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Movie magic comes to life on set

By now, most of you probably know Hollywood has descended upon our city to create some of its legendary magic. “Get On Up,” the biopic about the life of James Brown, The “Godfather of Soul,” started filming in Natchez and surrounding areas on Nov 4.

Last week, I had the extraordinary experience of working as an extra on the film. And I use the word ‘extraordinary’ to denote a sense of the exceptional and the remarkable. It all started without a lot of pomp and circumstance by attending a casting call with many other aspiring extras, some with heaps of experience and others, like me, with no heap at all.

The process was simple enough. Fill out an application, have your picture taken; no muss, no fuss. Except that it could have been very intimidating with lots of muss and fuss had it not been for the talents of the casting director, who made the episode entirely relaxing and fun.

Days later, I was notified to report to wardrobe. Similar to casting, which set up operations in the seldom-used second level of a city government building, the wardrobe department occupies an otherwise empty commercial property in downtown Natchez. To me, it closely resembled the floor of a department store, with clothing racks forming a rich symmetry of straight geometrical patterns; or a veritable Belk’s turned vintage shop, if you will.

A week after my wardrobe fitting, the first day of the shoot for the scene I was to be in, along with approximately 100 others, finally arrived. As I reported, the enormity of the impact began to sink in.

For starters, the denizens of production crew members, actors and executives have had to secure housing. This has meant an increase in hotel, motel and bed and breakfast bookings in an otherwise slow season for some of them. Many private residences have been rented, and commercial spaces that would normally sit empty such as those currently being occupied by casting, wardrobe and production are being leased. A significant number of production staff currently working inside and outside those walls are local residents.

In addition, famed yet cherished city eyesores, such as the house that sits on the corner of Monroe and North Rankin streets, have gotten a much-needed facelift. On the first day of the shoot, I took note of the myriad transport modes in use: buses, vans, trucks, trailers, cars and even Natchez Transit vehicles, not to mention all those drivers which, you guessed it, are being pulled from Natchez and surrounding areas.

At hair and make-up, women were styled to look like Betty Grable and Joan Crawford and the men to look like either a suave Cary Grant or a gangster Humphrey Bogart. After, we were taken to the location of the former Boys and Girls Club, another unused building, where hundreds of cast and crew members were fed by some of our local food service providers.

Once we finally arrived to the set, the incalculable number of items that have been purchased, procured or rented from local merchants became even more apparent. And then, after endless hours of preparations, the magic of Hollywood began to take shape during an unseasonably cold autumn night.

From my vantage point — the second floor balcony at “the Dunleith,” as one of the production assistants called it — the entire scene was much more than I ever imagined a movie set to be. There were literally hundreds of people, crew and extras; overhead lights, lamps, torches, cranes, cameras, tracks, cables, trucks, tents, ladders, screens, booms and other pieces of equipment I did not even recognize.

Much is said about the size of egos in the movie business, and it might be an anomaly, but this particular group treated us well, provided for us and continuously thanked us for our effort while working really hard in what, in my final analysis, has to be one of the most challenging ways to make a living.

I will always be glad for the experience of having witnessed first hand the intricate workings of one of our country’s most original, creative and prized industries, but even more so, for the valuable opportunities its presence here has provided to so many.

As I thanked a young man who was picking up our plates and lunch leftovers, he nervously smiled at me and said “No problem. I really need the job.” Now, THAT, my friends, is real Hollywood magic.


Analisa Therrien is a Natchez resident.