At some point long ago, it became a goal of mine to be on a movie set that had at least one giant explosion. I had absolutely no idea how I was going make this happen, and for the most part it was filed away along with my other “wouldn’t it be cool” fantasies.
Fast forward a few years to late summer, 2009. I was living in Austin, underemployed, and trying to pick up every bar shift I could to make ends meet. I knew that there’d recently been a casting call for Robert Rodríguez’s Machete, so I asked a friend who worked for a local talent agency to put a feeler out for me. She made one phone call on my behalf, and just like that, I was on the call sheet as an extra for the rest of the week. I guess it really is “who you know.”
Shortly after getting the news that I had the gig, a production assistant called me and explained that the first day would be a big political rally, held outdoors. She gave me a standard wardrobe request: no patterns, no logos, no bright colors and at least two full changes of clothes. The next morning, I was outside a church in downtown Austin at 5:30 am, waiting in line to check-in. After a second check-in and some more waiting, they called all extras to the set.
We were led to the capital building, which meant that cops were on hand to re-route traffic throughout the day. I quickly realized the logistical nightmares productions like this can create.
The scene that day involved a speech by Senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro) and ended in a botched assassination attempt. After waiting on the sidelines, I was given my spot in the crowd — close to the podium, where DeNiro’s body-double had been standing for the better part of an hour. “The most exciting day of your life is your first day on a movie set,” he enthusiastically called to us. “The most boring day of your life is your second day on a movie set.”
We shot a number of takes, with DeNiro’s double miming a speech while someone in the crew called out lines to get the various reactions they needed. Then, we had to cower and scramble for a few takes, as if someone had just opened fire on the rally. After that, there was a close-up shot of a squib going off on a stuntman’s leg, followed by a few more takes of the extras scurrying for cover.
Finally, DeNiro emerged — the Godfather himself. He stepped to the podium and gave his speech two-and-a-half times. Next, they shot a couple quick takes of him limping off stage (as if he’s just been shot in the leg) while escorted by Secret Service agents. In the movie, he speeds off in a limo. Given that it was DeNiro’s last scene to shoot, I’ve always wondered if that limo kept going all the way to Austin-Bergstrom International.
When everything was put together, along with some scenes from the original Grindhouse trailer, it ended up looking like this.
The rest of my time as an extra took place on the Troublemaker Studios lot up in North Austin, which had been dressed to look like the home base for what was they called “a redneck militia.” It wasn’t all rednecks though, Predators was filming at the same time, so part of the set had a much different look. Days would alternate between the milling around in the background (or foreground) of scenes, and huge set pieces with groups of extras pretending to fight.