I have said before that I have the perfect job, and that still holds true. I get to talk to people and share their stories, and I really enjoy writing articles, columns and just generally mangling the English language on a regular basis.
In the process of doing this perfect job, I sometimes get to do some pretty cool things as well. One of these exceptionally cool things occurred back in June 2018 when I was still a freelance reporter.
My wife found out through Facebook that a movie crew was going to do some filming in the Morehead area, and they were having an open casting call for extras at Morehead State University. When she mentioned this to me, I decided it would be an excellent opportunity to interview someone in the movie business from the production side, because I had already managed to interview numerous actors at venues like the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention. So the film crew being there seemed like an excellent opportunity to get some stories from the other side of the camera.
They had a really good turnout because, let’s face it, being an extra just sounds cool. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait in the long line because it was the producer, Mike Will Downey, to whom I was there to talk. We had a very interesting initial conversation, but I quickly found out how tight-lipped a film crew can (understandably) be about releasing information on an ongoing project.
I found out the movie was about oil, gangsters, money and a connection between England and West Virginia. I didn’t even ask why they were going to film a West Virginia movie in Kentucky because, you know, Hollywood. I’m pretty sure Peter Jackson didn’t actually film the Hobbit in Middle Earth.
The first conversation I had with Mr. Downey lasted about 45 minutes, interspersed with the coming and going of people asking questions. Some of the people who came in to the casting call were from school theatre groups and related performance fields, but the largest number of people were locals who just showed up to see what it was all about.
During this time, Mr. Downey suggested that I go have my picture taken. The first time I explained that I was strictly there to get a story, not to be in one. But after the third time, I had a picture taken and filled out a form, then returned to talking to Mr. Downey.
We exchanged contact information, and over the course of the next few weeks we discussed the project through phone calls and emails. I confess to ignorance of the process, and these subsequent contacts gave me a newfound respect for the people who wrangle the logistics nightmare that is making a movie.
Locations had to be scouted, and then alternate locations as well. Arranging filming around weather (thunder will shut a production down for at least 30 minutes for safety), time of day and simply the mechanics of moving large numbers of people where they need to be quickly to shoot a scene just seemed to me to be an ulcer waiting to happen. I offered what information I thought might be helpful, but any involvement of mine on that end was negligible.
And then, weeks into the process, I got a phone call.
For the first — possibly only — time, short of speaking to my mother, the person on the other end of the line asked me if I had gotten a haircut or shaved. Someone, it seemed, had looked at those pictures and decided I would look the part of a “mountain man” in the background. I was surprised, no doubt, but they offered to not only pay me but feed me as well.
Altruism aside, food and money is a pretty sweet deal. Plus, it was something I had never done. I had been in Theatre Arts at ACC (yes, it was that long ago) but I wrote a play rather than acted in one.
In the end, I packed up some old clothes (they suggested torn and worn out, something to do yard work in) and set out for Morehead. At the last minute, my wife suggested that I take an old flannel shirt I had torn up with a grinder (kids, when they tell you not to use power tools in loose clothing, listen).
As a finishing touch, she ripped the arms off it, too. Sad, really; that was one of my favorite shirts. But I stuffed it in the satchel with work boots, torn jeans and worn out T-shirts, and headed out.
To start with, they didn’t lie about the food. There was a food truck set up next to a church in Olive Hill, and the gentleman and his assistant cook had been brought in from California to take care of everyone; which they most definitely did.
Then everyone was sent to the dresser to get into wardrobe. When I opened my satchel to show the lady what I had brought, she immediately snatched up “old flannel” and said that was what she wanted me to wear. So, after changing and coming back to her, she proceded to “dirty me up.” This consisted of some sort of blue gel rubbed through my hair to make it look greasy, and the application of “Hollywood dirt” on my clothes, arms and face. I used to fix cars, but she got me filthier in five minutes than I got all day in the shop.
For about two weeks I did this every morning, five days a week. It was hot and humid, and thoroughly unpleasant — but I enjoyed every minute of it. There is a lot of down time, too, as the director arranges his scenes and the mechanics of the magic has to be shot and reshot.
Sometimes one scene delays another, and during those times I either stood around talking to the other background people or the crew. And they gave me a shotgun, too, while I was filming — not loaded of course — and they checked numerous times every day to make certain of this. There were live rounds on some scenes, but not anything I was part of. But we all got along well, and it became the running joke between me and the prop master that I was picking up or dropping off my “Kroger card.”
The only disappointing thing about the experience was that I was literally in a scene with Malcolm McDowell and Ron Pearlman, but I didn’t get to interview them. Understandably, they were working, and it would have been a distraction. But I did get some interviews I will share soon, one with a young woman from Olive Hill who worked as a production assistant. And after filming was wrapped, the film went into post-production, and I just filed it as a pleasant experience and moved on to other things while I waited to be able to tell any of this. I joked with my wife about being the 15 seconds lying on the cutting floor and went on to writing about other interesting things and interesting people.
Then on Saturday, June 13, I saw the trailer for the movie. The working title had been “London Calling,” but the finished movie title is “The Big Ugly.” At 1 minute, 52 seconds, you can see a blurry, sleevless blue shirt pointing a shotgun — blink and you’ll miss it. But it is there; and, of course, I saved the shirt.
It was a pretty cool experience, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing me in the next “Avengers” movie. Still, you never know. I’ll have to check to see if Anthony and Joe Russo have a subscription to the paper.
Reach CHARLES ROMANS at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2655.