Ain't It Cool News (US), June 20, 2001
My Life As A MATRIX 2 Extra!!!
Hey folks... Harry here, and it looks like we got a tale of a ZION extra.... slobber slobber drool drool.... Can you imagine? The last free city.... Oh man, major cool place to be, and our dude/dudette on the inside was there to tell us all... Wanna hear? Tap in, otherwise flutter now butterfly... Spoilers may very well be contained below...
Dated June 18, 2001
Ok, it's 10PM, I have yet to eat dinner, and I'm going to try and recount my first day as an extra in The Matrix 2.
Call time was set for 7:30AM in Alameda. So I got out of bed late at 4:45AM (set the alarm at 4:00AM, story of my life...), took a shower, shaved, and put on some cheap Nautica body moisturizer that they had told me to put on, in anticipation of the application of a gold sheen.
Left at 6:00AM, traffic on the 880N was good, and I got to the abandoned US Naval Academy in Alameda around 7:00AM. As I pooled into the designated parking lot, saw the sign that read "Zion Extras Parking". Zion, as you recall, is the last human city outside the computer-controlled Matrix reality. Would've taken a picture of the sign, but there were parking attendants, and I had been given instructions forbidding cameras. Decided I'd just take a picture at the end of the day when I leave.
Headed on into wardrobe, where I checked in, filled out my "Non-Union Extra Talent Voucher" (ie the means by which I paid my $50/8 hour non-union rate...but hey, this isn't about money...). Picked up my costume (I'm filed, stamped, indexed, and cataloged as extra #172...), and proceeded to the men's changing area. Was happy to see that my brown leather hyde collar had disappeared, as well as my uncomfortable rope sandals, but so had the wrist beads. But I had also gained some very cheap Made In China very plain sandals (or maybe I should say flip-flops), which would turn out to be hell on earth in terms of comfort. They would turn out to be meant solely (no pun intended!) as a means of transportation. So I put on my maroon-colored drawstring pants, a gauzy sand-colored sarong over it, and then a leather hyde tool belt, which I only realized later would make for a good means of smuggling a camera into the staging area and set... And finally, I still remained shirtless, but this would not prove to be unfavorable...
Now on to hair and markeup. I had spiked up my hair, which makeup had told me to do 5 weeks before at my wardrobe fitting. After having a polaroid taken, my hair passed inspection, and I moved on to makeup. Makeup dabbed on some stuff onto my chest, to even out coloration as far as I could tell, and that was it, I was done in less than 5 minutes. I spoke to my makeup person, a woman, about whether they had brought in the whole cast and crew and put them up, and she told me that they were staying in some hotel in Emeryville called the Woodfin. A fellow extra later confirmed the name, and also told that Keanu Reeves had been renting Harleys in Alameda. Anyways, my makeup person was flying back to LA on Friday to spend time with her family.
Having finished with hair and makeup, I proceeded outside and boarded a shuttlebus which took several of us to a large white tent, the staging area. There we got breakfast, such as scrambled eggs and pancakes. I was starving by then, having only had a multivitamin for breakfast. I also had absolutely no idea what time it was, having left my watch with my regular clothes, modern watches not being consistent with the setting in which I would be an extra. This would be a recurrent theme all day. And a nice change of pace at that. At first, I sat down to eat with some of the other extras that I had come in the shuttlebus with, but eventually found out that I and some of the other guys with me were eating in the women's tent, and that we had to leave and go sit in the men's tent. Through later reasoning, we decided that there were segregrated tents so as to minimize the possibility of sexual harrasment and liability on the part of the movie. The women, most of them "diaphanous revellers", had costumes that ranged from very revealing (nipples) to full coverage...
The staging area presented my first chance to see all the other extras. Most of the extras were African-American, with about say 10 Asians, a few Hispanics, and a few Caucasians. I'm sure there were mixed people, as the looks were very particular. Male costumes ranged from almost tribal African to Asian monk, from very skimpy to full coverage. Same thin, light materials, linen and cotton. The costumes weren't really African, but neither were they really Asian. More like non-specific textures and forms from third-world countries rather than specific patterns and motifs. And I also saw prosthetics. Half of the extras had on these buttons within buttons that had been glued on. Can you guess what they were? They are the interfaces by which humans in the Matrix are connected to the energy collectors for the Computer machines. Since I didn't have any, this means that I was naturally born in Zion, and had not been recently rescued from the Matrix. The natural born...in most sci-fi stories, they later go on to become arrogant and promote a class distinction... Anyways, these "buttons" looked really fake, but I suppose on celluloid they look pretty authentic. They were glued onto people's front torsos, about 6 on the upper body, and 3 on each arm. The most authentic-looking ones were the interfaces on the back of people's necks, which one might describe as "stealable"...Not that I did, or was even able to... A lot of people had tattoos, and of course, most of the men had fairly big musculature, me being an exception. Course, the rest of the day would provide with me with plenty of exercise... Some people are in clothing that ship members wear (like in the first movie), while the rest of us are in more civilian wear, or not, as some people are wearing very little. There's maybe 100 of us, 50/50 male/female.
