Monday, December 2, 2013

A Star Is Born.....or not.....

Several months ago when we heard about a movie being made in Panama City we jumped at the chance to sign up as "extras."  After all we don't work and have plenty of time for fun and adventure, so why not take a chance and perhaps we'll show up in the movie for a second or two. Clyde quickly found out the location of the casting office and the next day we set out for stardom. Located in the front of a hotel in the city we filled out paperwork that included our height, weight and clothing sizes, and they took head shots and full body shots. We were each instructed on how to sign into the casting company's website and were told they'd call us when they needed us. A few weeks later Clyde received the first call that they had a part for him in the movie and to come in for a wardrobe fitting. He left early one morning for the 90-minute commute and spent hours sitting around waiting to be fitted in a 70's outfit, much like the ones he wore in high school. At the end of his five hour day he was give a crisp, new $10 bill in an envelope for his days pay.  Of course this didn't even pay for the gas, but we're not in it for the money just the experience.

The movie is "Hands of Stone" the story of Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran.  Born on June 16, 1951 he grew up in the slums of El Chorrillo, in Panama City and started boxing when he was only 8 years old. He made his first professional debut at the age of 16, and by the time he retired at age 50, he was regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.  A versatile brawler in the ring he was nicknamed "manos de piedra," Spanish for "hands of stone" during his career. The movie Hands of Stone follows his life and successful boxing career until he retired at the age of 50.  Roberto Duran still lives in Panama City where he owns a bar/restaurant called La Tasca de Duran in El Cangrejo.

The movie boasts an all-star casts which includes: Singer Raymond Usher who plays Sugar Ray Leonard; Roberto Duran is played by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez; and Roberto Di Nero plays Ray Arcel, Leonard's trainer.  Also on the list are:  Ellen Barkin as Arcel's wife, Drena Di Nero's (daughter of Robert), Ruben Blades, and many more well-known talents. Our Canadian friend Phil Dankiw was in the right place at the right time and was snagged for the role of the announcer in the Montreal fight. He spent a week on the movie set rubbing elbows with the big shots and made a little money along with a lifetime of memories for his efforts.

As for us, our hopes of being discovered flat-lined as soon as we realized what they expected from the extras. The scene that Clyde was cast in was supposed to be filmed in late October, but when he called them he was told, "not yet."  It seems like that scene went on without him, but considering that he was the only gringo among a room of tanned skinned people, perhaps he just didn't fit the part. Another night they called for me around 8pm and told me to be in the city at 6am the following day.  I was instructed to wear comfortable clothing and bring sun screen since I'd be outside near the pool for a long day.  About five minutes later the phone rang again and the women said, "never mind, we're not filming that scene tomorrow. We'll call you another time." 

Our friends and acquaintances, other expats that live here were called for to be extras and many posted their experiences on social media like Facebook. They worked 12-15 hour days in the hot sun standing around waiting for scenes to be filmed.  Other's started their day at 3pm and worked till the wee hours of the morning, also 15 hours or more. And payment for their services was usually around $40 per day. 

As the months went on and Clyde and I were never called I realized that just maybe this was meant to be.  I really didn't cherish the idea of being stuck someplace with no way out, sitting around sweating for many hours at a time with a bunch of strangers who didn't speak English.  Originally when we signed up I thought it would be fun IF Clyde and I could go together and maybe spend a day there filming.  It would be fun to see an actual movie set and see how things are done.

Then on Friday night a call came in asking Clyde if he could be in Panama City for filming from Sunday through Thursday of this week? He apologized and said he wasn't available for those days in order to get out of it.  The casting assistant on the phone then asked, "well can you just do it for one day?"  The man went onto say, "it will only take about FIVE hours." So Clyde put down the phone and asked me if I'd like to do just one day for kicks?  I agreed and he suggested to the man on the phone that he bring me along, since we did both registered with the casting company. The man agreed and we were about to have another adventure here in Panama.  He told us to meet at the Hotel Miramar in the city at 10 am on Sunday.

We left the house around 7 ish on Sunday morning, just in case we hit traffic along the way so we wouldn't be late. As soon as we crossed the Bridge of the Americas and attempted to take the turn we wanted, we noticed the road was closed due to a road race.  Runners could be seen everywhere as well as parked cars of spectators along the route. We had to take a detour and eventually managed to make our way to the Miramar.  The girl at the front desk knew nothing about the "extras" meeting there.  And we were told to park at a nearby building's parking lot which ended up being closed, and likewise the receptionist knew nothing about this arrangement for parking. We drove around some more until we found a spot on the street, since we were early walking a bit was not an issue.

