One of my favorite writing jobs was as a staff writer for Civil War News. My scribbling pencil was seen at historic sites all over the nation covering living history events, documentaries, and even (as seen here a genuine Hollywood movies). Officially my role was as a background artiste (meaning extra).j Being an extra has about as much status on the set as being a dummy, except they recognize that we did require food and water. On the set of Andersonville we learned that cardboard cutouts of prisoners were valued more by the production than we living bits of background scenery. Oh, the humanity! There are long hours of mind-numbing repetition in the broiling sun or having hoses spray fake rain on you. Even though we were wearing wool in extremely hot situations and were grimy from camping the makeup people slathered fake sweat and dirt on us. On various sets I've been bombarded with fake arrows shot out of a cannon, missed getting my head stepped on by Andrew Pryne's skittish horse, heard Martin Sheen comforting a kid who had passed out from the heat, and generally just had a lot of fun watching how the whole process works. We played a tot of cards and there were many practical jokes to go around. It really was a land of make-believe.
I learned on the set of Killer Angels that you don't get smart with the director. We had just spent a morning "filming" troops on the march. Basically I believe we were texturing a road with out footprints. The director came out and asked us to switch to Confederate uniforms for the next shoot. I asked the director, "Hey since this is Turner Network Television, why don't you just colorize us?" (Some of you may remember that in those days Ted Turner was colorizing all the old black and white movies.) In the next scene the director had me taking a hit and falling into a puddle in the road (there were no puddles at Gettysburg) but he had one made. To top it off Andrew Pryne was given a horse that was afraid of two things, lots of people and loud noises. So being in a scene with about a thousand extras shooting muskets and cannon were the perfect place for such an animal. I took my medicine and did the scene with the horse almost stepping on me more than once. We did twelve takes and none of them appear in the movie.
Well, paybacks are hell. Since we were working on Killer Angels I decided to have fun with that. I interviewed people and kept asking them if they thought it sounded like a more appropriate name for a biker movie. I showed up at the prop department at 5:00 am asking for a set of leathers and a Harley. The crowning achievement came when I found out that there was an actual Bikers gathering nearby in the town of Gettysburg. I convinced a bunch of the bikers to come out and try and become extras. Back at you Ron Maxwell! It took a while but the name of the movie was changed to Gettysburg. So I never got to be in a biker movie and the T-shirt they gave me that says "Killer Angels" is now a priceless piece of memorabilia.
You would be hard pressed to see me throughout any of the four movies I participated in. I am very proud that my scribbling pencil did get a closeup in Gods and Generals as the prop-master borrowed it for a map scene. I have to admit that my pencil handled the scene brilliantly and was a much better actor than i ever hoped to be. In fact, what the real actors do is magical and they have me respect for being able to do what they do.
In the upper image I'm working on Crazy Horse with one of the many stars on the project Wes Studi (one of my personal favorite stars). For those who have not met Wes he projects a daunting image. So much so that when I caught him he was sitting all alone on a hill. I probably was messing up some Zen preparation for his next scene but he put up with me. The stoney personage is part of his craft as he is a most personable person. Several years after this Wes was the master of ceremonies at a Western Writers Association convention and sat up into the wee hours of the morning playing guitar and at times leading a sign along.
In the image to the right I'm on the set of Gods and Generals meeting Steven Lang, who portrayed Stonewall Jackson. Steven was crazy fun on the set and really got in to whatever character he played. He was good to us living props and we all appreciated his good humor. By the way my scene-stealing pencil is in that little book.
Thanks for the memories.