Quiet on the Set!

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

I find Bob Krattiger camped out in the shade on the edge of the park in a lawn chair, a laptop across his legs. Clad in a white muscle shirt and flip-flops, he looks like an aging surfer, right down to the brown feathered hair and bushy mustache. Krattiger is the gaffer, which translates, in layman's terms, to "lighting technician." He doesn't have much to do today. The sun is out, and the cameras are filming a soccer scene and a halftime pep talk.

"I'm pretty much in charge of the lighting. That's what I do," he tells me. "I'm not doing too much today. It's a good chance to catch up on paperwork. But I'm getting ready to get into some serious lighting next week. We've got some late shots next week, and I've got a couple of big trucks coming in from LA, some big lighting trucks."

His Southern Cal ease today is misleading, Krattiger assures me. "It looks like there's a lot of sitting around," he says. "But when the shit hits the fan, you have to be ready to go."

Al Huebner, one of more than 100 extras for The Game of Their Lives, is making $5.15 an hour, mostly to sit around and wait.
Jennifer Silverberg
Al Huebner, one of more than 100 extras for The Game of Their Lives, is making $5.15 an hour, mostly to sit around and wait.
Dialect coach Rebecca Bossen marvels at the St. Louis accent in her downtime.
Jennifer Silverberg
Dialect coach Rebecca Bossen marvels at the St. Louis accent in her downtime.

Indeed, there doesn't ever seem to be a time around here when somebody isn't working hard. While Krattiger basks in the sun, Rebecca Bossen, the movie's dialect coach, is standing a few feet from the shoot with a headset pressed into her long, frizzy red hair. Scenes with a lot of dialogue, like the one being shot now, are where the shit hits the fan for her.

"It's complete relaxation, followed by a frenzy," she says. "While people are working hard during every single soccer scene, I just chill out until they're filming scenes with dialogue. Then I listen carefully."

Though she has lived in Chicago for two years, Bossen had never visited St. Louis before shooting began. The long hours on the set haven't allowed her to explore the city as she would like to, or to have much contact with locals, save for the extras and a handful of crew members. But even from that limited exposure, she has found some fascinating linguistic details. Among them: the East Side's hip-hop dialect ("It is what it is -- there's no word for it, but it's very distinctive; it's not even distinctive to St. Louis, just certain communities") and the infamous pronunciation of "Interstate Farty-far."

"I'd heard about that before I came down here, but I didn't believe it," Bossen confides when she mentions the latter. "But it's really like that!"

As I make the rounds, Fink, in his white polo shirt and green baseball cap, keeps a close eye on me, making sure I stay away from the stars and behind the cameras. After a couple of hours, he escorts me to the community center near the park, where the production has set up headquarters, for lunch.

The rec center's gym has been converted into a gigantic cafeteria. A volleyball net divides the room, with the extras, dressed in 1950s garb, on one side, and the cast and crew on the other. An elaborate buffet table lines one wall, with a substantial spread of salad, broiled chicken, pasta, sandwiches and dessert.

A group of actors playing members of the U.S. soccer team is seated at a table in the center of the room. Most of their faces are vaguely recognizable, but their names aren't. Their credits range from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and American Beauty to The Caveman's Valentine and Tomb Raider 2. They're all sweaty underneath their blue, long-sleeved jerseys and heavy wool socks, replicas of the uniforms worn by the 1950 team. A few feet away, an actor dressed in a linesman's black-and-white-striped jersey sits alone, his forehead beaded with sweat and his yellow flag draped across his lap. Not far from him, the three surviving St. Louis natives who were members of the U.S. squad -- Harry Keough, Gino Pariani, and Frank Borghi -- are eating their lunch surrounded by fans and well-wishers, including Zachery Ty Bryan, a former star of the sitcom Home Improvement, who's playing Keough in the movie.

On the other side of the net, the 30 or so extras called in for the day's shoot sit by themselves or in groups of two or three. Al Huebner, dressed in a tan suit culled from the extensive wardrobe that has been set aside for extras, is reading a paperback novel, his tray pushed aside. A brown fedora and a vintage camera rest on the table next to him.

Huebner, a commercial artist, has done some voiceover work for video games and worked as an actor on the Goldenrodshowboat in the 1970s. His experience and patience have worked for him here; he expects he'll be in five or six scenes, playing a journalist who's covering the U.S. team. "I brought my old camera to stand out," he notes. "When the call comes, I can rise to the occasion."

The 57-year-old Huebner will be paid $5.15 per hour for his effort. Filming takes up only a small percentage of the time on a movie set, and extras learn early on that most of their time will be spent sitting and waiting. After they're picked, they wait for the call from the casting director, who tells them when to come to the location. Once they get there, get checked in, have their hair and makeup done and get dressed, they must wait to be called to the actual set. Once they're on the set, they wait for filming to start. Then, after all that preparation and anticipation, they're expected not to be noticed.

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