Paul W Franklin writes weekly for Bleeding Cool about the life of an Extra.
"Anyone who can't get it right this time will feel my dick in their arse! It's not big but there's a lot of weight behind it."
Another day in the life of an Extra, another day of casual sexual harassment. This time we found our alarms going off at Fuck No o'Clock to spend a couple of days learning how to march. The film it was in aid of?
Something called Frostbite.
Doesn't take a genius to work out that this wasn't a Scott of the Antarctic adventure, and even a Supporting Artiste – intellectually-challenged that we are, of course – could use a famous search-engine-cum-verb to figure out that this was really Captain America.
Captain America: The First Avenger, to be exact.
For those early scenes, where a certain young recruit is chosen to don that infamous stars-n-stripes spandex, a whole bunch of post-war Marines were needed. And so, in the summer of 2010, the selected few (probably picked out because we had a particular letter in our name, not any military disposition) found ourselves performing drills around a dusty, thistley, high-pollen-count-y backlot of Shepperton Studios, in the middle of a rare English heatwave.
Marching? you might be thinking, what's so hard about that? It's like a noncier version of walking. In theory, yes, but you'd be surprised how hard people find it. Even if there were guys with real military experience (and there's always some twat who served a year in the T.A. and thinks he's Rambo), we all had to be taught the American way of marching. It's very different from British marching. Listen:
"Left, right, left, right, left, right, leeeeft!"
That would be British. Nice clean, crisp orders and a rather stiff, formal action. Also, according to everyone around the world who isn't British, this is how we make love. (For a negotiable price I'll show you otherwise.) Now witness the trans-Atlantic version:
"… Right, left…. Left, right, leeeft, riight!"
Quite different huh? Yeah the Yanks like to sing a bit, with the pitch of a canary and the intonation of a Chinaman. The action itself is also much more relaxed: the US have a looser style that's more of a strut, a swagger.
No doubt they think they invented marching.
Our instructors on that fine day were the aforementioned man with butt-fucking fetish, a portly English bloke, ex-military of some description, whose name I can't remember, so let's call him Sergeant Buttfucker (a name guaranteed to induce fear into the troops), and a former US Marine, a little bit of a redneck, with a name like Billy-Jo. Or Jo-Billy. No I think it actually was Billy-Jo. I didn't ask what his eight siblings are called.
Once we'd split into squads and lined up in ranks of three (you'd be amazed how long that took), my gang went for a bit of a march, while the others did some physical exercises. Ok, maybe I was at an advantage since I've done a bit of Cadets at school, or maybe i'm just naturally co-ordinated (I can pat my head and rub my tummy, fuck yeah), but it's a wonder armies ever get any fighting done when there's a high percentage of grown men who don't seem capable of doing the whole left-right-left-right thing in time. Seriously, I wonder how these people eat. It's a miracle they don't regularly poke a fork in their fucking eye.
Once we'd reached a reasonable level of non-shitness at Advanced Walking, my squad switched to Advanced Gym Exercises. Yes, star-jumps and press-ups. Or push-ups, I should probably call them. There is no sight finer than dozens of adult males in uniform performing star-jumps in perfect unison, hands clamourously slapping on thighs with each down-stroke.
That sight was not witnessed that day.
What was observed was more akin to 100 stranded fish collectively flapping and drowning on a beach. My particular highlight, though, were the push-ups. You remember the thistles I mentioned? Having just about managed to avoid shin-trauma from marching through them, I had a painful encounter with one during the exercises. Standing at-ease, we then came to attention and – not exactly in unison – fell to our hands and performed that familiar down/up action at Sgt Buttfucker's command, again not entirely in unison. It was then I discovered the thistle right below my crotch.
As its prickly prongs embedded themselves in my helmet – the non-Army-issue one – I dutifully gritted my teeth and stuck to the task. (If they ever make a Captain Britain, I should be the lead…) Go with the pain, go with the pain I thought as I repeatedly went down on that thistle and it did unspeakable things in return. It's no worse than you've experienced at those clubs in Vauxhall. Deal with it.
What's that? My eyes are watering? Oh, that's just hayfever.
At the end of the day, we had the pleasure of a visit from someone from Marvel, all the way from the States, who addressed us as we stood in line (we managed to form a single rank without too much trouble). He then proceeded to tell us that 'Frostbite' (he wouldn't even admit it was really Captain America, when we all knew it) was Top Secret. "You're not allowed to speak about it, Facebook about it, Tweet about it, tell your mums or girlfriends or friends about it. You do not take photos of yourselves or the set. We have people whose sole job it is to search the internet and find people doing that. If you're caught out, you'll be off the film and won't be paid."
Yikes, Uncle Scooby!
A week later, I realised this was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard…
After our brief course on How To Be A Convincing Marine, we changed location from the arse-end of Shepperton to the woods out the back of Pinewood Studios. Funnily enough, most of the trees were pines. Isn't it interesting how places get their names? Shepperton is an amalgamation of Shepherd's Town, and there are still a fair few sheep around the studios (I don't mean the Extras, I mean actual sheep in the surrounding fields). And of course Captain America combines to form, er, Frostbite.
They continued to give it that name, as if still trying to pull our own wool over our dozy eyes.
I can understand why they wouldn't want us to leak photos or information about it, fine. But here's the thing that makes all of this, and what that nice man from Marvel said, so utterly ridiculous:
These are public woods.
