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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: being an extra in the crowd scenes

Making Milk: crowd of extras in the Castro
photo: Eric Nielson (TroublePup, Observd)

[previous: Making 'Milk']

When a big crowd amasses on the street in the Castro District of San Francisco, it’s often to protest something. But last night, instead of actually protesting, a big crowd pretended to protest. And, let me tell you, there’s nothing more fun than pretending, especially when a professional film crew is there to capture the make believe.

Because it’s so difficult to assemble and manage a large crowd of enthusiastic, costumed extras, directors and crew will often reuse the same crowd, albeit with a few position and prop changes, to create and film different scenes. Last night’s crowd was used to film a rally, a march, and a riot for the Harvey Milk biopic, currently in production.

The Castro Theatre, perhaps in gratitude for refurbishing its decrepit sign and marquee, loaned "Milk Productions" (the working name for filmmaker Gus Van Sant’s production company) the use of its space for the day. In the afternoon, the production company hosted a free screening of The Times of Harvey Milk, which was introduced by documentary filmmaker Rob Epstein and attended by local gay politicos and key members of Milk cast and crew.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

Milk movie, Sean Penn addressing crowd, photo by Eric Nielson
Sean Penn (as Harvey Milk) addresses the crowd during the making of Milk
photo: Eric Nielson (TroublePup, Observd)

[previous: being an extra in the crowd scenes]

Sean Penn — now clean-shaven and dapper compared to his earlier incarnation of Harvey Milk during Milk’s scruffier, hippie years — jumped onto the platform, and we all cheered and hooted. Facing the crowd, Penn/Milk yelled through a vintage bullhorn, "Are you angry?!"

Well, in reality, we weren’t angry at all. We were thrilled and giddy, but what the heck? We furrowed our brows, punched our fists into the air, and yelled, "Yeah!"

"Well, I’m angry!" Penn/Milk responded, drawing another round of punched fists, punctuated by a collective Yeah!.

Penn continued, "Let’s march to City Hall and share that anger with San Francisco!" We cheered and applauded, and the extras with signs shook them. We then chanted, "Gay rights now!"

Webb yelled, "Cut!" We buzzed and congratulated ourselves on a realistic performance.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones

Making Milk: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones
photo: Eric Nielson (TroublePup, Observd)

[previous: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk]

After Sean Penn’s big crowd-rousing scene, principle actor Emile Hirsch, playing a young activist Cleve Jones, took his turn performing on the platform. I couldn’t take my eyes off little Emile, so petite that he could be stashed in a coat pocket, mouthing his lines into the vintage bullhorn before his first take. He angled the bullhorn to his right side and practiced smoothly turning his head as he spoke. For those of us who have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, this seemed vaguely impressive.

"Do you want me to be in the frame?" he quietly asked the director. I thought, Why wouldn’t you be in the frame? Why are you up on the platform if you’re not going to be in the frame? But what do I know, I’m not a filmmaker.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: laughing while acting

Making Milk: view of Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro
photo: Eric Nielson (TroublePup, Observd)

[previous: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones]

During one take, I marched past two extras dressed as macho riot cops in vintage police uniforms and white helmets. (Tangentially, as a sign of how times have changed, the actual San Francisco police officers guarding the set were two women with butch hairstyles.) One of the extras was perfect as an obnoxious cop, raising one eyebrow and sneering at us — as if he were thinking, Look at all these queers. What are these criminals planning? We need some law and order to protect decent society from these freaks! (Many of the protestor extras were convinced that these were actual police officers — probably because of their realistic portrayals.) Another cop, however, was smiling and looked as though he was about to burst out laughing.

At the end of the take, on the way back to ‘One,’ I said to the obnoxious cop, "You’re perfect! I’m scared of you!" He smiled at me, demonstrating that he was indeed an actor and not a homophobic cop.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: friends, Anita Bryant, Carrie Fisher

Making Milk: prop flyers on backdrop
photo: Steve Rhodes

[previous: laughing while acting]

Actors and extras took breaks while waiting for cameras and equipment to be repositioned. Production assistants wandered through the crowd, instructing us to put away our cell phones and digital cameras before upcoming scenes. Steve Rhodes remarked that this was a thankless and never-ending task. The extras couldn’t resist capturing the once-in-a-lifetime experience of making a movie in the Castro with Hollywood celebrities — but even just one single digital device spotted in the crowd would have betrayed the period on film. (The citizens of the ’70s might have felt ripped off if they had known that thirty years into the future would only bring handheld gadgets instead of, say, ubiquitous flying cars.)

The community of LGBTs and allies is a small world: during the many breaks, I caught up with old friends and acquaintances who were participating as extras in the crowd scenes. I ran into Joey Cain, former president of the board of San Francisco Pride, as well as a member of the Glide Memorial Church choir carrying a giant Gay Teachers stand up! sign. John Lewis of Marriage Equality USA carried a big white sign with Committee for Homosexual Law Reform in blue letters. His partner Stuart Gaffney recounted the romantic story of their first drinks over two decades ago at the bar formerly known as The Elephant Walk, a block away at 18th and Castro Streets, now appropriately named Harvey’s.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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Tell a friend Making ‘Milk’: make-believe riot, talking shop with actors

Making Milk: retro storefronts
photo: Steve Rhodes

[previous: friends, Anita Bryant, Carrie Fisher]

During another shot of the Wichita protest march, I walked past the giant cameras set on a rig in the middle of the street — and tried desperately not to look at it, which is notoriously challenging for non-actors. I walked right past, within inches of, the boom operator — and, again, tried not to look at his microphone overhead.

When the crew had turned around the camera, the assistant director announced that they’d be lighting a flare for the riot scene (to mimic the unique look of raw electricity). "Don’t look at the flare," he instructed. I was getting used the challenge of not looking at something that most humans, under ordinary circumstances, would find themselves staring at.

Posted February 5, 2008 by Mariva in city, community, fashion, movies, social

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