An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part Two

An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part TwoPaul W Franklin writes for Bleeding Cool about the life of an Extra.

"It's called War Horse, let's get to the war!"

This is what someone called out in the cinema when I went to see the film on the big screen last night, and while I don't normally approve of audience members voicing their opinions during the show, I felt he had a point, and one most people there seemed to share. Now I know this isn't strictly a film review column, but for what it's worth, here's my brief opinion:

What a pile of fucking shit.

Seriously, Steven, I'm appalled. I'm embarrassed to put my name to such a load of hog-crap (even if my name's not actually there, but whatever). The trailer was awful and rather pointless but I trusted in you, I had faith that no matter how incessantly gallopy the horse was or how strange and perverted that boy seemed, somehow it would all come together and make a triumphant, moving piece of cinema that would have even really manly men stifling a chesty sob. But no. Mostly I was stifling myself from shouting Tourettes-like outbursts at what I was witnessing, and apologising to the people around me on your behalf.
I would say 'Spoiler alert' but it's already been spoilt, like a dog shitting on a white suede couch: I've no idea why the young boy's Dad buys the damn horse in the first place; and I can't see how the boy is so in love with it from the very moment it's born. It's not natural. Even posh girls called Tilly or Henrietta don't adore their horses as much as Albert, who sobs like a girl when he has to sell it to the Army. Ok yeah, he brought it up and, er, taught it how to walk in a circle. Great. But people don't really relate to horses! Not many people have horses. You can't cuddle a horse. It doesn't fetch things or greet you like you're the best person in the world.

War Dog would've been a much better film.

He doesn't even give it a cool name. You name a horse, you call it Arthur or Excalibur or Spartacus. Not fucking Joey. That's a kangaroo's name.

In fact, War Kangaroo would've been a better film. And there could be a baby in the pouch and it could leap out and slaughter Germans like Scrappy Fucking Do, and the big one could chomp a cigar and mutter cool things like 'Let's bounce' after lobbing a grenade into an enemy trench.

But no, they went and made a sentimental dollop of stinking manure that feels like a straight-to-video Disney movie, like The Incredible Journey 2. A ridiculously far-fetched load of pants that's even harder to swallow than Love Actually, that attempts to be both funny and serious but fails miserably at both. This abomination should've stayed on the stage, Mr Curtis should never have been allowed near the script, and no producer should've ever greenlit it.

In summary: They should've made E.T. Returns.

Anyway, rant over. I feel relieved, like a soldier who's stepped on a land-mine, only to find it's a cheap imitation made in China and it failed to go off.

Where were we?

Oh yeah. So I was in this film. And, embarrassingly, my Dad  – bless him – always makes more of these events than I do (okay maybe I'm just modest because frankly my Supporting Acting is top bloody class) and tells friends and relatives that I'm in them. So my Auntie, who's probably not been to the cinema since they made movies in Technicolor, texted me and asked how she could spot me.

Maybe if you ask the projectionist to pause it, I replied.

But that's not why I do it. Not to be spotted on the Big Screen. No, I'm a professional, sweetie, I'm all about my characters. All three of them. Three! A Scotsman, an Englishman and a German (sounds like the beginning of a joke…) If I were a proper actor, agents would call me 'Versatile'. After the quagmire of the trenches, location shifted to Bourne Woods, the place in the forest where it all started for me many months back on Robin Hood: Prince of Dodgy Accents. [link?]

Swapping the skirt for trousers, I proudly played my role as a Prisoner of War behind the German lines. There was nothing exciting about this role whatsoever. What made it even less exciting was that us POWs in the pen were what you call 'Deep Background'. Might sound like a covert U.S. mission, but it's not. Basically we were so far behind the horses and guns and men and tents and smoke and other shit that we could do what the hell we liked.
Gently does it, though. At first you do what you've been told to do (walk around and chat a bit), and then you realise the camera's in the next county and gradually start pissing around, from tripping each other up, to skipping like pansies, to simulating dominating sexual behaviour in the corner.

Yes, watch the DVD in HD on a 50" screen and you might just catch me pretending to face-fuck Tom in a fenced enclosure about 200m behind the big artillery gun.

If only my father could see me now… or my Auntie…

As it happens I wasn't meant to be a POW, I was meant to be a German soldier who I'd been fitted for previously, but as usual I wandered into Costume while most people had already headed towards set, and couldn't find half my uniform. Apparently someone had thought that – despite my kit being clearly labelled – I didn't need it, and half-inched it for themselves. Imagine if you arrived 3 minutes late for your office job only to find that someone had taken your desk because they thought you weren't using it? Absurd.

So I was handed an English POW costume, and it was thanks to this that rather than marching back and forth in some kind of formation, I was showing my colleague who The Daddy was and letting him feel the full force of my imaginary bayonet.

The last day of filming came. For me, not just the last day of this particular movie but of the foreseeable future. I virtually skipped onto set like a Disney singalong cartoon with bluebirds ecstatically chirping, even though it was still raining (and yes I had fucking noticed). But I didn't care, not for a while anyway. Until about lunchtime.

