Quiet on the Set!

They're making a Hollywood movie in our little town. Or hadn't you noticed?

Stuart Fink is not happy to see me. I'm standing in front of St. Ambrose Catholic Church on the Hill, in the middle of the set for The Game of Their Lives, wearing what I'd hoped would pass for a soccer uniform. I'd aimed to lose myself on the set of a soccer movie, but the scene being shot today, unfortunately, is a funeral, and my get-up contrasts noticeably with all the dark suits and black dresses.

This is my second day on the set in a disguise; the previous afternoon I'd sneaked through a parking lot dressed as a delivery driver -- blue work shirt and pants, carrying a package and a clipboard. It worked: Nobody noticed me.

Right now Fink, the publicist for this movie, is about 100 feet away, standing behind the camera crew as they get ready to shoot a scene inside a barbershop. He sees me as I approach an extra and immediately barrels toward me, his fists clenched at his side. The extra's cell phone rings and he steps away, leaving me alone in the street. I've been on the set less than five minutes.

Jennifer Silverberg
Extras stay sharp between takes on the football field at Soldan High.
Jennifer Silverberg
Extras stay sharp between takes on the football field at Soldan High.

Fink strides up. "You're not really here, are you?" he huffs through clenched teeth. His ever-present sunglasses don't quite conceal his outrage; he appears ready to pull out his close-cropped gray hair. "You're not really here, are you?" he says again.

I tell him the obvious: that I am, indeed, standing right in front of him.

"Who invited you? Who invited you?" he asks, rocking back and forth on the heels of his bright white leather sneakers. Apparently he thinks I'm a mirage, and that I'll disappear into the St. Louis summer heat if he can just find the right magic words.

"No one invited me, but nobody kept me off, either. I just walked here," I say. (I don't mention that on my way in I bypassed several traffic barricades with "Street Closed" signs attached.)

"Then you're going to have to leave," he says. "Am I going to have to call security? Am I going to have to call security?"

The first time I hear Stuart Fink's voice, it's late June and he's left me a message. I'd called and asked for two weeks of behind-the-scenes access to The Game of Their Lives, the $27 million film about the 1950 World Cup that's being shot right here in River City thanks to the fact that five St. Louisans were members of that legendary U.S soccer squad. I want to meet and talk to the people who get a movie made but don't usually get much attention -- the lighting crew, the extras, the caterers, the hairstylists, the interns who do a little bit of everything. The volunteers who keep gawkers off the set. After all, it's not every day that Hollywood comes to this town.

Fink's recorded voice informs me that two weeks on the set would be out of the question. But he agrees to let me come by one day the following week and talk to a few people. We'll see what else I need after that, he says.

As instructed, I show up on location at Marquette Park, tucked between Grand Avenue and Chippewa Street on the south side. It's a mild day for summer in St. Louis -- sunny, temperature in the 80s, with a warm breeze. Streets all around the park have been closed to traffic, and dozens of late-1940s automobiles line the sidewalks throughout the neighborhood. Extras, dressed in period costume, are everywhere.

I find Fink and introduce myself. He opens his arms in a gesture of mocking gratitude. "My life is complete," he says, his raspy voice inflected with an East Coast accent.

Fink runs a tight ship, coordinating interviews with the stars and director David Anspaugh and providing poorly written press releases. A Los Angeles resident with a pair of sunglasses permanently attached to his tanned face, he has been in the movie business for about fifteen years, he tells me, and does other public-relations work between movie gigs. The biggest movie he has worked on, and the one he mentions over and over, is A League of Their Own, the 1992 opus about women's professional baseball in the 1940s.

All the big movie equipment has been set up in one corner of the park. The sound crew has a big trailer near the spot where shooting will take place. There's a massage tent, the director's tent, the refreshment tent, the actors' tent and a couple of big booms for the cameras. On the sidewalk next to the park, props are piled up -- picnic baskets, antique bicycles, a pair of bright red Radio Flyer wagons. Five or six boys about ten years old are dressed in khaki pants and plaid oxfords for their extra roles, and are playing on the soccer field between takes. Anspaugh, a veteran of the feel-good sports movie (the first feature he directed was Hoosiers, in 1986, and he came back with Rudy seven years later), is huddled beneath a big tent, watching the action on three monitors, attended by a retinue of handlers and attractive young women.

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