrap for today”! Maggie, the chain-smoking blonde says.
“We’re wrapped!” I had spent 12 hours waiting at base camp, in make up, on set, waiting for the rescue scene to be filmed. It didn’t happen. I am weary, upset, angry, and relieved in a span of 12 seconds.
Reflection in the Mirror
For the first and only time, I stepped up into the make up trailer. Tom Sizemore was saying thanks to Lauren and exiting the other door. Alvin, my raft mate, was getting the grease rinsed out of his hair. I looked around, half tired, when a fresh and familiar voice called out amidst the confusion and bright light from the bulbs reflecting off the mirrors.
“Over here Alan,” Stacey says, and I brighten at a friendly and familiar face.
“Have a seat,” she says and I plop down into the barber chair, exhausted from doing nothing, except breathing in the wet, salty, Alabama air, intermixed with the diesel from nearby generators.
She uses baby oil and “99” to clean my face, neck, and arms.
The casting agent called me on Thursday. I told her I couldn’t make it. I like to think that by not showing up, my character didn’t make it. In a movie inspired by real events, even I did not see my character surviving 4 days at sea. What was keeping the character alive? A narrow denim tourniquet.
It doesn’t really matter what I think, if they want my character to survive, all they have to do is grab another extra, like Barrett, bloody his knee cap, fly the green screen, and put him in the background. It’s Hollywood, by the time they are done editing, the movie-goer will never know the difference.
Oddly enough, the reality is not the movie, it’s in the movie-making, and the people who work in front of and behind the cameras. It’s not about where the movie is going, it’s how it gets there. Just like Sal in On the Road.
My chances of actually being background seems better than most simply because I was in the same boat with Nic, Tom, Joey and a few other actors.
The last Nic Cage movie shot in Mobile, Tokarev, was renamed Rage and went straight to video.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage producers are hoping for a May 2016 release. It would be nice to see the film in a movie theater, and my friends and family are hoping for the best. If it goes straight to video my coworkers are having a premiere party at the library.