So at the grocery store, I ran into a friend who worked all summer on a movie being filmed here. Lately she’s been arranging the “pick up scenes” – doing everything from gathering props to gathering people as extras. She called later that evening to ask would I want to be a “crazy old lady” – who could resist that? I did at first, but then said yes with some trepidation.
My friend said to show up at 4 p.m. at the Peace Field. The field slopes uphill at the four-way stop into town, and driving by you can see a large peace symbol of mown grass or blooming flowers, and an old moss-covered shed collapsed into a pile of weathered boards. A smaller shed still stands.
When I arrived I found my friend by her pickup, its cab and bed filled with various movie-making stuff from makeup to costumes. Soon the young cinematographer, the director, and the writer (the movie is based on his play) arrived and described our scene. In the movie, we extras, three women of a certain age, play even older women in a far earlier time – peasants in a “not happy village” – a flashback to an Eastern European village just before the war.
A huge truck stood nearby and two enormous, well-behaved draft horses patiently gazed out the back. They usually work hauling the trees their master fells – they go where trucks cannot. As we waited, the horses and their driver began to practice their route – up the hill past the little cabin.
My costume seemed a variation on my everyday-layered look. The young wardrobe mistress (from her collection of baggy sweaters, and skirts she’d made from bed sheets) bedecked me in a thick sweater with cut-off arms. A dun-colored tablecloth served as my skirt, with a dull orange sash at my waist. A baggy navy blue cardigan with my own two sweaters stuffed at my shoulders became a hump of sorts, and wool leggings (striped gray cloth cut in strips) wrapped around my shoes. I’d brought a gray paisley shawl, which covered my head, except where my friend ratted my hair to make snarls.
Messy liquid makeup darkened our skin, and we “emphasized what we already have” as one of the other village women said, by drawing over our wrinkles with a black pencil. My friend smudged us a bit with charcoal from her fire pit.
The other two women got chickens to hold, and the director whittled a cane for me. I stood near a sign for the village, and was told to be “a little crazy,” not as in wild and crazy, but not so calm as the other women – twitchy.
Before I get carried away here, I must point out, as the director did, that IF this scene makes it into the movie, it will be a mere three seconds long, but will likely end up on the “cutting room floor.”
Nonetheless, the experience had all those movie words we know. The cinematographer called: “Action, rolling!” and the horses started out from behind me. Their harnesses jingled. I turned without thinking, squinted my eyes and grimaced. “Cut!” The director crossed the field and instructed me to only “hint at turning” (he’d lose my face with all that tangled hair and smudged charcoal). “Action, rolling!” repeated three or four times from slightly different camera angles.
It is surprisingly exciting to be somebody else for even a brief moment, and feel a smidge of the magic dust that must captivate people who are part of movie making. In all the pauses between takes I wondered why my character stood apart from the other women, why so much charcoal on my skirt, why so bent? Was I afraid of the horses or happy about them? And not thinking with any vanity about one’s appearance is novel, relishing wrinkles, poor posture, old hands.
Some close up shots of each of us, and then it was over – for us. But it wasn’t over for the crew. In that couple of hours I got a feel for how much work is involved in this slow, careful, creative – and collaborative – process. I enjoyed that – being around the camaraderie of the crew – friendly, hardworking, and gracious to the volunteers.
When I got home, my good-natured husband suggested dinner in town since I was “so late on the set.” On the way back into town, the field was empty except for the small cabin, all the make-believe gone – no horses or old women – just the beautiful Peace Field in September sun.