Once inside the Miramar we found bathrooms and sat and waited for someone to show up.  Ten o'clock came and we still didn't see any large group of people.  Clyde walked around outside and noticed three buses in the front parking lot.  He asked the driver, "where does this bus go?"  The driver said, "Howard AFB," and left it at that.  Little did we know that the filming was to be done at the old Howard AFB that is now called Panama Pacifico, a housing and office complex. Once we finally figured out those were our buses we got in the line and headed to some unknown location. The bus traveled about 20-minutes and dropped us off in what looked like the middle of no where. From this point it was a mess of going from one line to the other like a herd of cattle, squashed among hundreds of sweaty, smelly people. It was a combination of gringo's and Panamanians, many of whom had done other days of filming and come back for more. 

On the line we started chatting with a young girl from England and an English speaking man from Brazil. Both had done other days of filming and told us to expect at least a 10-12 hour day.  We explained that we were told this was only a "five hour shoot," to which they both chuckled and said, "we don't think so."  And we were about to find out just how right on they were.

From the registration line which took about an hour we went to the next line which was out in the hot sun. We were sent inside a gymnasium where we checked in our personal items in the "paqueteria," a sort of coat check in Panama.  From there we were told to go pick up our boxed lunch, which consisted of Spanish style rice with minuscule bits of vegetables and meat in it, along with a piece of cooked plantain and a one-bite piece of cake. To the side was either an apple or banana and ice water.  The food was pretty lousy but it was all we had and we ate every bite, not knowing when we'd get fed again, if ever. Our "mess hall" was a white tent filled with plastic white chairs and white bags that held the pre-prepared food boxes.  It looked more like a setup for an outdoor wedding than a place to eat lunch but it worked for us.

Our Wonderful Lunch

After lunch the fun began as we went to wardrobe to be fitted with outfits from the 70's and 80's.  Standing around a hot gym I was a sweaty mess and my clothes were stuck to my body.  Although there was a partial obstruction keeping the naked women from being seen by the men, it was pretty easy for them to see us undressing. One of the wardrobe ladies picked out an outfit for me which happened to fit perfectly and then I picked out red, chunky heeled, wedge sling back shoes to match. The dress was a lightweight black, long dress with a whimsical, random pattern of colorful veggies on it. I was thankful that she gave me something with short sleeves since it was sweltering in the place.  Other women were fitted with 70's style pant suits, long sleeved shirts with blazers and glitzy polyester dresses.  Many men were fitted with suits and ties so Clyde was happy that he was given a short sleeved shirt and polyester pants. It was as if we were transported back to our days of youth seeing people walking around with Afro's and bell bottom pants, culottes, halters, neon, wild patterns and big wedgie heels.

Terry, fresh out of "wardrobe"

Clyde with his polyester bells and
Wide collar shirt with no buttons

Next stop was hair and makeup where a male cosmetologist pinned back my hair using bobby pins, braided it and twisted it up into a messy bun.  He teased the ends that protruded and gave me a healthy dose of hair spray to keep it all in place. The makeup artist gave me a light dusting of makeup, lots of powder and eye shadow and lipstick to match.  Clyde's hair was combed over to one side and sprayed which he says is the way he wore it back in high school, and yes that was in the 70's.

Terry after Makeup and Hair done

Clyde with hair combed, sprayed
and blow dried like the seventies

Since we signed a contract on which we agreed to not take pictures of the actors or the set, we were only able to take photos of ourselves and the area outside of the set. I'm probably not even supposed to be talking about the movie behind the scenes, but here's hoping  that no Hollywood big-wigs stumble up this blog. So since we couldn't take any pictures we borrowed them from the "Hands of Stone" the movie, Facebook page.

From the gym we were lead into another line to a building that looked like an old hangar for planes, back in the day when the air force base was operational. We went in through a side door, walked through a series of narrow hallways with uneven cement pavement, and landed in a smoke filled room with a stage in the middle. The stage of course was a boxing arena, dressed in red, white and blue with bright beams of lights shining down from above.  A nearby smoke machine kept the room filled with billowy smoke, creating an eeary yet cool look that once again took us back to the days of smoke filled rooms.  They seemed to be placing the gringos in the front row since this scene was set in the US, and the darker people in the next rows.

