It went from bad to ugly quicker than a shot down the hatch.
Two guys faced each other, inches apart in the dark roadside bar. There was a woman. There usually is in these cases. She had been drinking with one until the other, her burly boyfriend, arrived.
Slurs flew, then punches. A beer bottle smashed against Jealous Dude’s forehead. He clutched his scalp and roared. Payback time now. Wearing a murderous glare, he stalked toward his fleeing attacker and ...
The chase stopped. The brawlers laughed and bumped fists.
“Beautiful job!” one said.
And another moment of movie make-believe passed.
Spending a Friday afternoon in a country tavern with my teenage son was odd enough — like playing hooky while competing for bad dad of the year. But witnessing a film shoot made it even more surreal.
Ted and I had driven to JC’s Bar and Grill in Morrisdale after learning that the movie “Generational Sins,” directed by Clearfield County native Spencer T. Folmar, needed extras for a day of shooting. My son is a movie buff and an aspiring filmmaker, so we decided to go as an educational experience. A real shoot less than an hour away? Let’s do it.
Ted actually made and acted in films this summer at the prestigious Maine Media Workshops. Me? I’ve watched a lot of them. Yet, neither of us knew quite what to expect when we pulled into the tavern’s parking lot a little after noon and prepared to enter the saga of two brothers returning to their rural birthplace at their dying mother’s request.
We knew it was the right place because of the covered front entrance and the blacked-out windows to simulate midnight inside. Encountering the head doorman, we asked about becoming extras. That wasn’t his department, and he fetched the production manager, who gave us some bad news.
Because of Ted’s age, he couldn’t sit at either of two bars during the start of the fight scene. But there was a consolation prize, a nice one. How about being a production assistant instead? The catch was I, as the legal guardian, had to stick near him. My vision of being Tall Barfly faded.
Really, that was fine. Ted was delighted, and I don’t know if I fit the part anyway. I looked more like a lost passer-by who wandered in for directions than a rough-and-tumble regular. We had our roles, and after forking over a $5 cover and signing a release, we stepped inside to the bar’s maroon walls, worn floor and glittering disco ball.
Before long, Ted was put to work holding down a window tarp for the first takes. Nobody asked me to do anything, and I stayed in my safe corner off camera. The small crew bustled around in preparation, walkie-talkies squawking. The director of photography positioned his cameras and camera operators.
Just before the “Quiet on the set” command, Assistant Director Valeska Freire instructed one set of extras on the fine art of background drinking.
“On ‘action’ is when you guys are going to actually start whatever it is that you have to do,” she said. “Even though you’ll be chit-chatting, acting natural in your bar role, I’m going to ask you to do it very quietly so we get the best sound on our main talent.”
She wasn’t finished.
“Very important. Never look at the talent. Never look at the camera, and never look at the director.”
That’s right: You don’t want to be the jerk who ruins a great take. Just then, I remembered to silence my phone.
Once the filming started, I smiled hearing familiar phrases from, well, the movies. They really do say “Sound rolling!,” “Camera rolling!” and, of course, “Action!” The slates for syncing sound and footage were black and white, just as they should be
What seemed strange were the extras. During the takes, they pretended to nurse drinks, stare into their beers, gab with each other, banter with the bartender, whispering in some scenes or, later in the afternoon, acting in complete silence.
It gave me an odd sensation — as though I suddenly had become a super hero and acquired hearing that allowed me to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation across a crowded room.
But if the setting was artificial, the crew and cast couldn’t have been more genuine.
Far from being cool and brusque, as I imagined might be the case with pros under pressure, they were down-to-earth and kind even while racing to complete the 22nd of 23 shoots. They befriended and advised my excited son, who was already rattling off details about the cameras, stands, lights and filters to me, inspiring him even further.
Ted couldn’t believe it when one of the leads, Dax Spanogle, came over on a break. Despite looking tired — you try staging a fight over and over for hours in a sweatbox — he chatted with Ted like old pals, asking him about his projects and sharing tips about filmmaking.
Folmar also took time to say hello, thanking Ted for his work while delivering maybe the best lines of the day. “Nice to have you on the set,” he said. “Glad you could be here.”
Then there was Isaac March, the production manager who got us in the door — and Ted closer to the action than he ever dreamed. Spanogle was going to shatter a “sugar glass” prop bottle over his assailant’s head, and the crew needed someone to hold the pool table’s overhead light away from the camera.
Just before the take, March suddenly pulled Ted to the table — a PA’s shining moment. And that’s how my fuzz-cheeked 16-year-old, who had been handing water bottles to actors between takes, came to be standing near a cursing thug being clocked with a bottle in a honky-tonk. Please don’t call youth services.
After 11 steamy hours, it was a wrap — but not before Ted was asked to run the fog machine for the climactic scrap, and we both finally got to be in the movies.
By that late hour, Ted could have joined me as another needed body on the dance floor, but he was asked to act as the country band’s sound engineer while he operated the machine. Meanwhile, the first assistant director placed me on the floor, empty bottle in hand, whooping it up to the band on stage, for when the bar fighters staggered into the crowd. I figure her artistic judgment was impaired by fatigue, but a break is a break.
As luck would have it, I got to stand out — for an extra. The scene called for one brother, played by Daniel MacPherson, to plow through the jeering crowd to rescue his sibling. The cinematographer had me stand shoulder to shoulder with another guy, the camera right in front of us. The plan was for MacPherson to burst between us, fling me aside, then explode forward like a bowling ball through pins as the camera retreated before him.
That’s just how it happened. I thought for sure I would be squarely in the frame — Boozy Dancer No. 11, Hollywood here I come. The director reviewed the take, and it was a keeper. You could see me clearly.
From the neck down.
“Awesome shoulder,” a fellow extra said.
I’m glad I kept my day job.
Chris Rosenblum writes about local people, places and events. Send ideas to chrisrosenblum@comcast .net.