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More From The Lake 

... images from  Lake James

I worked during most of the filming at the Fort on Lake James.  These are a few of my experiences that summer…

                I was told to show up at 10:00 a.m. on my first day.  I parked in a remote parking area, not knowing for sure where to go.  I saw a shuttle bus come by so I hopped on board.  This took me to what I referred to as base camp where all the extras and actors received their costumes and makeup.  I remember spending a lot of that day being told to hurry only to wait for hours.  The filming started that evening after the sun had gone down.  I remember seeing the Fort for the first time.  We had marched up from “base camp” because there was no bus available to shuttle us up. Dale Dye (the military coordinator) had us march up in formation while he shouted cadence.  I think the distance was about a mile.  My first thought on seeing the set was that it didn’t look real.  There were old tires smoldering here and there and the whole set was bright as day with the massive lighting.  I didn’t think the movie was going to be good at all.  I was naïve to the process and didn’t understand all the effects that are used on film.  Not to mention the sound effects and back ground music that adds to the ambience of a finished movie.  For the rest of that night my band of extras were instructed to take aim at the Fort and then turn and sprint down the hillside as fast as we could.  We finished that night around midnight.  That was the first of many 14-hour days.

                My most memorable moments came from being selected to be part of the “walking dead.”  One day, while waiting at base camp, I was randomly picked to get prosthetics (wounds made of special plastic).  I walked into the trailer and struck up a conversation with one of the prosthetic guys.  We started talking about music, he played piano and I played guitar.  We were about the same age around twenty.  In the course of the conversation, I told him that I wanted to look DEAD.  He said he had been waiting a while for a volunteer to use some of the gory stuff he had.  He glued on a big gaping open chest wound.  Then he glued on a neckpiece that looked as if my skin had been badly burned.  He applied some makeup around my face to make me look war ravaged then generously applied Karo Syrup (mixed with red food coloring) to give me that fresh bloody look.  I was by far the worst wounded of our small bunch.

The Fortress

We showed up on set and I watched as the others were placed.  The assistant director was having a hard time finding a place for me because I was too wounded.  When he first saw me, he was like, “Oh, my gosh.”  I was placed on a cot but deemed too injured for that position.  Finally, that night, I was leaned against a post beside where the Stars would be walking in.  This was the scene in which Hawkeye leads Monroe’s daughters to the Fort after saving them in the forest.  I noticed that the angle the assistant director had placed me wasn’t the best one for me to be in the shot.  Let’s face it, most everyone was there to try to get a good shot so that you could be seen clearly in the theatre.  I took it upon myself to lean against the front of the post instead of the side.  About ten minutes later, the assistant director was standing over me screaming, “who told you to move, why aren’t you where I put you?”  I was very surprised and wanted to stay out of trouble, so I lied and said one of the guys in the yellow shirt told me to move.  Most of the film crew had yellow shirts, which narrowed it down to at least 20 people.  He lightened up and said, “well don’t move again unless I tell you.”  The rest of the night was uneventful except for the climatic explosion that happened near the end of the night’s shoot.  I only had to lie there pretending to be mortally wounded, so I would nod off.  All night there were small explosions and a rustle of activity.  Then out of nowhere a huge explosion happened and I felt pieces of dirt hit my face.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  I thought something very bad had happened.  I must have been out of it when they prompted everyone for the explosion, but nothing had gone wrong.  That night at dinner I was asked to move to the back of the tent by the people at my table, because my wounds were too gross to look at while eating.

We quit filming when the sun came up.  I had no idea about the pain I that was about to endure when the prosthetics would be removed.  Medical adhesive is used to glue the prosthetic to the skin.  They poured acetone on me that chemically dissolved the plastic much the same way that gasoline melts a Styrofoam cup.  At the same time as the acetone “ate” at the prosthetic, someone pulled it loose tearing at skin and hair.  I knew that the next time I would shave my chest.  Though the gaping wounds had been removed, I still had tons of fake blood on my face and body.  On the way home, the road in front of my house was being paved.  I leaned out the window and asked the flag man without thinking, “Hey, I’ve been out all night, my house is just the 5th one down, do you care if I slip by real quick.”  I wasn’t even thinking about how I looked.  The guy got on the radio and told me to go ahead.  Later on, my Mother had taken they workers something to drink and they asked her if I was o.k.  She said yeah, why, and they told her that they had assumed I had been in some kind of fight because of all of the blood.  I had warned my Mother before she looked at me not to be alarmed that it was all fake blood, but I hadn’t given any thought to the guys working on the road.

