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Stronger

I've been waiting nearly a year and a half to write this blog post. In hindsight, I prolly should have written the first part back then and then waited to finish it. Anyways, the reason I've been waiting is that back in April and June of last year, while still in Boston, I got to work a couple of days as a background extra on this film! I was holding off on blogging about the experience until it was released.

After responding to a couple of cattle calls for extras, I was on an email list for background film work. I'd respond to things here and there, but few opportunities were workable for someone who worked full time 9-5, and I rarely ever got a response back. Until the one time that I did. A phone call told me when and where to be, and advised that I purchased some Boston Bruins gear to wear.

I arrived in my sweatshirt that was way too big for me and found myself at what appeared to be a store or restaurant space that was under construction. Lots of people were piled in there. Half of them thought they were there to work on Patriot's Day, which was filming at the same time in the city. Waited in a line to get a form, then waited in a line to get my costume approved (the hoodie was apparently good enough; those without Bruins stuff were mostly handed Blackhawks stuff), snacked from a buffet and then waited. There would be a lot of waiting that day. I musta read about half of Stephen King's Pet Sematary by the time I left over twelve hours later.

Eventually, they walked us over to the TD Garden. Some of us were handed props as we walked over to our seats. I at one point was given a near beer to hold, but I don't think I started with it. This was so exciting. I was on a real life movie set! Yet somehow I was also on the same street where I had worked for three years at my first post college job.

At some point some dude who was in charge started placing us and giving us things to do. Me and some other guy had to wait a few beats and then walk to our specified seats and then chill like we were waiting for the game. A few takes of this were done, then we were rearranged and the camera moved, and we did it again. Apparently Jake Gyllenhaal and other key people were in one of the boxes next to us. Two guys in full out Blackhawks gear would start walking in across the way, yell something out, and have something yelled back to them from the box. I was just freaking out that I was so close to Donnie Darko. I also found it odd how much other activity was going on in the Garden, setting up for the game and such. Kids were playing on the ice. Did they really not need to rent out the whole place?

After a few rounds of background shots here, they moved a few of us into a hallway. While awaiting instructions, an elevator opened and out wheeled Jake in a Bruins jersey and a wheelchair contraption that hid his legs. I stopped breathing. He moved into the box. I would catch similar glimpses of him throughout the day, but never really got any closer. Us extras were split into two groups and put on either side of the entrance to the box and directed to walk towards each other. Once we'd pass the door, we were instructed to get in the back of the line and cross again when we reached the front. We could almost hear the scene being shot inside the room we were walking past.

There was a bit of waiting inside the Garden while more was filmed. Eventually we were sent back to holding. We were gonna wait out the game there and come back after. This wait was miserable. We weren't allowed to touch the food that was laid out until everyone was back (a few were held back to keep filming), and then union peeps got to go first. The hollowed out restaurant was freezing. There were only some hard plastic folding chairs. The porta potties set up outside for us were overflowing. I got a lot of reading done, while constantly checking my phone to see how close the game was to finishing.

Finally, the game was over and they let us back in. Fans at the game had been encouraged to stay behind, and we could hear them cheering as the Jake/Jeff was on the ice waving the flag. Wait, why did they keep us this whole time if they could have just used game attendees? Doesn't matter. It meant more time in the experience, and it eventually put us into double overtime (I think my take home after taxes and after accoutning for the sweatshirt was somewhere just shy of $100). But yeah, they let us in and we're on the opposite side of the arena, facing Jake/Jeff as he waves his banner.

Fun fact about that bit. You prolly saw it in the trailer. He's waving the flag with a huge crowd around him. There was not a huge crowd when it filmed. There was a small cluster on either side of him, and another across. And the lighting was different. Movie magic at work!

They rounded us back up inside the Garden, held onto a few people (not me) to film an elevator scene of some sort, and let the rest of us go home. Which really meant sent the rest of us back to the cold holding area to wait in line for an hour to get our paperwork done.

Once I rested and recovered, I was so excited about what had happened, but also kinda disappointed. It was so cool to actually get to work on a real full scale movie (that starred one of my faves!), but we also weren't treated very well. And I was pretty well convinced that I wouldn't see myself in any footage from the day. Oh well, at least it was something I could say happened.

But it didn't stop there. That was apparently one of the first days of filming. They were there for another two months. Fast forward to June, and I'm still seeing emails going out about needing extras. And there's one for a Saturday! Except it's at like 4 AM. Having been on this email list for a while, I knew that sometimes if they're in desperate need of people, they'll start sending out text alerts the day of. I figure I'll wait for that.

The texts start the night before. Emergency call! Extras needed. I decide to wait until I have enough sleep before responding. I eventually do, and I get a call back with the when and where. We're filming the marathon stuff on Boylston street. I'm on it!

This time, they hold us in the basement ballroom of a hotel or something. Infinitely nicer than before. Real working bathrooms! I had quickly thrown together a few potential costume pieces, knowing that I likely wouldn't have any viable shirts that didn't have logos or anything on them. The costumer loves my pink plaid pants, and tries a few options before settling on a mint sweatshirt she lends me.

Then guess what? Waiting! I think I was re-reading American Psycho by this point (Pet Sematary was loooong finished). Again, half the people I talk to think they're there for Patriot's Day. They walk us out to Boylston street, where the rest of the extras have been standing on one side of the road watching our small group of runners. They stick us on the end of the crowd for the last couple takes. The runners start to run in, and on cue, they look towards the finish line in shock.

