Ridgecrest has a thriving business supplying background actors (also known as extras) to film productions shooting locally, but for those of you who have never visited a movie set—this is what it's like.
(Full disclosure: the dirt being dished refers to a scooped out ravine the production used for the film. Everyone involved with the production was down to earth and easy to get along with, so there is no gossipy dirt to dish. Sorry.)
The production of “American Desert” contacted the Daily Independent last week, so I set off on a gorgeous Saturday early evening to Red Mountain to cover the shoot. Leading actor (and producer) Will Brandt had sent me coordinates and a map, but I was unable to locate the production's base camp at a rental house. (My fault, not his. Blame it on my lack of technological acumen.)
A production assistant was dispatched to find me parked along the 395. I followed his car back to the house where Brandt, Tim Abell, Amber Coney and Chloe Hurst were preparing for their evening shoot. They graciously took some time to be interviewed by me, and were full of insights into their respective characters. (See story elsewhere this edition.)
Then it was time to head to the location. I followed their cars down several turns deep into the desert. There I found four background actors from the Ridgecrest area in outdoor clothes and a guy in a fox suit dancing around an unlit fire. There was a film crew, of course. And director Adrian Bartol putting everyone through their paces and seeming to have a firm handle on it all.
The first order of business was a blocking rehearsal. The focal point of part of the scene was the guy in the fox costume (don't ask). He chased and played with one of the other actors over and over again, getting the footwork right. Then there was the bonfire, which was eventually lit. Did I mention the scene was a “desert hippie party?”
Well, it was. The hero meets the heroine in this scene, but first, of course, the fox had to dance.
Things really got going when they filmed the motorcycle scene. Hurst hopped on the bike with Brandt and they rode up to the bonfire. Over and over and over again. This is what movie-making is all about. The same scene done many times, until you know it as well as the actors do.
In the second part of the scene, Brandt climbed up a hill, where Abell joked about the fox.
The most challenging part of being a civilian on a movie set is knowing where to stand. Bartol was using the lights from his vehicle as light, and I was instructed to stay back with the vehicle so as not to interrupt the shot.
Eventually, the group moved to a different location, a poetically dug ravine elsewhere on the property. Here the hero actually met the heroine at a drum circle and the two climbed a rock to get better acquainted as the remaining partiers heckled and catcalled.
These background actors were also local and they did an impressive job, improvising dances and action. Abell joined in, adding his own witty ad-libs. Each time Brandt and Coney climbed the mountain he improvised a different line. “See you at the submarine races!” or “No glove, no love” were two examples.
I remembered reading somewhere that the hardest thing on a movie set is not laughing. This turned out to be true.
I stood way back, so my shadow stayed out of the shot in the narrow ravine. At one point I smelled a cigarette. To my right was property owner Suzy Points, whom the cast had high words of praise for.
“Are you another extra?” she asked me.
“No, I'm from the Daily Independent,” I said.
“Ah.” She was thoughtful for a moment. Then she said, “We dug this ravine. We were looking for gold.”
I asked if she found any. She said yes, and tungsten too. But not enough to make anyone rich.
Speaking softly, she told me about the many other productions that had filmed on her property. The current production cast and crew were very nice, she said, but her favorite was “The Brave” directed by and starring Johnny Depp.
“He was my best friend the whole time he was out here,” she said. “We were always together. He let me go wherever I wanted. He said 'this is Suzy, she can be wherever she wants.'”
Meanwhile, Brandt and Coney were climbing that same mountain. I got out my tape recorder and asked her to spell her name.
“P-O-I-N-T-S,” she said. “Am I going to be in the paper?”
“Sure,” I said. At this point, we were laughing and speaking loudly. I kind of forgot where we were.
“Shhhhh,” said Bartol politely, turning around. I was a little embarrassed.
“Johhny Depp never shushed me,” Suzy Points said.
— Jessica Weston is the Daily Independent city editor and resident (largely horror) film nut. Email her at jweston@
The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the official stance of the Daily Independent.