So we're all milling around, having finished breakfast, no clue as to how much time has passed, when they finally call us in. In where? Into the warehouse next door, which had been filled with a cave as its set. We walked in onto styrofoam that had been painted and covered with sand, and this is where those cheap sandals started to become really uncomfortable.
And they weren't about to stop either, not for another 9 hours at least. The cave itself looked good, stalagmites and stalagtites everywhere, brownish colors, and of course, dark. We filed in toward the back, where there were two levels, a ledge, lava pools filled with red liquid, which could bubble on command, and a rear inset area.
I ended up on the lower level, to the left of the ledge, and also to the left of the camera stage, where the main cameras were. Eventually for this first scene, number forty-six-something, we tok off our sandals, and stood barefoot on the sand. From where I was I could see the ledge, and the stand-in standing on the ledge. This guy was the stand-in for the man in a blue outfit who I can only guess is the leader, political or religious, of Zion.
Eventually they brought in a new class of extras, the "High Priestesses"! These women looked like belly dancers dressed in blue, and one was brought to the area where I was standing. This would turn out to be favorable, as a crew member told us that anyone standing near a high priestess would be on camera.! SCORE! :) Each high priestess had a large basket of portobello mushrooms and soybean sprouts or bread, already blessed. The one in my vicinity had the mushrooms (or SHROOMS as we began joking for the next several hours!), and they were big, about 5-6 inchese in diameter. There were the smaller, regular portobello ones present as well, so at first I assumed that the larger ones were bread.
Also from my vantage point, I spotted Lawrence Fishburne in a brick red linen vest over pants. He had on the "buttons". I could also see Jada Pinkett-Smith in an orange costume, think bright and shiny in line with her identity as someone of status (she plays a ship captain and Morpheus' former love). Apparently Aaliyah was on the upper level as well, but I didn't see her, and only found out later.
So the first scene begins. The man in the blue outfit comes out onto the ledge, and says something about before the celebration, we should remember our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relatives, shipmates, and fellow citizens who have fallen, etc. At the end of this prayer, he asks someone else to conclude it, namely Morpheus, and we are told that at the time, the handover of the prayer, that we should shout and cheer Morpheus' arrival until he reaches the ledge from where he is standing on the upper level, and widens out his arms to quiet us. We do at least 5 takes (relatively nothing compared to what was to come the remainder of the day), and Lawrence Fishburne plays to the crowd the first few times, thus establishing a relaxed, jovial atmosphere full of high spirits.
We finish the scene, and are given a break. On my way out, I spot the cast and crew chairs. I see the chairs for Keanu, Carrie-Ann, Lawrence, Jada, Aaliyah, and Yuen Wo Ping. Unfortunately, no one is sitting in them. For our break, we are provided with fresh fruit and drinks. And once again, we are wearing the dreaded sandals. But spirits are high, as I'm not part of a high priestess' entourage and on-camera! :) Our break finished, we file back in to the set. I've decided to minimize my liquid intake, as the only restroom facilities are portapotties, this being my first time having utilized them. A good idea, as using a portapotty in 80+ degree temperatures is decidedly less than fun, as other extras tell me later...
Back inside the set, my group is moved further to the right, just to the left of under the ledge. A crew member positions us specifically, telling people where to stand. Our runner-up catchphrase for the next hour at least is "He's not even an AD [assistant director]!". Torches are being handed out, and lucky me, I get picked to hold one. The person next to me gets handed a propane lighter. Each time we light the torch, she pulls the trigger on the lighter, holds it up next to the torch, I clamp down a lever attached to a tension wire, and then hold the torch up in the air while the lever burrows into my fingers or palm, depending on how I hold it, uncomfortably for the rest of the scene. And did I mention that the torch is heavy? I'd guess somewhere around 15 pounds at least. I can pick it up fine, it's just sustaining it in the air that becomes a strain.
So continuation of the scene. Or rather, now it's become scene 47A. Take 1. of 19... yes, 19. Ok, so Lawrence Fishburne comes out, and we're cheering and shouting his presence, and he quiets us down by widening his arms. Then he says, "Zion, hear me." or shouts it. Or yells it. Or says " Zion! Hear me!" or, you get the idea. They also varied it with "Zion, listen to me." With different pauses and emphasis. 18 more times. And me all the time, hoisting the torch in the air, and not only that, but waving it in the air madly at Morpheus' appearance. My partner (her name is Praise) and I became a model of efficiency in lighting that torch! ;) By the time we finished the 19th take, "Zion, hear me" had become the catchphrase of the day, especially whenever anyone needed to grab 1 or more person's attention. They also moved me and some of my group just to the right of under the ledge, to get some shots of that.