And break time! Almost as soon as I got there. They shove way too many of us into McGreevy's where there's an assortment of snacks waiting. We're told we have an hour. I see Jake across the street just chilling. It takes all my willpower not to run over to him and profess my love of Donnie Darko. After that hour, the mass of extras are assembled. They call for the people who came in the later group. That's me! Because we hadn't already been on camera that morning, we were gonna be put closer to the camera. I knew procrastination had it's benefits!!

We move a couple blocks down the street towards the finish line. Most of the crowd is piled together on the sidewalk. The twenty or so of us from the later crowd are given specific placement and direction. I'm paired with some guy and we were told to walk down to the street to the crowd. As almost an afterthought once our instructions are given, the dude placing us reiterates the instructions including "You're gonna be walking behind our hero". Um, what?! Did I just hear that right? I couldn't have heard that right. We're just walking in the background like at the Garden, yeah?

We do the first take. People start to move. My buddy and I wait for our queue. We start walking from a block away towards the crowd. There's an alleyway we cross to get there. But before we reach the alley, guess who walks out? Yuuuuup. And we really are right behind him OMGWTFAHHHHH!!

There were a bunch of takes like that. He comes out of the alley, turns to the crowd, and goes to hold up his sign. Then there were a few takes with another group put in between us (boo), but def more with me right behind my guy. At one point, we were standing around in our starting point waiting to go. Jake comes out from the alley and calls to someone behind me. He's basically 6 feet away from me, looking just past me. I couldn't breathe again.

At some point, it's over. We're rounded up and told to go back to holding unless we had wristbands that designated us for a bar scene. That was not me. Waited in line to return my borrowed costume piece and then another line to get my paperwork done. It was a shorter day (though my take home was still close to $60), so I had time to head to the AMC Boston Common nearby and catch a matinee. Win of a day! Much better experience than the day at the Garden too! And a better chance of screen time.

Then I just had to wait. We thought it'd be released in December, but obvs they didn't wanna compete with Patriot's Day. Months go by. I move to LA. The release date gets announced. Then a trailer is released. It has a couple of shots of Jake/Jeff waving the flag, and a couple of him holding his sign in the marathon crowd. So there are at least scenes I was on set for. This is promising!!

The day finally comes. I had decided that I wanted to go all out and see it at a nice theater. Cinemark Playa Vista is showing it, so I get tickets for the reserve level. Order a hamburger delivered to my seat and sit back in the nice reclining seat. I don't think I've ever been so anxious for a movie. At least I know that one of my potential scenes is early on, so I don't hafta wait too long.

The film gets to marathon day. Once again, I can't breathe. Heart is pounding. The movie plays out, and here's a shot behind Jake as he walks out of the alley. IRL I'm right on the other side of that wall, except the movie doesn't show that. It cuts from that to him in the crowd, as I later feared it would. Alas, left on the cutting room floor.

Halfway through the movie, Jake/Jeff starts talking about going to a Bruins game. For some reason, I thought this was meant for the end of the movie, but okay cool, we can get this scene done and then I can really just sit back and relax. I watch the scene inside the box, and it's all such tight closeup, you don't see any extras at all. In fact, the shots of him in the crowd had also been pretty tight close up. You couldn't even see 5 out of the couple hundred extras. We see him on the ice with the flag, but there's no way to distinguish one person from another in the crowd. Again, on film it was packed. IRL, there was only a fraction of that many people. Then he has a scene in an elevator (no, there weren't extras inside the elevator as I'd previously assumed), and then we're on to the next scene.

So all that waiting, and no screen time. I'd kinda expected as much, which is why while I did talk about this a bit, I tried not to make a big deal. It was more about the experience. I'm sure once the DVD is out, I'll go frame by frame of those key scenes just in case, but I'm not too optimistic, and that's okay. I've been there, I've seen the sausage being made, and that's something I can check off my bucket list. And I'm glad that the movie's doing really well. It coulda been RIPD that I had this experience on instead, but thankfully they never responded to my sign ups on their call list.

Now we finally get to what this blog is usually for. Movie write ups (I don't like to call them reviews). Clearly, I can't be objective about this one since I'm connected to it. So take all this with a larger grain of salt than you normally would. However, most of what I'm thinking does seem to line up with the general consensus out there, so I'm not all that biased!

I mostly have two points to make. The first is the cast gave fantastic performances. Jake was pitch perfect, and I would love to see him be a player this awards season. It might be a tough battle, but he's at least in the preliminary conversations, so that's a start. Tatiana Maslany is fantastic too. I hadn't seen much of her (I don't watch Orphan Black) but she had this really grounded and un-glamorized quality that worked so well. The dynamics of their relationship were also very real. It wasn't a Hollywood-ized love story. It was the good and bad and really bad, and her being strong enough to know her limits.

The other point is yeah, it felt real. It wasn't a cheesy inspirational film. It was an emotional film that showed real struggles. It didn't put Jeff Bauman on a pedastal, but rather showed him with all his flaws and inner demons. Much of the film was shot really close, which gave it an even more intimate quality. You saw the raw emotion and you felt it. Again, it deserves any awards push it gets because it transcends the cookie cutter "true story" goop you normally see. I'm proud of this to have been the first (hopefully of more to come) movies that I got to be a part of, even in some very minor way.

Stronger - \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/
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