|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.
Hirsch was flanked by a couple of twenty-something extras dressed as mustached politicos in stiff trenchcoats. I guess such young politicos at the time grew mustaches to appear older and more professional.
When the cameras rolled, quiet Hirsch became a nervously energetic Cleve Jones and enunciated into the bullhorn, "In Nazi Germany, they took away our civil rights –"
We responded with a resounding BOO.
"– and now they’re taking away our civil rights in Wichita!" Hirsch/Jones continued. "And as we’ve been taught, when we’re attacked, we fight back!"
At this point, we’d been instructed to turn northwestward toward Market Street, chanting, "Civil rights or civil war: gay rights now!"
After the first take, though, the directors decided that the sequence of events looked too planned. We were supposed to be recreating an impromptu demonstration, after all. So, during subsequent takes, we were directed to listen for the word Wichita in Hirsch’s/Jones’s speech and use it as a cue to turn toward Market Street and start marching and chanting. A whistle was blown to make sure we’d turn en masse on cue. With each Wichita turn, I grabbed Alisa‘s hand, and we pretended to be "girlfriends" marching together toward social justice.
The director asked us to mouth the word BOO silently during a couple of the takes, but most of the extras kept forgetting and yelled it out loud anyway. One extra got frustrated and accused everyone else of being too mentally challenged — (he used a less socially acceptable term) — to follow a simple direction. I laughed at the just-barely contained chaos of it all.
After repositioning the camera on the street in the intersections of Castro, Market, and 17th Streets, Webb announced that in this scene, we’d be beginning to march from the Castro down Market Street to City Hall. Since Market Street couldn’t be blocked off at this time in the evening, however, he instructed, "OK, everyone, now you’ll be marching this way and turning onto 17th Street" — so that we’d give the appearance of turning a corner, even if it wasn’t technically the correct corner.
We chanted our signature Gay Rights Now! line, again punching fists and shaking signs as we marched past the camera. The assistant director yelled "Cut! OK, good — back to ‘One’!" Production assistants and assistant directors scattered in the crowd instructed us, "Back to ‘One.’ Back, back, back." As we returned to our original positions, we joked that we were so energized that we would have actually marched all the way to City Hall if the director hadn’t yelled Cut.
In a gentle voice, Van Sant said, "You guys are doing great; you’re looking great in the monitors." He continued, with a bit of awe, "Your energy is just incredible; I can see why your movement was so successful."
"It ain’t over!" shouted someone in the crowd, garnering cheers and applause.
[next: laughing while acting]