Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I was a Disney Extra...

I always thought of extra as something you don't need. like extra cream in your coffee, or extra whipped cream on a sundae. But in the movie world, extras are really important. At least that is what the Disney folks said to us, the extras who showed up for the filming of Secretariat, who was the Triple Crown winner in 1973. When he won, it had been 25 years since the last winner and it was historically significant because he won by 31 lengths!

The movie being made by Disney was filming in Lexington at Keenland this week and they needed extras. I wasn't busy, so I made myself a 70s style top, dug out my 70's jewelry, did my best Farrah Fawcett hairdo and off I went.

They were very disorganized, so it took some time to figure out where I had to go. Finally I found the cold upper deck section of the grandstands reserved for the extras who are essential to the production. I mean, what good is it to have a champion race horse winning the Triple Crown if no-one cheers him home. And believe, me we cheered ourselves silly.

First, we were not really at Keenland according to the movie-makers; it had been changed to Belmont in New York. So, the race we were watching was supposed to be the race where Secretariat won the Triple Crown, the climax of the whole movie, and we were there to cheer him on. And cheer we did.

We cheered from the rail, we cheered from the box seats, we cheered from the upper deck area [every section], we cheered from the benches, we cheered when the horses were re-enacting the win, and we cheered when there were no horses at all [which felt totally ridiculous, but we were acting, right?], and we cheered silently when we were told to do so.

I actually scored a sign along the way [not many signs to go around] and mine had a line drawing of a horse head with the words "Triple Crown." So, if you see the movie, look for a crazy middle age woman with a blue batik top with huge sleeves and big hair carrying a Triple Crown sign. That will be me! I held that sign way above my head right at the finish line while I cheered my heart out, so maybe that will be a freeze frame or something and you can pick out my sign.

When they filmed a paddock scene another lady and I lead a cheer, "GO BIG RED" till we were about hoarse [pun intended]. Luckily I am a very experienced talker with lots of stamina, so when others were losing their voices, I kept cheering. I was also a back ground person in another paddock scene. I had the important job of chatting with three other ladies in an informal way. Not much acting there, except we couldn't actually make any noise [very difficult!].

A couple of funny things that made me laugh:
  • There was an older man with very non-70's facial hair. He was told he could be an extra if he didn't mind losing the beard. He didn't mind, so a Disney guy whipped out a cordless razor and shaved him right there.
  • There were a lot of cops--well really extras pretending to be cops and security guys. The funny thing was a lot of the extras thought they were real cops so it was hilarious listening to people asking them cop-related questions. Some said, "Hey, I work in an office, I never wore a uniform till today," while others played along and gave semi-cop answers.
  • One black gentleman had about the best costume there in my opinion. He was tall and thin, about my age, and had a powder blue polyester leisure suit, a striped polyester shirt with a wife-beater underneath, a striped blue fedora, a HUGE Polaroid camera around his neck, and ponytail. His name was Earl. I was next to him in one shot and said I loved his hat. I asked if it was his or Disney's. He said it was all his, the whole outfit. Another man asked why he still had a leisure suit [the guy who asked was in a Disney suit, brown leisure and he said he hoped no one smoked, he was afraid the suit would melt on him]. Earl said he also had a purple and green one at home. He said he puts on his outfit, and a Fender Guitar and goes to parties to liven them up. We thought he meant he played the guitar in a band, but no, he uses the guitar as a prop, it was his dad's and he can't play a note. We all laughed when he then removed his hat and the ponytail was attached to it-he was really very clean cut.
  • Since there were only a few hundred of us but we needed to look like thousands in the stands, we had to keep changing locations to cheer. Then they will splice it together and make it look like there was a huge crowd. Someone at Disney got the great idea that the extras who had played the horse owners in the earlier paddock scene should not be sitting in the grandstands with the rest of us, in case they were spotted. It would look weird to have them sitting with the crowd, so a Disney guy yelled to all of us, "Are there any horse owners here?" Well, this is Kentucky, and it is a movie about horses, so about 1/3 of the people started to stand up. The Disney guy's jaw dropped, he shook his head, smiled and dropped his head--then he looked up and said, "I mean, is there anyone in the stands who PLAYED a horse owner in the paddock scene we shot today." Oh! About everyone sat down and one guy yelled from the back, "I own a beagle, does that count?"
  • Another guy from Disney asked, "Does anyone have hair pieces?" I mean, everyone looked at everyone else. If anyone did they were not going to admit it. So we all played dumb, then the guy said what he really meant [he said this very slowly, syllable by syllable], "Are there any men with mustaches or long sideburns?" Ahh, say what you mean. They pulled these guys and put them up front because they looked more 70's.
  • The camera crew actually dug a hole at the finish line to put one camera in so that it will [presumably] shoot the hooves when they cross the line.
All in all I was out there 12 hours, and you are not going to believe this, but:
  • There must have been 30-40 kids and not one kid was bad or obnoxious or whiny all day
  • Nobody smoked all day, but I didn't see any no-smoking signs. Not sure if Keenland is non-smoking or what, but it was weird to have hundreds of people and no smoking
  • Not one cell phone rung all day. Not one! Some folks called out on the phones in the lulls [most of the day was a lull] but not one phone rang.
All in all a fun and educational day. They did feed us, one large hot dog, one bag of chips [I got the Bar-B-Que], one large drink. The paid extras [I was unpaid, the basic difference was the money and the paid ones wore Disney clothes, we wore our own] were paid minimum wage [we asked a "cop"].

It was very disorganized and I felt I could have saved them quite a bit of money if I was in charge, but alas nobody asked me. I talked to all sorts of interesting people from little kids to octogenarians--really a diverse group--and learned a bit about each of them.

And Extras--they couldn't make a film without us, we should be called Essentials.

Take care,

PS No pictures in this post because it wasn't allowed, but you can see the Promo bulletin here.


  1. I heard about this here at Sonlight. Super cool! Thanks for sharing [smile].


  2. Yes, thanks for posting this, Jill! Fascinating!