Here is my experience as “Railroad Worker” Extra in the Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer/Gore Verbinski production of The Lone Ranger.
One day, in the spring of 2012, I was hanging out with some friends at Naggy McGee’s Irish Pub in Grand Junction, Colorado. My buddy Lawrence said “Guys, I just found this out from some friends on Facebook: They’re making a new Lone Ranger movie and they’re filming some of it out in Moab. They’re sending out a casting call for extras! We should go do it!” I have always wanted to be at least an extra in a movie so I was like “Yeah! Let’s do it!”
So some friends including Lawrence, Mike, Stevo & I drove to Moab the weekend of the tryouts in April. There were what seemed like a thousand other people there & they took us in 50 at a time. There were some Native American guys there & I thought “they’re in for sure!”. A lot of people dressed in western wear which we hadn’t even thought of. We all had in hand a 4×6 photo and an information sheet. We were laughing so hard at Stevo because the photo he struggled so hard to get a print of the night before was of him in his “Septi Wilbur” costume making a rat face at the camera! Inside Sandy Aleski (The casting director), was calling people up who had “stupid human tricks”. I thought ‘well crap, I got nothin’…I guess I’m not gonna make it.’ Lawrence when up & showed some breakdance moves. Some dudes did Parkour. Some were contortionists, one guy was a professional clown, etc. After everyone showed off, they collected our photos, told the men not to shave until the summer was over and sent us on our way.
Weeks went by & I heard nothing from them & assumed I wasn’t chosen, so I shaved. Then Stevo got a call! We were so excited for him! I couldn’t believe one of my own friends was chosen!!! We thought maybe they really liked that crazy photo he brought!! He started growing his beard out for the first time in his life. Then one day I got an email from Sandy Aleski! They wanted to use me too!! Mike was contacted too but he had to work all the days they were shooting.
In June, while I was helping mom & dad build their log house on my vacation, I had to skip out a couple of days on them. The first time I had to drive all the way to Moab for a costume fitting. It was all of an hour for this dude to pick out an old west get-up for me and then drive all the way back out to mom & dad’s.
The next trip to Moab was for the actual shooting. I drove out & met Stevo & his friend in Moab & we decided to camp out in the canyon where the movie crew’s “base camp” was. We decided to just sleep in the beds of our trucks which turned out to be the worst idea ever. Heat from the day had absorbed into the rock canyon walls & was radiating off all night long. I don’t think any of us got a wink of sleep & we were supposed to be at base camp at 5am! We started hearing heavy traffic at around 4:30am.
They were serving some breakfast at base camp but we already ate some yogurt & stuff. The first thing they had us do was get in line inside the base camp tents (where we had the costume fitting) for our costumes. There were probably a couple hundred other extras there. After a long wait I was able to put on the costume which they had picked out for me which was a thick button up shirt & thick pants with suspenders & boot/shoes with no padding in the souls plus the cowboy hat. Next was “Hair & Make-up”. At the tryouts in April they had told us not to shave but after weeks of hearing nothing from them I had been shaving. So now they had to give me a wig. It was goofy looking longish hair with a receding hairline. Then in make up they sprayed all this stuff to make us look sweaty & really dirty. Then we were shuffled outside where they threw dirt all over us & then loaded us up on “people movers”.
They drove us up this long rough winding road up by Potash (I couldn’t believe these buses could make it up all that.) On the bus I sat by my friend Jesse Hoisington whom I had gone to Africa with in 2009. This wasn’t the first time Jesse and I had rode in a bus on some really rough roads together! They brought us up to what I guess is now known as “Thelma & Lois Point” where they drove their car off the cliff in that movie. As we came out into the clearing surrounded by cliffs and magnificent views, there we saw it: the full on Hollywood Experience! There was a fake old west rain, crews, equipment, a little old west settlement with tents, carts, timbers, wheel barrows, etc.