So we've done 2 "scenes" and it's lunchtime. We break and they let us back to the staging areas where we get "craft services", ie catered lunch. And catered it is. Dessert bar, fruit bar, salad bar, teriyaki chicken or grilled salmon with cranberry salsa, and pasta marinara with grilled vegetables. It wasn't actually as good as a real restaurant, but it was quite good for what it was, and free on top of that. By this time temperatures have hit the 80s, and the bright daylight outside overwhelms our eyes as we exit the stage. And it's back to the uncomfortable sandals. At this point though I am happy about eating lunch. Having finished lunch, most of us are narcoleptic and just want to lie down and take a nap. But it's back to the set we go, and I'm back with my group just to the left of under the stage. And I get my torch back too. Am I ready for 19 more takes? Bring it on!... Scene 47B. So now that Lawrence Fishburne has gotten "Hear me" to his and the directors' satisfaction, it's time to hear the remainder of what he has to say. By the way, by this time, I think I've seen Larry and Andy Wachowski, but it's hard to be sure. Our cues are being given to us by James "Jimmy" something, either a 2nd unit director or an AD; he has an Australian accent. So Lawrence Fishburne tells us that the rumors we've heard are true, the computer has sent an army of machines that draws nearer to our hoomes, at which point we are supposed to whisper and look around at each other nervously. At this point, I should say that I am in the front of the crowd, with my torch, and besides the camera on Lawrence Fishburne, there is a camera panning on the crowd, so barring any unforeseen editing, I should appear identifiably and hopefully prominently onscreen, my skinny arms bearing my torch aloft! :) To add to my luck, I am near a high priestess. yeah... :)
Ok, so we're all nervous at Morpheus' troubling news, but he continues on to reassure us, that he is not afraid, because he is here in Zion, not thinking of the path ahead of him, but thinking of the path behind him. He goes on to explain the meaning of this, that the computer has for a 100 years sent armies to Zion, and that these armies have been beaten back, and that we are free, at which point we cheer and applaud again. So he continues, let us celebrate tonight, let us shake and tremble the earth, stone, and steel in this cave, and let us dance from the red core to the black sky (he fumbled this line during one take). In fact, I got to see Lawrence Fishburne fumble his lines a few times. Once he completely forgot them. Anyways, he continues, to conclude that, we are Zion, we are free, and we are not afraid, at which point we cheer Morpheus a final time. I lost track of how many takes we did, but it was somewhere around 10-15. By the last take, we're pretty tired, a little grumpy, and desperate for some water. My voice is hoarse from shouting "Morpheus", "woo!" and "yeah" all day. But us extras keep the mood light by cracking jokes and breaking out into snippets of song, such as Swing Low, I Will Survive, and anything else we can think of. And of course my arm is ready to fall off because I've been hoisting a torch all day. And my feet are sore from standing most of the day, and from walking in uncomfortable sandals. But hey, I have a good chance of being onscreen... :)
And remember the rear inset area? Well, there was a special group of extras there in different outfits, called the "Band". And that's what they were. The men looked like Arabian genies, with shiny gold pants, and brick red vests, and the occasional red turban almost. Their instruments, however, really stand out. Very large apparati, obviously meant to resound throughout the cave, without amplifiers of course. And the women, they looked like can can dancers out of Moulin Rouge or something, but of course, more simple looking. And there a large square gong nearby...
So we're finally done, and take another break, where we're provided with more snacks in the form of candy bars. I'm talking with the other extras, and I must say, I can't say I've been around so many African-Americans in an indoor, intimate setting. Somewhat of a sad statement on our school and workplace communities...And it couldn't have been a more pleasant experience either. I met really interesting and dynamic people today, and I wish I had more such experiences. Earlier I had jestingly suggested that the high number of minorities resident in Zion reflects the view that there's very little incentive for an entrenched, powerful white upper class to disengage from the Matrix... Maybe The Matrix: Reloaded will be shed further light on this...
A crew member comes and gets 10 of us (men), and as I walk out to the set, 10 women as well. We're to be backup for a scene being shot. As we wait in the front portion of the warehouse, looking on at the two levels and the ledge, I talk with a fellow extra. A woman walks by, the extra I'm talking to, says hi to her, and I say hi as well. Just as she passes by, I realize that it's Carrie-Ann Moss! I only saw her very quickly, enough to recognize her, but she looks as attractive as she does on the big screen. I'm also told I missed Keanu Reeves, who dropped by earlier to take a look. I spot a guy in a cast chair, who I figure to be either Matt McColm (Agent Thompson) or Daniel Bernhardt (Agent Johnson).
So the scene being shot is a repeat of Morpheus' speech to the denizens of Zion, except this time they are shooting the upper level's cheers and applause. I can see Jada Pinkett-Smith in her orange outfit. Ultimately, they do not need us, and we are sent back to the staging area.
After some time, we are dismissed for the day, and so we board the shuttlebus back to wardrobe and makeup, where we return our costumes and punch out for the day. Not having "buttons" I skip makeup, head back to the parking lot, get my photo of the Zion Extras parking sign, and head home. Since I'm not in the last shot with the upper level, I don't have to report tomorrow, but we all report on Wednesday, to be joined by 700 more extras, as we will filling the entire warehouse cave set for the dancing scenes. As En Vogue sing, "Free Your Mind, and The Rest Will Follow...!" .