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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.

"Back to [position] One," he instructed, and P.A.s in the crowd yelled, "Back, back, back!" I found my original place in front of a long-haired guy carrying a Gay Rights sign and beside a young hippie woman wearing a crocheted poncho, beaded earrings, and a decorative headband.

After a few minutes of collaboration between the directors, consultants, and principle actors, Webb announced, "OK, we’re going to try it a different way. Instead of all of you anticipating Harvey’s speech and greeting him like a rock star," — this drew laughter from the crowd — "you’ll be milling around, waiting for something to happen and not knowing that Harvey will be giving an impromptu speech. So just mill around quietly; don’t talk, just pantomime your conversations. Remember, you’re gathering because you want to do something [in protest], but nothing is planned beforehand."

So we milled around and pretended to have conversations. "I don’t know what’s happening," I mouthed. "Want to grab something to eat?" I saw a young guy and pretended that he was a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and we hugged.

Then Penn/Milk jumped up again on the platform and yelled in to the bullhorn, "Are you angry?!" We stopped milling, drew closer to him, and repeated the scene. Milling around beforehand seemed to work better, so Van Sant and his assistants took several takes, with Penn flawlessly jumping onto the platform in the same manner each time.

After Van Sant got enough takes of the scene filmed in this direction, we took a break so that the crew could reposition the massive camera — removing it from the rig so that the operator could hold it on her shoulder, cords and doohickeys adangle — this time to face Penn on the platform and repeat the scene from the opposite perspective. For the wide shot, a member of the crew climbed a ladder to affix an old-style WALK/DONT WALK facade to the the pedestrian light to cover its modern icons.

Another scene involved us shouting "We have the power to . . . fight back!" in unison toward the platform, punching fists and shaking demonstration signs on the words fight back. It took us a few moments to get the rhythm of the slogan correct, but we learned it quickly and performed a few takes of that.

Between takes, a number of volunteer extras lit up large pipes of a common illegal herb. Inhaling the pungeant second-hand smoke, we joked that the atmosphere even smelled like the ’70s.

[next: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones]

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

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