Extra, Extra, Read All About It

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Watching this scene for a few hours was dull, so here's something interesting. The Martian was short, the Martian was green, and, when the cameras stopped rolling and it took its skin off, the Martian turned out to be a short girl with a body that was out of this world. That's why they call it behind the scenes, friends.

"I need the hippies! Give me all the hippies, and the bystanders, too! Now!!" barked a man with obviously practiced bullhorn skills. We soldiers were not the only extras today, not by a long shot. Apparently, Mars attacked sometime in the late Sixties or early Seventies.

The hippies went on out to the set, a tribe of colorful freaks dragging themselves across the dust in little groups or all alone, and there were a couple nuns and monks in there, too (they paid the monk guys $200 to shave their heads), robes flowing in the wind. This was more bizarre than anything scripted that day; if Fellini had been there to film these back-and-forth processions, he could have made a movie out of that footage alone.

I stood there on the set behind Burton, watching the hippies do their extra thing, and one of my Army buddies nudged me.

"Hey, man, there's Michael J.!"
Well, all right. There he was, sitting in one of those Hollywood director chairs with the canvas back. Fox plays a CNN-like reporter in this movie and was dressed accordingly in the dark, conservative suit of the TV newsman.

My buddy nudged me again.
"I'm gonna go get my picture with Michael J.!"
And he did. Walked over, said something, Michael J. turned his celebrity head, complete with dark glasses covering his celebrity eyes, in the direction of my buddy. He put down his Marlboro Light. My buddy grabbed a technician, gave him the camera, and it was about to happen. My buddy--tall, bespectacled, tiny blond mustache, head wrapped in a red scarf--straightened up as Michael J. leaned, just barely, toward him in his director chair. My buddy looked at the camera and managed one of those nervous smiles that says, "I'm excited, but I don't want to look like I am, nor do I want to look like an idiot, even though I suddenly feel like one, even though I didn't when I walked over here."

The thin lips of Michael J. remained parallel with the surface of the Earth.
The picture was snapped, my buddy shook hands with Michael J., then walked back over to me.

"Well, you got it," I said.
"Yep," he said.

The day dragged on and on. I took a nap, I ate some saltines, I saw some stuff exploded, I did the Army scene I already told you about. I saw Sarah Jessica Parker from a long way away in a silver lame outfit that I'm sure looked quite sexy close up. I was tired, and I was filthy. (Later that night, when the water finally drained from the shower of room 246 in the Silver Queen Motel, the tub would be completely lined with the same prehistoric dust that lined the bottom of Red Lake when it finally drained.)

I sat in one of the big white tents, surrounded by hippies and bystanders asleep on their arms folded on tabletops. Then, after 14 hours, the man with the bullhorn ended my life as a soldier, ended my life as an extra.

"Soldiers are wrapped for the day!! Soldiers can go home!!" I left the forlorn hippies, made it to wardrobe, traded in my uniform for my civvies, got back on the bus, sat down.

"Hey, Pete!"
I turned, and there was Richard. What a perfect finish to my story this'll be, I thought, full circle.

"How'd it go for you, Richard?" I asked, hoping for an honest, human response that would sum up the entire experience in the simple/wise parlance of an aging Kingmanite. Retired Richard, creator of Sound Woman, grinned at me, spry and chipper.

"Oh, just fine," he said. Which is not a very exciting thing to say. But then again, this ain't Hollywood.


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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap