I Was An Extra In A Fight Scene.
When I first came across some just-turned SMU alums on Facebook looking for extras for a film shoot, I was skeptical to say the least.
The whole thing just reeked of “student film.”
But I read on nevertheless, knowing that these guys had finished school and that, at least technically, it would no longer fit that designation.
As I scrolled through the thread, words like “bonfire” and “fight scene” instantly popped out at me. Suddenly, I realized I wanted nothing more in this life than to know what it is to see a real-life Daniel-san duking it out with the Cobra Kai.
Apparently, everyone else thought the same thing. I checked back in on the thread later in the day and the post had over 100 responses. Then? It was gone. But I was still curious. So I asked around some and, eventually, I received an event invite a few weeks later.
In big bold letters it read: “LEGACY SHOOT: BONFIRE SCENE.” I RSVP'd “going” right away.
I probably should've actually read the thing before committing to it. But I didn't — not until about an hour before heading out to the shoot. That's when I noticed that the shoot wasn't expected to wrap until 6 a.m. the next day.
At first, I just figured it was a typo. Nope. The director of photography assured me of that much: “No,” he said, “that sounds about right.”
In all honesty, I had no idea what the film — which I later found out was called Legacy — was even about. Actually, I still have no idea what the film is about. Or what genre of film it is for that matter. Is it a thriller? A coming of age tale? No idea.
I was going into this thing blind. Still, gung-ho about the idea of being in a fight scene where beer bottles might be smashed on people's heads, I wrangled a friend and made the drive up to Princeton — about an hour's drive north of Dallas.
At around 8:20 p.m., we'd reached some country roads. About 15 minutes later, we started questioning whether Siri has led us astray. But then, with the setting sun on our backs, we finally saw a few cars parked alongside the road. We also saw a kangaroo, a pair of emus and a few goats, all staring us down on the other side of the fence.
We were convinced we were at the wrong spot — until a member of film's crew caught up to us and explained that the scene had changed from a beach scene to a barn one, and that it was being shot at Cathy's Critters, a petting zoo that had agreed to be a location for the film.
After communing with the animals — emus are assholes, by the way — and mingling with the other extras, the sun had set and the generator was revved. Lights came on and we were rounded up for a safety meeting led by Amanda, one of the producers.
Think of Amanda as a 22-year-old reincarnation of the angry cabin mom that you would've dreaded going to summer camp with. With a megaphone and an iron fist, she laid down the law of the land.
“Yes,” she said. “There will be a fire. Yes, there will be beer cans on set. Open one and you will be removed from the shoot. Shut up when I tell you to, move when I tell you to, and only approach the fire when I physically hold your hand and place your ass there.”
Maybe she had reason to be annoyed; this was the crew's 13th straight day of shooting, after all. And maybe she had reason to be strict; safety and time management were clearly the names of the game on this night, as I learned shortly after that initial speech, when waivers needing my signature were thrust in my face.
Then we waited. And waited.
Blocking out the fight scene was slow going as the cast of the film ran through its rehearsed fight-choreography in slow motion and the film crew ran around, a blur of equipment, scripts and bodies. Then, without much warning, I was told to get into the rehearsal action. My very imperative role? Shoving one of the male leads back into the fray.
But there would be more waiting before the cameras rolled. First, we extras were sent back to a waiting tent as the crew did crew-things and the pyramid of branches meant to feed the bonfire was prepped for ignition. We watched from across the field it was set ablaze, sending sparks up into the starlit summer sky. But due to a lack of forethought — or maybe just the absence of an Eagle Scout among their ranks — it seemed that the fire was lit too early. I mean, I'm sure, the B-roll footage was great when it blaze at its peak, but, but by the time the crew was ready to roll cameras, the fire had died down to a pathetic knock-off of its once former glory.
So, too, had we extras. As midnight rolled around, we all started to realize a few things: a.) our phones were nearly dead, b.) we still had six hours to go, and c.) we all had made a very terrible mistake in agreeing to deprave ourselves of a night's sleep to participate in this thing.
As the night went on, the struggle of staying awake became real. Red Bull was our friend, the ground was our napping grounds and the sun was the angry god that had forsaken us.
There were a few moments during filming that took our minds off of sky-watching, though, like when the cast got to smash a prop bottle for the first time. The heart-stopping sound of a man shattering a bottle of glass on another man's head is pretty cool, I've got to say.
So, too, was the eventual brawl itself. Curses were yelled as we formed a circle around the cast. It felt like an actual brawl, seeing hair being pulled and people being thrown into the ground.
Well, until, the director yelled “…aaaaaand CUT!” over his megaphone, and we were all reminded that we'd been duped. Everything had been planned — meticulously so — up to and including our own surprised reactions.
It was all a lie. And one that we had to live over and over again. That was kind of cool, though. Repeated efforts or not, it all convincing.
Yes, all of it — so much so that, in the middle of the night, the set got crashed by a sea of drunk 17-year-olds all comically packed into maybe 20 trucks, who were intent on getting into what they thought was an actual party.
Well, until Amanda crushed their dreams.
“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” she screamed.
Pissed off and confused — and no doubt a little frightened by Amanda's fury — the kids soon stumbled back to their trucks. As for we extras? Our work resumed for a few more hours until the sky just started to brighten back up, signaling the end of our shift.
That wrap moment was pretty great, actually. The crew was just elated, having managed to capture everything they'd needed for their feature film in a mere 14 days. They were ready to celebrate.
We extras had, on the other hand, had enough. Most of us bounced as soon as we got the OK to do so. Me? I was so scared of falling asleep that I spent the whole drive back to Dallas with my windows down and my music blaring.
It felt fitting, though, that when I pulled into my driveway and the sun had finally risen. And back inside of my apartment, on my bed, with my head resting on my pillow, I fell asleep feeling pretty confident that I'd just experienced something unique, having helped contribute to something cool.
But there's no way I'm ever doing it again.