The Set for the Louisiana Fight

More extras piled into the room as the hours went on, and eventually the director came in to give us some direction. Someone went around handing out American flags and small posters that announced the event we were about to witness.  The day was Tuesday, November 25, 1980 and the place was the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans. The fight was the World Welterweight Championship between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Finally we knew where we were and what scene we were about to see filmed.  This was the famous fight where Duran walked away and surrendered indicating to the referee that he wanted, "no mas," or "no more" in Spanish.

Yes This Is What I Had To Look At, Right In Front Of Me!
Usher As Sugar Ray Leonard
The director began moving people around the room, positioning some above the doorway and lining up others to the side of the doorway, almost like a welcoming committee.  Picture if you will a stadium where the players enter through the side, with bleachers above and on both sides.  They lined us up and told us to look directly at the actor as he walked by, while we screamed, clapped and welcomed Sugar Ray Leonard into the arena.  Usher appeared just a few feet away from us smiling and making eye contact with the crowd. He wore shorts that said "Roberto Duran" on them and stood there as they wrapped his hands and put the boxing gloves on him.  His body was a picture of perfection, since he had to lose weight and bulk up big time for the role. I could almost taste his chocolate skin he was so close.  The director positioned young, black security guards in front of us as if to block the crowd from touching the boxer. Another women and myself joked with the cute, young Panamanian man blocking part of our view.  I offered him back rubs and threatened to tickle him to get him out of our way.  He laughed at our silliness and eventually surprised me by saying something in English.  Little did I know he was listening to our joking all along.

After five takes of Sugar Ray entering the arena which took hours, we were finally allowed to sit back down. By now my feet were killing me and I was in need of some water. Thankfully, the staff did provide us with ample amounts of water through the day and night.  Extras were moved around again putting a bunch of black women with voo doo dolls together to catch them on camera.  As the crowds chanted USA the women held up the dolls and poked them with pins, symbolizing that they wanted Duran to lose to American Sugar Ray Leonard.  Various fight scenes were filmed as we were instructed to stand, clap, sit, cheer and yell for hours and hours.  We waved our American flags in the air along with posters and the director kept telling us he needed more enthusiasm.  The smoke machines pumped in a humid mist of smoke that seemed to make the room even hotter, as the sweat dripped down our bodies.  Makeup artists came around to blot our skin and brush on more powder. One women even fixed the neck of my dress when she noticed my bra strap sticking out.

Official Souvenir Poster That We Waved During Filming

Our five hour day turned into night, and then into the early hours of the morning.  We were fed a boxed dinner of white rice, beans, a pork chop, cookies, another bite of cake, iced tea and coffee.  Back in the arena we noticed a different presence on stage.  It was the actor Edgar Ramirez who plays Roberto Duran along with his stunt double. A few more fight scenes were filmed and then Usher and his stunt double appeared.  We now had FOUR hunky, hard bodied, young guys on stage that were continually sprayed down with water to make them glisten. The choreography of the fight scenes went on for hours and hours and the later it got the harder it was to get excited about cheering and screaming, but we did as we were told. I longed for coffee, coke or anything with caffeine to re-energize me.  Many of the extras were napping in between scenes and would wake up to cheer on the boxers then nod off again, almost falling off their chairs.

Word got around that the director wanted everyone there until 2am, but it was around 12:45 when they finally called it a wrap. But our day was far from over as we still had to wait on lines to undress, find our clothes in the wardrobe department, wait in line to get paid our $40 each for our days pay, and pick up our belongings that we checked it.  They handed out pieces of ham sandwiches on white bread while waiting on one of the lines.  Next we made it to the line for the buses back to the hotel which is where this day began.  The bus left the base around 1:15 and we made it back to the hotel parking lot, then had to walk to our car.  It was close to 2am when we left the city and made it home by 3 since there was no traffic on the roads at that hour.  So our five hour filming turned into a 16 hour day plus about four hours of travel time.  Some of our time on the film set was fascinating and some of it was miserable.  But at least we had the experience of being extras on a major, Hollywood film set.....along the gringo trail.

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