(Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard)
Last summer, I taught an online course called “American Revolution on Film.” In this class, students watched a variety of movies that focused upon the conflict, including America, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Howards of Virginia, Johnny Tremain, 1776, Revolution, The Patriot, and others. Students critiqued the historical accuracy of the films and focused particularly on the portrayals of George Washington and the common soldier, using James Thomas Flexner’s biography of Washington and Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin as the main readings. This class was also the first time I incorporated a different type of technology into instruction, as I was able to arrange for James Kirby Martin, editor of Ordinary Courage, to participate in an online chat with the class. The purpose of having Professor Martin chat with the class was twofold: to allow the students to converse with the editor of one of the assigned readings and to chat with someone whose most recent book (Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Nation and the American Revolution) was being made into a motion picture. Well, being the goofball that I am, I just happened to mention that I had experience wearing period costumes (which is true; I did work as a costumed interpreter at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site two summers and at Daniel Boone Homestead one summer) and could be an extra–and, well, Jim agreed and offered the students who participated in the chat the opportunity to be extras as well.
Fast forward to July 2011–full speed ahead with the movie, which will be called First Allies (http://firstalliesmovie.com). The Oneida Indian Nation (based in central New York) will be financing the production, which will have Sid Ganis as executive producer and Kees Van Ostrum as director. Jim is serving as historical consultant. The casting call for extras was on Monday, July 25 at the Event Center at Turning Stone Resort and Casino.
Upon arrival, each of the hopefuls received a card to fill out (different colors for different types of positions–extras, production assistants, etc.), along with a Consent and Release form authorizing the use of their likeness. I got a card for extras, and it definitely was quite detailed. I’m used to filling out forms that request your contact information; this was the first time I ever had to record my height, weight, eye and hair color, hair length, bust size, shoe size, dress and pants size, etc. I also had to indicate whether I was willing to cut my hair (anyone who knows me knows the answer to that question) and whether I was willing to wear a wig (sure–I’ve done it before for Halloween). Then the juicy stuff on the back of the card–occupation, employer, type of work I do or have done (guess who included “costumed interpretation”), ability to work outside, work for multiple days, visible tattoos (no tattoos here), special skills, and hobbies/interests. I think they asked everything except blood type, although I was tempted to note that while I do wear glasses, I don’t have to wear them while being filmed (I have Transitions lenses, which I don’t think were available in the eighteenth century).
Next came the information session. Rich King, the extras casting director, provided the group with some basic information–when filming will begin, how long they plan on filming, where filming may be taking place, etc. He briefly discussed the movie’s theme–the American Revolution from the perspective of the Native Americans, in this case the Oneida–and he said he thought it was based on a book, but wasn’t sure (I confirmed with him that it was, and later I gave him information on the book). He warned people that they would face 8-10 hour work days, and he advised everyone to bring a book if they get bored sitting around (I’m tempted to bring my copy of Forgotten Allies to re-read while waiting, unless I have papers to grade). He then notified everyone that they needed to be flexible and patient while on the set, and reminded them that while special skills are useful, people should not exaggerate (for instance, for horseback riding, he said it had to be more than riding a horse around the arena at a county fair–so I guess since my riding experience is limited to carousel horses it was best that I left that space blank). He concluded by telling everyone that we would be contacted in the next few weeks.
It definitely was an interesting experience at the casting call. Some people came dressed for the part–I saw several men costumed as frontiersmen from the 18th century (it was like seeing Henry Fonda in Drums Along the Mohawk), and several Native Americans showed up in traditional attire. They are looking for about 2,000 extras, and I suspect that they will have additional casting calls over the next few weeks if they didn’t get enough today. So soon I will find out when I will have to drive back to Turning Stone–or Fort Stanwix–for my moment on the big screen.