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Can I star as the cheese tray guy?

I want to be the guy who carries the fruit and cheese trays during the filming of “Get On Up.”

Thursday afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching Tate Taylor and his film crew scurry around Don’s Barber Shop in the area known as the Triangle in Natchez.

Everybody that stopped to talk to me on the street wanted to catch a glimpse of Chadwick Boseman or some other famous personality. I was interested in the man weaving through the cast and crew offering what looked like tiny hors d’oeuvres.

It is no secret that Taylor is the director of the James Brown biopic, but film locations aren’t being advertised. I’ve watched with interest as film activity has popped up at locations in Adams and Jefferson counties over the last two weeks.

Vietnam-era warplanes crisscrossed the Miss-Lou skies Saturday. The infamous Nellie’s returned to its bordello heyday Monday and Tuesday. Hollywood magic added more sparkle to Dunleith’s already enchanted setting Wednesday.

Everywhere in between, local residents are sharing stories of their momentary brushes with fame — meetings with Taylor and a few of the Hollywood actors who are in town for the filming. I wouldn’t say Natchez is star struck, yet, but it’s close.

Thursday, movie crews surrounded the landmark barbershop in the triangle at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, St. Catherine Street. While the crew prepared the scene, a  small crowd of onlookers watched from the Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal  Church, Mackel Funeral Home and the Taste of Chicago parking lot.

I don’t know enough movie-making lingo to know the difference between a rigging grip, a best boy grip and dolly grip. I have no idea what a gaffer does.

While Boseman may be the star of this production, it was clear that everyone on the set knew his or her role and played it to perfection, including the man carrying the fruit and cheese tray around for Taylor, the cast and the crew.

As much as some people may crave stardom and desire to be in front of the camera, I am not one of those people.

My one acting role in high school required me to walk on stage carrying a lamp made from a mannequin’s leg covered in fishnet hose. I only had one line to say, but I flubbed it up horribly when the laughter from the crowd gave me an awkward case of stage fright. It took a loudly whispered reminder from backstage to cure my momentary amnesia.

It didn’t, however, cure my embarrassment. As much as I wanted to be the star, I knew from that moment the spotlight was not meant for me.

It’s a hard lesson for most teenagers — not everyone gets to be in the spotlight. Not everyone can be in the NFL, in the oval office, or star in his reality TV show.

Of course the spotlight doesn’t come on by itself. Someone has to aim the spotlight and keep it shining.

As much as they receive the accolades and the press, I am sure that all but the most egocentric actors and directors will admit that their fame would not be possible without the hard work from the gaffers, the grips, and all of the other crew members who keep the lights shining and the cameras rolling.

So here’s to all of the fruit and cheese tray folks out there. They may not have their name up on the marquee, but they keep the stomachs fed and the show going. In that way, they are real stars in my book.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.