|Austin-Bergstrom International Airport|
How I got to be an extra in Hope Floats
by Dan Eggleston
When I started out for Smithville Friday morning I mainly hoped for a chance to see some of the shooting of the new Sandra Bullock movie; I never dreamed I'd get to be in it. I was told by someone at the Texas Tourist Commission that the car museum south of Bastrop opened at 9, so I left at 8 a.m. I arrived "just on time" right behind another car and we both learned that we were an hour early! So I drove over to Smithville (14 miles) to see if I could learn if, where, and when "Hope Floats" would be shooting. I soon found lots of production trucks downtown and a crew member told me he thought it would be an evening schedule. So I went back to the museum and enjoyed seeing the wonderful collection again and labeled the photos I took there two years ago. Unfortunately, their Tucker has been sold. The manager there told me the parade scene was set for that evening and there was an open call for extras in the Smithville paper. I picked up a newspaper in Rosansky and learned that the sign-in was at 7:30 p.m. and shooting was expected to last until 1:30 a.m. The company would donate $5 to the Smithville Recreation and Entertainment Community Center for each extra. I've known Rick Linklater for about twelve years and hope some day that I may get to be an extra in one of his films; that hasn't happened yet, but here I was, about to get to be in a Hollywood production.
I didn't want to make a trip back to Austin, so I decided to do some sight-seeing and drove the 42 miles to Gonzales. About 30 years ago the Texas A&I band played a concert there and I'd discovered the Eggleston House (no relation), a state shrine honoring one of the oldest surviving houses in Gonzales (1845). Luckily I had no trouble finding the place. Next door is the Gonzales Memorial Museum housing the cannon that led to the Texas revolution; they closed for an hour at noon, so I got a whirlwind four-minute tour. After lunch I saw the Jail Museum, next to the courthouse, which includes actual jail cells and the gallows on the second floor where three men were hung, the last in 1921.
I then drove back to Smithville to pass the time 'till shooting started. Later I discovered that all the driving had given me mild sunburns on my left arm and, curiously, a three inch area above my left knee. Smithville's railroad museum was closed, but I found a brochure there with a city map. I decided the library would be a good place to rest and pass the time out of the summer heat. When I arrived, at first glance it looked closed; however, the collection has been moved into the community room of the building while the library is expanded. I found a quiet place in the mostly-emptied part of the library where I was given permission to take a short nap and then did a lot of reading and a some time helping the young librarian (high school student) find some sheet music on the net. I also e-mailed a friend (a bigger movie fan than I -- he's even got a very popular movie-centered web page) about the shooting.
After the library closed, on local advice, I ate at Pockets. Just as I was finishing, the director, Forest Whitaker, the one person associated with the film whose autograph (as well as a picture with him) walked in, Originally, I'd hoped for some autographs, assuming that the shooting would not involve such a mob, and had prepared fancy computer signs of the names of the producer, director, and leads. There would be little chance of autographs now, so Whitaker said his assistant could get them to the producer, Lynda Obst. I pulled his out and thanked him for the photo/autograph which I'd gotten at S by SW and had a short chat with him. I imagine I was the first person who spoke to him at a restaurant with a toothbrush and toothpaste in hand.
Finally around 9 p.m., the first two tables, groups A and B, were led to the set to be placed along one side of the street (on the opposite sidewalk were tracks for tracking shots) and shooting and rehearsing started. Several preexisting floats, including one for the LCRA and another from Flatonia were used. The film company only needed to create one new float, for the fictional Corn Queen, to suit the script. The Smithville band (including the car museum manager's son and the librarian) marched and there was a color guard. There was also a blue ox, a mini-train with senior citizens, and a couple of vintage cars, one with the local mayor. The street was beautifully decorated with thousands of draped lights. There were also several large lighting screens and floodlights. After about forty-fie minutes, fireworks were set off, and most of us still in the tent went outside to watch. After waiting over an hour, a game of charades was organized to reduce the boredom of us tent folks, but before they could start, my group, C, was led to the set to fill up the end of the street followed soon after by group D.
The lady next to me told me they had already been through about five rehearsals or takes. We were instructed to cheer and clap loudly for a minute (to get the image in our minds), and then for the rest of the rehearsals/takes to do so silently, since they wanted to record dialogue. We had been asked, several times, not to bring cameras (still and video) because they would interfere with lighting and the sound system (infra-red beams on the video cameras) and that when the film came out (in six to nine months) its photography would be better than anything we could record. Then for the next three hours, we got to act as the parade went round and round and round and round. The band "played" silently. A tiger mascot (on a float with the local cheerleaders) was dressed in a very hot costume and, after a couple of hours, needed a thirty minute break due to heat prostration. Over and over we heard "background action" and "three cameras rolling" as the parade passed by. Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick, Jr. walked by with their "kids" across the street on a few takes. Bullock actually reminded me more of Marcia Ball, than the characters I've seen her portray on screen. Connick, before my group arrived, sang a bit for the crowd. At times "cut" was called almost immediately because of technical problems, once because one of the three electronic clappers malfunctioned. We'd been asked, as "professional actors" to respect Bullock and Connick's need to stay in focus and not disturb them with requests for autographs and the like.
Between takes we were supplied with water from time to time and there was a Coke stand available nearby. The man next to me said he was from Arizona, but had been staying in town for the past three months or so. I told him about my Gonzales visit and the significance of the cannon until he started filling in details of how the cannon had been re-discovered (in 1936) and explained he'd grown up in Luling, up the road from Gonzales. He promised to mail me the t-shirt I would earn for sticking around until the end of the shoot after I gave him my coupon and money for postage. The lady next to us proudly told us of her daughter's presence as the shortest member of the color guard; seeing our surprised looks, elaborated that the youngster, age 15, was adopted. As a thirty-year old mom she certainly looked too young to have so old a daughter. Her seven-month-old baby was with grandma back in Bastrop, and she was expecting another in six months.
At about 1 a.m., I said farewell and headed for the tent, but before I'd even gotten off the set, meal break was announced. Some of the kids rushed to be first in line only to realize they had forgotten their meal tickets. I passed up on the meal, and the additional door prizes, which would include a power saw, Casio keyboard, cell phones, autographed pictures, and a 13" color TV. I picked up my stuff and headed home, arriving shortly before 2. A week and a half later, I still had not received the t-shirt, but, while waiting in line for Boz Scaggs Austin City Limites taping, I found from Bab Branson and his wife that shooting had lasted 'till about 4 a.m., so the man might not have stayed that late. A few minutes later two women who work at KLRU came up to me and said they'd seen me at the shooting, but had left at midnight. It was a very long, enjoyable and memorable day. I can't wait to see the movie, even if I'm not visible. I'll be looking for the E.O. Sharp Butane store that we were in front of. It was a unique experience, in any case.
P.S. Didn't get in the flic, as it were. Most of us didn't. Mainly float people.