continued from May 16th edition….
Though the film’s opening scenes chronicled events that happened on the grounds of Kent State, production took place on location at Hiram College because, our handlers said at our inquiry, Kent’s campus has changed significantly enough over the thirty years that Hiram’s facilities were closer to what Kent had looked like back then. In any case, I had just returned from my own small college out-of-state, so I felt right at home as a campus coed.
All of my scenes took place in the evening and since we needed hours of dark sky to allow for multiple takes, our filming schedule reflected the nighttime requirement. Though most of the production people reported at the crack of dawn, ready for a long day, my first call time wasn’t until 4pm. That didn’t mean I had it any easier, however, as I wouldn’t leave set until the wee hours of the next morning. Good thing I’d had practice staying up late (and being productive while doing it!) pulling study all-nighters during the previous semesters.
When not on set, we were kept in a “holding tank” in one of the campus’s lecture halls and every so often an assistant would come in and say they needed five or ten or however many extras for a given shot. Whoever volunteered first to follow the assistant would be led to wherever they were filming at the moment and instructed on where to stay and exactly what to do. Eager to participate, I was always one of the first extras to line up at the door and it completely perplexed me that many of my fellow background-fillers didn’t seem to care if they ever went to set, preferring to lounge in the lecture hall seats and chat with each other! While we waited for the next assistant to show up, we were kept entertained by a DVD playing on those oversized television carts, staples in public school classrooms, and stayed awake by munching on whatnots from the snack table (known in “the biz” as “craft services”). At one point when the assistant arrived, I excused myself from the conversation I was having with the girl next to me and asked if she was going too. Her response was that she wanted to find out what happened to the squad captain of the cheerleading flick we were viewing. I remember thinking “Did you come here to watch a movie or be IN one?!” Needless to say, it was the latter for me and I fully planned to take advantage of every moment so I enthusiastically went down the steps with the other extras who had gathered at the door. Ironically enough, at that particular instance we were directed to the college’s auditorium and, once placed in the theatre-style seats, told that for this scene we had to pretend we were watching a movie on the big screen and that while we were minding our own business, the main characters of the film we were making would be racing through the aisles and trying to stir up trouble.
So two girls I’d never met before that moment and I had to act like we were friends out for a fun evening, clinking soda bottles and munching on popcorn while we “watched” the fake show. The prop department provided us with authentic vintage items such as classic Coke bottles that were still intact with the liquid inside after all these years. WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T OPEN THE BOTTLE! We were told. Apparently simply holding it was enough to make the atmosphere seem real. But we were allowed to eat the popcorn, billowing out of era-appropriate containers, which I suspect was swiped from the craft service table anyway. The hardest part of the evening was that, although this particular scene was meant to be less than a minute or so of screen time, we spent four hours filming it due to all the different camera angles that the director wanted to employ, which involved far away shots, cuts to different parts of the theatre, and a series of close-ups when each actor said their lines. Four hours filming a scene… that eventually didn’t even get in the movie! When the final product was released the next year, the movie theatre scene had wound up on the cutting room floor!
Luckily, that was not the only scene I’d participated in as I had four more days of filming, all with later call times than the last. In what was quite possibly the most affecting situation for the storyline that I would be a part of, all hands were on deck in the middle of the campus green. All the extras, some dressed as students like me, some given helmets and unloaded rifles to represent National Guard soldiers, faced each other in the commotion that was to simulate the riot which would set off the rest of the events in the movie. Though we were all uncredited, nameless faceless surroundings, the director singled out a few of us to portray brave students who would break through “enemy” lines. Moving quickly through the group of appropriately-clad young adults, he pointed to this one and that one, and his assistant would tell “This One” and “That One” the choreography of the path they would run in order to ensure the effective placement of the cameras as well as for the safety of all involved. The guns may not have had live ammunition in them, but it would still hurt if one’s face smacked into the barrel while dashing around. After watching four other people become the featured few, to my delight the director soon turned to me and said “You! In the bandanna!” and with that I unofficially became “Girl in the Bandanna #5” and was given instructions on how to run through two very tough-looking soldiers and past the camera crew. I waited for my cue and while the others were waving large protest signs (provided by the art department) and shouting chants about love and war, I took off where I was told, secretly hoping I wouldn’t pull a Cinderella moment and leave my sandal in the mud for a crew member to trip over. (Thankfully, I didn’t.)
There are several other noteworthy instances, but quite possibly my favorite one of the experience was the last scene we filmed that week. It was already 2am and this time a group of us were seated on the hillside listening to one of the main characters played by Meredith Monroe (famous most recently as Hotch’s wife on Criminal Minds) quite determinedly protesting the use of napalm during the Vietnam War. After the protest, Jonathan Brandis’s character walks from the hill to talk with her, picking his way through the extras sitting on the grass, but he had to start his path off scene for the camera to catch him mid-stride so the director made him back up and back up and back up…. until he backed to where I was sitting and stepped right on my bare toe! Once we had been placed we weren’t allowed to move, or make noise, so I just had to wince from behind him. But hey, it wasn’t so bad… how many people can say Jonathan Brandis, the hot former-child star, stepped on her toe?
Shortly thereafter we all followed another actor, Jay R. Ferguson, who had been riled up by the protest and decided to burn down the ROTC building nearby, encouraging us all to run after him. The climactic part of the scene involved him breaking a window and throwing a small torch inside. In the movie this is quite an effective moment, but I try hard not to smirk when I remember seeing a fully-geared up firefighter crouching inside waiting with a fire extinguisher to snuff out the torch the second it cleared the window.
The director had been concerned we would not wrap the scene by the time the sun came up and we would lose the dark of night. By now it was after 5am and the sky was just starting to lighten. We all waited as the director’s assistant yelled “checking the gate!” to make sure the shot was clean and then shortly after we all cheered as “gate is clean!” was announced. After the wrap was official and I made my way to my car parked near the actors’ trailers, I happened to walk right by Meredith at her door. In my one groupie moment of the whole experience, I mentioned I was a fan of her work as Andi on Dawson’s Creek and requested a photo, to which she kindly obliged, even enlisting a crew member friend nearby to snap my camera. In many old-timey Hollywood movies, the iconic ending scene involves the characters riding off into the sunset, but as I drove off, the sun rose in my rear-view mirror, setting in mind a chapter in my story I will never forget. And, if I ever do, it’s immortalized on the silver screen so all I have to do is watch the DVD!