When we got of the bus there was a girl with a megaphone telling us what to do. We were told we could have an umbrella, a water bottle and sunglasses but that it all needed to be able to hide behind set items. They spread us out in the little “town” and gave most of us some props: pick axes, shovels, hammers, etc.
Stevo & his friend were able to attend a “boot camp” the previous week where they were taught how to lift rails and stuff to make it look real. So we were split up pretty early on. I figured he’d have a much better shot of being on camera because of that. The girl with the megaphone explained things to us & told us to mingle about in the town & talk to people. I remember talking to one guy and we wondered where the cameras were & then realized they were a quarter of a mile away on another cliff!
Each time they would run through a scene the person with the megaphone would call out “Background!” at which point we were supposed to deliver our “Grammy winning performance”, then “Rolling!” and they’d start the film, then “Action!” and the actors would start their part. Several times I walked across that little “settlement town” and pretended to have a conversation with some Chinese guys. There was a couple of guys who were supposed to be reporters with, if I remember right, the Rocky Mountain news. Though we were not mic’ed and far from any cameras, one of the reporters walked up to me acted like he was asking questions for the paper.
After that scene we were told they wouldn’t need us for a bit and to go enjoy some air-conditioning on the buses. I got in a bus with a couple other guys. A second later a lady opened the door and asked “Who here did not go to the boot camp?” Three of us raised our hands. “I need you guys to come with me”. We jumped on a 15 passenger van and she whisked us away to that other cliff where I had seen the cameras!
When we got down there I was paired up with a guy & given a milk can and he got a grain sack. We were told to walk along the cliff’s edge. There was a huge deflector set up for lighting and all the camera rigging, cameras & stuff all around including one giant (8 foot diameter?) light that seemed as bright as the sun itself! They would call out “Background!…Rolling!…Action!” and then the actor (either Barry Pepper or a stunt double) would ride up on a horse and they’d start up a giant fan to blow dust all around him. He would say “Heard you were having an Indian problem” and we were supposed to look up startled and pretend the Cavalry was behind him. They held up big black signs with green X’s on them that were supposed to represent the other Cavalry. We had to do that probably 20 or more times. Then after a bit we were taken back to the other location. It was a hot, dry dusty day and those unpadded shoes hurt more & more as the day went by.
They started to direct us to do similar things as we did that first time but there was some confusion and a lot of waiting around and then (if I remember right) they decided to break for lunch. We all walked a little way back down the road where they had tents set up & table on a really rocky sloped hill. There was a buffet line and we were starving. I got to catch up with Stevo and could tell he was a bit frazzled from not getting any sleep the night before and being out in the hot sun all day. Also his sweat was washing some of the makeup and stuff into his eyes.The food seemed to run out pretty quickly and lunch was only about half an hour.
After lunch we were brought over to the other side of the locomotive (between it and the cliff). Stevo & I had been separated most of the day but I saw him and his friend on the “rail team” next to the train. I was brought over with about 5 other guys near the cliff & looking toward the cameras. The train sat on a piece of fake track that ran to the cliff and what was supposed to be the beginnings of a bridge. In this scene the director would call out “Rolling!” and they would fire up a boiler or something inside the train and the smoke stack would start billowing smoke and steam would blow out from under the train. Then “Background!” and two sets of rail teams would pick up a rail on their shoulders and march it alongside the train. When they called “Action!”, the camera, perched on a boom connected to a rigging on its own track would move toward me and then swing around the front of the train getting a good shot of the guys carrying rails. When Action was called, an animal trainer (dressed in costume) would lead a donkey across the tracks, then me and the guys with me were supposed to hurriedly march across the track in front of the train in sets of two. This was probably the most exciting thing we did all day and felt the most like being in a movie. We did this take what seemed like 20 times.
All day we had been directed around by what I guess were like “sub” directors, including one guy (I forget his name) who seemed to be “higher up” with some kind of Aussie or New Zealand accent. At this cliff scene there was a guy in cowboy hat with a beard (I think he had an accent too) who, I think, was Gore Verbinski.