We filmed in a clearing amongst the pines, a convergence of several signposted footpaths, which anybody in the world is free to perambulate. On that patch of open grass were military tents, billets, vehicles, a few hundred troops, oh and of course cameras and crew. This was no Area 51, you would not be shot on sight. There wasn't even a stripey tape around the perimeter. Therefore, members of the public were entirely able to approach and take photos. Or even videos. Quite openly and freely. But if I were to have got my phone out and snapped away, I'd've been out of there quicker than you could say 'Inconsistency'.
Of course, if a member of public asked one of the crew what was being filmed, they'd say Frostbite. If they asked one of us, we'd tell them Captain America. Oopsie.
Anyway, on to the filming! That heatwave I mentioned was still going (for the non-British amongst you, two days or more of hot weather on the trot is considered a heatwave; every other country calls it 'Summer'). The sun beat down like a… hot beaty thing, whilst we marched and did exercises under its cruel rays, in much warmer kit than we wore on the training day, obviously. In our groups of various sizes we rehearsed marching, star-jumps, push-ups, loitering (those lucky loitering bastards!) and a few poor fuckers had to shoulder-press logs of wood.
[On a side note, how on earth do anti-perspirant manufacturers get away with promising you '48-Hour Active Sport Dryness Protection' bollocks when they never bloody work?]
Some of the Extras were even selected to be amongst the New Recruits, the group including our hero, Steve Rogers, as they're put through their paces. This was a much sought-after honour, but I suspect those picked were probably wishing they'd skulked in the background (my speciality) as they spent the entire three days' filming doing push-up after star-jump after push-up in the heat, with nowhere to shelter in between takes. The rest of us were able to slink off to shade as soon as 'Cut' was yelled. Not worth the extra 100 quid if you ask me.
So you've probably seen the movie. This is the 'grenade' scene, where Chris Evans and the other rookies do some exercises, and he is picked out to be the titular First Avenger. Except, it's not Chris Evans, it's some skinny stranger. But then they re-shot the whole thing with the real Chris Evans. Huh?
You probably guessed it, but they CGI'd Chris's face onto the weedy guy afterwards. I would've expected him to starve for a few months, shoot those scenes, then go on the Beefcake diet and stack on the muscle. But no. That's not proper acting if you ask me. Christian Bale would've done it…
And then Tommy Lee Jones turned up, late afternoon on the second day, and couldn't remember his lines.
Honestly, these people are bloody amateurs. Amateurs I tell you! Us Background mostly get our shit right first time, yet these overpaid divas have days to learn a few lines and can't utter them correctly. And it's not like he was reciting a Shakespearean soliloquy either. Pffft. Amateurs.
Ah, but then some other guy turned up to act alongside Mr Jones, some relative newbie, and he was great. Quite old guy, played a General of some sort. Stanley? Oh, Stan Lee? Yeah, he was good, right on the money. What's that, he writes comics? Cool, anything I might've heard of?
As a little added bonus for you, I'm going to write about X-Men: First Class, since there's not really a whole column's worth to write home about. Not that I actually write home about it. No, my Dad thinks I have a proper job in a bank. Sshh. So I'm going to quickly cover it here. Think of it as the out-takes they sometimes show during the credits of a film. Okay:
For some reason unclear to me, loads of big 'Hollywood' films are shot in the UK around London. Maybe it's cheaper (unlikely), maybe our crew are better and harder-working (possibly), or perhaps our Supporting Artistes are just the Mutt's Nuts (absolutely). Whichever, the second half of 2010 there were about five major productions going on, all overlapping with each other, including the above two films, some nonsense about pirates, and one each by Speilberg and Scorsese (covered by yours truly in the near future).
At the start of X-Men there's a very wet scene in the Nazi camp. This was nothing short of horrible. Two days strolling about in the rain in sodden trench coats. Not actual rain, but water from 'rain machines', which sound like some dastardly device from Despicable Me but are in fact glorified sprinklers. And because it was October, that water was really rather cold. And at the end of the day the tight-fisted production people tried to scam us out of the extra money we're meant to get for a wet-weather performance. This is when you hear all sorts of bullshit excuses like 'It wasn't that wet' or 'Oh that's only if it's actual rain…'. Fuckers. Eventually we struck a deal along the lines of 'If you don't give us the extra money we'll not turn up tomorrow.' It worked. Vive la Revolution. Pay attention, Qantas.
After that, thankfully we were indoors, in a club in the West End of London. You know those ones around Leicester Square that only foreigners go to because real Londoners know they're shit? One of those. This would be the scene with the MILF from Mad Men where the booth swivels round into the secret room behind. I spent most of the time sat down, perving at my leisure at Miss Jones and the other beauties around us, which was a blissful contrast to the rainy scene. Or any day as an Extra, really.
And now I'd like to introduce you to a colleague of mine, a comrade in the arena of peripheral blurs, Dave (who for reasons of anonymity I will simply refer to as 'D'). In a break from filming, he begged permission from an A.D. to go to the loo. Not entirely knowing of their whereabouts, he approached one of the hot female hostesses to ask where they were. Before he even opened his mouth, she saw him approaching her and said:
"Ha! In your dreams"
then rolled her eyes and walked off.
Yep, Fuck His Life.
Next time: Children, animals, tight costumes and hiding in toilets on The Invention of Hugo Cabret.