The Soldier

That Monday we shot the same scene.  I was instructed to put on the same, clothes for continuity, as I had on the past Friday.  Over the weekend ants had swarmed the Karo covered clothes.  I am an agreeable easygoing person, but I drew the line at the ant-covered shirt.  With a little protest I was finally given a clean ant free shirt and freshly smothered with “Karo” blood.  That night I was instructed to lie on the ground and pretend to be dead.  We shot ALL night long, so the best way to pretend to be dead was to sleep.  I woke up one time and started to set up to stretch my back and a guy on the crew jumped and screamed before he caught himself.  He had thought I was a prop, much like the fake dead horse on the set, and hadn’t expected me to get up and move.

The last night I was part of the “walking dead” I was leaned against a wall with a “nurse” tending my wounds.  It was her first time on the set and she was nervous.  After a week or so of filming I felt like an old pro, so I tried to make her feel better by humming, “In My Time of Dying.”

As I previously mentioned we spent a lot of time waiting.  One day while on break from filming the surrender of the Fort I was lying under a shade tree at second camp.  Second camp was closer to the Fort, set up in front of a Log Cabin residence.  We had just had lunch and were trying to stay cool in our wool uniforms on that hot summer day.  One of the Native American extras stuck his tomahawk in the hole of a yellow jacket’s nest in ground.  I watched as a small swarm gathered around the hole wanting in.  I was worried that the yellow jackets were getting agitated.  I took the tomahawk out of the hole thinking it would fix the problem.  Unfortunately there were more angry yellow jackets in the hole wanting out than wanting in.  I was stung on the finger.  My canvas leg gaiters and wool uniform was covered with yellow jackets.  My clothing was to thick for them to get to me.  Other extras weren’t as lucky.  One guy who was asleep got stung 18 times and had to have medical care.  No one knew the circumstance of how the yellow jackets became so agitated and I didn’t say.  Sorry to those that got hurt, but I didn’t stick the tomahawk in the hole in the first place.

One night we would be dressed as French, shooting at the Fort, the next night we were wearing British uniforms receiving the latent cannon balls and musket fire.  My last days, and the last days of shooting at the Fort were spent filming the surrender and march out.  I was lucky in that the night before we started filming that scene I had stayed over and shot a special scene in which we were shown using our huge mortars to blow chunks out of the Fort. I say lucky because the mortar uniform consisted of a wool vest instead of the huge wool coat and that is what I got to wear on those hot days. Once during the mortar shoot I forgot my earplugs as I carried a mock gun powder barrel down to a cannon when it went off.  The explosion was so loud that I was disoriented for a moment.

During the filming of the surrender and march out the crew walked around giving salt tablets and water between shots.  I hoped every take would be the last, but no, they shot until the sun went down.  The only times we stopped was when an airplane would fly too close.  Everyone was so hot and tired, I imagined my musket was real and I could shoot down the planes so that we could hurry up and finish shooting.  Once a thunderstorm suddenly blew up and the busses were brought in so that we could scurry aboard to escape the down pour and lightning.  I thought for sure that we would get to go home.  Everyone on the Greyhound like bus slept through the storm.  When the storm passed we were ushered back up the hill and back into our places.

At the time I questioned myself about choosing to participate in the movie.  I could have made more money and worked far less hours at another job.  I needed the money too, because I was a student at Appalachian State University. The next shoot was “Massacre Valley” filmed in the North Cove community of NC.  I didn’t get to be in it because my classes started the same week.  Looking back, I am very glad that I chose to be a part of the movie.  It was one of those one-time chances and a truly memorable experience.  The movie turned out to be great and I learned a lot about what goes into putting a film together.

AUGUST, 1757





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