I think deep down inside I had been looking for an excuse to wear some camoflauge pants. Maybe that's why when my buddy Jared called me a week ago to tell me the people shooting "Church Ball" needed extras, I knew I had to get involved. After three years of high school drama and a year of acting in college, I had flirted with but never actually crossed over into the realm of professional acting. Perhaps now was the time.
Despite several periodic visits to a number of local talent agencies, I have never gone so far as to actually sign on, mostly because of the thousand dollars of acting lessons they require or the five hundred dollars worth of head shots they want. But jumping on as a movie extra for a day sounded harmless, plus it would give me something to write about, so I called up the number Jared gave me, and twenty-four hours later, both of us became movie stars.
"Church Ball" is the latest in a line of LDS-themed comedies by the Hale guys, a series that has already featured "Singles Ward" and "The RM". Unlike the others, this one is a period piece, set in 1988, so the casting director told us to wear 80's clothes.
Enter the camoflauge pants.
Thanks to a DI run and a closet dig, Jared and I managed to come up with some pretty legitimate 80's outfits. We also happened to be among the few extras that day that actually lived in the 80's. Most of the people there were 13-year-old girls; the whole thing looked like a Cindy Lauper look-alike contest.
Jared was able to secure his look with a pair of dockers, a knit shirt, a pair of wicker sandals, and most importantly, a maroon Member's Only jacket. He combed his hair in a more 80's-friendly style, but I didn't have that option. In order to justify a shaved head in 1988, I picked up some camo pants, a jean vest, and wore my Ramones t-shirt to create a sort of Menudo-Sgt. Slaughter hybrid look. (See below)
The classic irony of the whole thing was that it was filmed at the church I actually used to play church ball games at four years ago, out on 8th East and 9th South in Salt Lake. Of course, they had transformed the place into a scene I never had at any of my games.
Balloons were everywhere, hanging from the ceiling, floating off the walls, and even built into a huge arc in front of the bleachers the extras sat on. The only balloons at any of my games were the broken balloons of my athletic dreams. The walls were covered with banners championing either Mud Lake or Crystal Hills, the apparent opponents in this championship duel. It was clear from the banners and the uniforms the cast members wore that Mud Lake is the rag-tag misfit underdog taking on the perennial highly-funded champion Crystal Hills team. Our role as extras was to pack the stands and be generic fans for the championship game.
Soon after arriving and being ushered onto the bleachers, we got some key instructions about our conduct for the day. Mostly they told us to just stay out of the way, and not to approach any of the actors unless they first approached us. We were also told our official title was "background artist". A guy named Dave introduced himself, telling us that he would provide any medical services we needed, and that shortly there would be food for us at a table to the side of the bleachers.
After he left, Jared nudged me.
"Hey, don't you think it's weird that he's both the medic and the food guy?"
I had to admit that was a bit strange.
From here we quickly learned the movie extra process: sit around bored while technicians wander around working on stuff. Even the actors looked bored. Jared and I entertained ourselves by making observations about the actors we recognized.
The previous Hale movies have been notorious for the high number of local celebrity cameos they've featured, but this movie actually had some legit Hollywood participation. Early on we recognized Clint Howard, brother of Ron "Opie Cunningham" Howard and frequent bit role actor. I recognized the continuity manager from her stint on an oft-repeated episode of GSN's "Dog Eat Dog". I tried to get a photo of Clint incognito, but I forgot to take my flash off and a couple of dirty looks from he and the "Dog Eat Dog" lady ended my pursuit.
We also recognized the third Wilson brother, better known as "Futureman" from "Bottle Rocket". Both Futureman and Clint were playing for Mud Lake. Without seeing or having participated in a single frame, I could have told you the whole story right there.
To keep us interested, some of the crew held a "Best 80's Costume" contest. Thanks to his jacket, Jared pulled a second-place finish in the guy's contest, and was awarded a DVD copy of "The RM", which he promptly bestowed on me. The girls contest held much stiffer competition since there were about three dozen Go-Go's groupies to choose from.
A little bored, and needing to stretch my still-broken ankle, I decided to take a spin down to the restroom. I brought the camera along in case I found anything interesting. Down in the bathroom I found this:
As if that wasn't cool enough, I went over to the stalls and saw this:
Anyone familiar with Dave Barry will remember his periodic commentaries on the "low-flow" toilets, designed to conserve water usage in our waste disposal systems. Yet here was a "dual-flush" unit, designed to flush two stalls simultaneously, literally doubling the water usage with every flush!
Beaming, I returned to my spot on the bleachers next to Jared, where we learned rule #2 about being a movie extra: after sitting around being bored for a long time, you sit around being bored for even longer.
Finally, after about two hours, they finally started getting ready to shoot at about 1pm. By that time, the rest of the cast had arrived. The rest of the Mud Lake team featured a dude that looked like Hulk Hogan and a short dude that turned out to be Gary "What You Talkin' Bout, Willis" Coleman. I even recognized my high school drama teacher Steve Anderson as well. The Mud Lake Bishop was played by Fred Willard of SCTV and "Waiting for Guffman" fame. They even pulled in Mark Eaton and Hot Rod Hundley to broadcast the game.
Jared and I had been careful to stake out a spot that we thought would get good screen time, but we wound up sitting behind this guy's afro:
It didn't matter though, because some girl came around and told me and Jared to move up to the very top of the bleachers, where there wasn't a snowballs chance in you-know-where of us being seen. I would have understood if she would have told me the light was reflecting off my head, but that wasn't the case. Faced with the prospect of sitting around for another eight hours in a dark unseen corner of the set, Jared and I were just about ready to bail.
Luckily they decided they would be better off grouping everyone together tightly on one end of the bleachers to make it look more crowded, and we all surrounded Fred Willard for some close-up reaction shots. We cheered and pumped our fist when our underdog Mud Laker's came out on the court and favored us with at least one gratuitous leopard-print speedo shot. The next couple of hours actually saw some filming, though the actual action shots of the game itself were scheduled to be shot over the next two days. My only chance at screen time came during a final shot where the fans are on the court after the game. I took the opportunity of potential actor-extra interaction to catch up with Mr. Anderson and meet Fred Willard:
Following that shot, the crew ushered in a couple dozen Papa John's pizzas to help make up for the fact that we weren't being paid to be there, and we all sat down to eat on the bleachers while the crew began shooting Mark and Hot Rod at the opposite end of the gym. When Hot Rod made an obscure reference to the War in Heaven at about 6pm, Jared and I decided to call it a day.
We had a standing offer to return for the next two days of filming, but I didn't figure it would get any better than getting to meet Fred Willard. We wanted to meet Futureman, but it seemed like he avoided the set whenever possible. We were just straight up afraid of Gary Coleman.
As far as impacting my acting aspirations, I figured out one thing: the next time I'm on a movie set, it will be as an actor. The thing about being an extra, besides the bored part, is the fact that I spent the whole time watching the actors and thinking to myself, "I could do that." The only question I need to answer is, "why don't I?" I mean, hey, I can pull off a gratuitous leopard-print speedo gag just as well as the next guy.