As the late afternoon bore on, those of us not on the rail team (mainly “townfolk” looking characters) were gathered around a little wooden podium stand decorated with red, white & blue sashes on the cliff’s edge. In this group I found two more of my friends from Grand Junction: Colter Harkins and Caleb Fenske. Though I didn’t recognize him at first because of his huge beard, Tom Wilkinson took the podium.
There was a camera behind him to get the crowd shot and then one behind me to film the speech he gave. Again the sequence of “Rolling!….Background!…Action!” was run through, each time with Tom giving his speech with small improvised differences each time. He seemed kind of annoyed or in a bad mood, but I think it was because he was “in character”. For weeks afterward I could recite the whole speech because they did so many takes. At certain points in the speech we were directed to clap or cheer. Each time he would end the speech with “So put THAT in your papers!” and lean on the podium and point to the reporter guy & his friends I had talked to earlier.
Throughout the day there would be long pauses between takes. Most of the time we had no idea what they were waiting on. Sometimes, though, it was apparent they were waiting on some cloud cover to pass. At one point during Tom’s speech the wind picked up really hard and we had to literally “hang on to our hats” and I thought for sure some of their lighting screens were going to go right over the cliff. The camera rig was like 3 feet from the cliff and chalked up on wood were the cliff sloped off. I thought all that might blow off too. After a bit the wind chilled out some and the sun came back out (at this point it was nearing sunset).
When Tom was done reciting his speech, he came off the stand and came over near where Gore was (like 3 feet from me!) and they discussed some things & looked at a monitor. There was a lot of waiting around and I conversed with people around me, mainly with Caleb.
Then Tom Wilkinson’s double took the stage and it was time for helicopter shots. The double pretended to give a speech but just said some funny things. The helicopter had a camera in a bubble on the nose and flew up and down, in and out of the canyon. No one told us, but we all knew you’re not supposed to look at the camera. It was hard though, because the helicopter was doing so pretty fancy flying and would dip in and out of the canyon, close and far from us. Then at one point, the smoke stack on the train caught fire! Crews hit it hard with fire extinguishers but were having real difficulty controlling it. As a safety measure they cleared everyone off set. I guess by that time they had gotten enough footage and the sun was setting anyway, so they called it a day
Initially they told us they would probably need us two days, so we were expecting to have to come back the next day. As we traveled down the rough road, now under moonlight, I was hungry and tired and in a bit of a bad mood. There was no way I was spending the night in the canyon again. When we got back to base camp it was about 10pm and we were told they had gotten enough footage and wouldn’t need us back the next day. I was relieved and decided instead of spending money on a hotel I would grab some fast food and head back to Grand Junction.
Sometime later Lawrence got the call too & went to base camp for a costume fitting but later they cancelled the shoot he was in. Also later Stevo got called up & went out to be a part of another shoot with Barry Pepper and the Cavalry, but that part was cut out as well. A month or two later I finally got a meager paycheck: minimum wage for one day! Oh the riches of being a movie star! haha.
I think it was the early months of 2013 when the first few previews came out. In one of them, my friend Paul Quintana’s face is pretty clearly seen in the window of a train! Another preview showed one of the helicopter shots & the little group of people I was in was there although entirely too far away to recognize anyone. It was funny to see an extra train bridge in that shot that was digitally added later!
Finally July 3rd, 2013 rolled around & I went with some of my friends to see the movie. Three of the locations from that day made it into the movie and at one point you can definitely see Stevo’s face! I’m pretty sure you could see me walking across the train tracks, but I will need to look at it more closely when the DVD comes out. I could see my buddy Paul Quintana pretty clearly at least three times (He’s been an extra in several other movies & TV shows including The Avengers, Breaking Bad & The Campaign.)
Altogether it was a fun and memorable experience!