Quiet on the Set!

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

Back at Soldan, trailers emblazoned "MOVIES IN MOTION: TRANSPORTATION FOR THE STARS" line Union Avenue and its side streets. Nearer the athletic field, dozens of old cars are parked along the sidewalk beside new SUVs and sedans. In spite of the heat, teenagers leaving the rec center and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are standing around, occasionally asking busy crew members how they can get a part in the movie. One woman, about 60 years old, pulls her car to the curb and asks what the movie is about. When she's told, she wonders if the World Cup tournament was played at Soldan. She was one of the first African-American students there in the early 1950s, she says, and thought they might be able to find a part for her.

On the field, the scene is like a military maneuver, with large booms, immense light-reflecting tarps suspended twenty feet off the ground, actors in period costume kicking heavy brown leather soccer balls around between takes, grubby tech-crew members running back and forth and two dozen extras in the stands. There's a tent for the extras to sit under, another with cold drinks and snacks, another for Anspaugh and his assistants and another for the sound crew. There's even an old bus parked on the west side of the field; during the shoot, it's moved forward about ten feet to fit better in the frame.

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.

All this infrastructure, of course, will disappear from the final cut. Even more impressive is the efficiency with which it's moved from shot to shot. The tents are picked up, followed by all the equipment. The booms are driven from one corner of the field to another. It's like watching roadies set up an arena rock concert -- over and over again, all day long. In between, they continue to perform highly technical, labor-intensive work.

Today's scene is set in New York, with the U.S. soccer team playing a warm-up match against a semipro club. It's only about 45 seconds long -- a shot by the opposing team into the national team's net, a short shouting match among the frustrated U.S. players and then an announcement by team captain Walter Bahr, played by Wes Bentley, that his team has had enough. "That's it. That's game. Thank you, gentlemen," will be the scene's only audible line. It's rehearsed again and again, then shot from several different angles -- as are the ball being kicked into the goal, the New York players celebrating and the fans in the crowd applauding.

At one point Anspaugh, seated in his director's tent and watching the scene unfold on three monitors in front of him, informs Bentley he needs to sound more winded when he delivers his line. Already drenched in sweat, Bentley dashes from the field to Anspaugh's tent, tags one of the poles and holds his pose for a second or two, then races back to the field for the next take. The small crowd inside the tent laughs. "That's Wes getting winded," someone says.

All told, the brief scene takes half a day to shoot. The camera work has been preceded by hours of preparation -- research on the period sets and costumes, actors learning and rehearsing their lines, camera operators and lighting crew setting up, the sound crew finding the perfect spot. Not to mention the weeks of soccer training, the catering, the dry cleaning and laundry, the site preparation, the hotel accommodations, travel plans, street closings and rec-center reservations. Ideally, none of that advance work will be discernable in the final product. The boom mikes will stay out of the frame, the dry-cleaning tags will be removed from the shirtsleeves and none of the foreign-born actors will speak with an accent.

"It's hard," says Bossen, cracking open a bottle of water and trying to find some shade. "There's some glamour and glitz, all the things you'd expect on a movie set. But you can't lose sight of the fact that we're working really, really hard. There are moments that all I wish for is a nice air-conditioned room. But we've got something good here. Movies are so much about entertainment and showing everybody a good time, or saying something with a film, but there's so much work involved that you never see. This is my first movie, and I can appreciate it in a different way now."

I'm about to appreciate it in a different way as well. When the scene is finished, the actors rush to our tent for cold drinks. Fink stands at my shoulder, apparently worried about the potential for celebrity dirt. The actors, covered in sweat and grime, swarm under the tent to get out of the sun and dig inside the nearby coolers for ice to rub on their faces and necks. Bentley lies down on the grass. Amid the noise, more than a few of the talent are heard commenting about the weather, as in: "It's fucking hot."

At this Fink leans over. "Matthew, I think you have everything you need, so I'm going to ask you to leave the set."

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