I had my dindins under a tree which just about managed to keep most of the drips off, although any that got in the gravy were a blessing: it was a bit thick. I took my sweet time over that and then sauntered up to get dessert. Sponge pudding and custard, mmm. [Ever since the Robin Hood Pudding Incident, dessert seemed a lot more common on shoots, and was nearly always accompanied by custard.] And then an A.D.  – my favourite kinda person in the World – told me to hurry up and get back because my 10 minutes were long over.

Here we go, The Horror is slithering its ugly way into my Soul, I can feel it…

Ah, the toilets! I could duck in there away from the rain and the Gestapo and enjoy my pudding in peace. But no, the Gents was shut for cleaning! Oh well, the Ladies was empty and would do just fine. Just as I climbed the slippery steps, a female crew member rather sharply interrupted me:

"That's the Ladies!"

I know, the Gents is shut, I stated with a mouthful of sponge.

"You're not serious!"

Don't worry, I won't piss on the seat.

She looked at me like I'd just shat in her undies drawer, and continued to rant while I disappeared into the far cubicle and enjoyed my pudding in a dry and refreshingly clean lavatory, engulfed in wafts of lemon scent. Which rather added to the dessert's taste actually.
What is it with women going mad when a man uses their loo, but it's apparently fine and a bit amusing for them to do vice versa when they're desperate? Some of us are house-trained, you know? I can even do a 40-degree wash. Can't iron it, mind… That's definitely a genetic thing. Women can iron, men can throw balls…

Anyway, now the easily-offended female readers have no doubt left (as if they didn't do so after the face-fucking bit) I can talk about marching and stunts and men's stuff. The main scene of the day was one where lots of us pointy-helmet-sporting Germans marched in a long double-file line and some crazy Kraut on a horse galloped alongside and yoiked his mate (thankfully a smallish teenager) onto Joey – yes, Joey, because by this point he's in the hands of these two war-shy Germans and they fancy him almost as much as Albert, and conveniently they speak English too –  while a large quad-bike followed with the camera.

I've never seen so many people nearly get kicked by a horse.

I was somewhere very close to the stunt, and, well, I'll say this: Rather you than me, mate.

Jumping, albeit aided, onto the backside of a cantering horse is not how I'd really like to spend my afternoons. Not when, after about the third attempt, you almost make it, but then slip off again and the rear left hoof misses your tumbling head by about 4 inches. No thanks.
Not only was that poor little chap in mortal danger but the soldiers in his vicinity weren't exactly what you'd class as 'safe'. I wonder what Health & Safety would class it as…. Wherever they are… Oh that's right they're nowhere to be seen. No doubt too busy helpfully informing the public that wet surfaces may be slippery.

Finally, the stuntmen got it right – to a warm round of applause and mild sighs of relief from those of us who came shoulder-to-flank with the beast.

And then the moment came.

The moment which could lead to my escape. Naturally some of us soldiers broke rank to have a look at the escaping fugitive, and Spielbo wanted someone who could speak German to shout 'Get back in line!' to them.

This was my chance! My chance to shine!

Maybe someone would notice me. Maybe someone would spot how convincingly I could speak German and employ me in Spielberg's next film, which would no doubt involve Germans at some point. Failing that, I'd perhaps get cast as a secondary actor in a porno. My way out!

But no.

No, disappointingly my German failed me (unusual for Germans, they're normally so reliable…). I studied it for three years and I can ask where the airport is or complain that my car has broken down ('mein Auto ist Kaputt') but at that crucial moment, when my education should've rescued me, the important words failed me. I knew that I should've known how two say it, but like a dream where I wanted to scream but couldn't, it just wouldn't come.

I'd blown it. I sulked back into line and we shot the scene with one of the officers bellowing it in English.

And then that was that. The shout of 'That's a wrap!' went up and then, quite to our surprise, Mr Spielberg himself gave a little speech to all of us Extr… Supporting Artistes, thanking us for the hard work, the long hours and tolerating the crappy weather. Nice to be finally acknowledged, I thought. There are several photos around – including one taken by me – showing Steven in a Parker jacket while a hundred dirty, grinning faces surround him, and I'd show you one but they're all from mobile phones and blurry as hell. Maybe that's just how it's meant to be…

I traipsed back to the marquee with a mixture of emotions – relief, joy, and even a touch of sadness – and my mind turned to what the Hell I was going to do from there. The words 'Proper Job' nagged at my brain like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but I quickly shook them off.

Maybe I could write about this? I pondered.

Yeah, maybe I could! Maybe I could be a writer and recount these adventures in the near-ish future so people can share the fun? And so I did. "And where can I find these epic tales?" you might ask, like the last line of a Roald Dahl book.

Well, you've just finished reading them.


Next time: There is no next time. Paul W Franklin is a pseudonym.

An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part Two An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part Two An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part Two An Extra Life On… War Horse, Part Two

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.