Dancing in Zion
I'm back with a vengeance this week with a killer column issue. I was downright stunned to receive an email from someone who was an extra on The Matrix Reloaded. Apparently the extra was only returning the favor since he learned on TNMC that the movie was looking for extras. Hopefully we'll have more reports from other movie sets in the future.. Our second story for the day is the script review of Reign of Fire by that dragonlover 'Hollyfeld'. Next week get ready for some more script reviews.
The Matrix Reloaded Set Report
"I just came back from a 13 hour shoot on the set of The Matrix II. This set was quite near the artificial highway they built earlier. The set was in a huge warehouse on the Alameda Military Base across the bay from San Francisco, and it was made to look like a gigantic cavern with styrofoam stalactite or stalagmite columns. Candles studded the columns, and little fake candle drips were put on for extra detail. Later the candles dripped for real and burnt some extras. The color scheme of the cave was all neutral colors with hints of blue. The terrain was styrofoam slight hills and valleys, deeper in the center and hills on the sides. The styrofoam was covered with about four inches of brown dirt and sandy gravel. For the dance scene, I'm pretty sure they bulldozed some of the dirt out so the valley would be deeper, so the shot of people dancing would look more dramatic. The wall in which the entrance to the warehouse/set was located was covered entirely in a blue wall. The opposite wall was all styrofoam cave stuff, with tunnels, terraced walls, and a cliff-like thing they referred to repeatedly as 'the pulpit'. This wall is where I saw all of those stars. If you face the pulpit, the right wall had a set up for a band ('Burlyman' or 'Burly Band' dressed in red and black kinda eighties or glam rock). The band was very 'Stomp' looking, with huge metal barrels, etc. There was a huge metal sheet but I didn't see them use it. It looked like a square gong. The crowd scenes had a lot of torches. There were 2 'pools of lava', which were red plexiglass with light shining through and some McDonalds shake mix sprinkled on top. Looked like gravel, but real to me. One pool was near the left/top/middle corner (facing the 'pulpit') and the other was in the middle/right/bottom corner, offset a bit so they didn't look exactly symmetrical. Before each shot, they would roll the sound, which sounded like bubbling lava (or, as the more mature extras pointed out, like gastrointestinal difficulties). There were about 6 main stalactite/stalagmite columns made of styrofoam. They were studded with candleholders, as I mentioned earlier. The left wall had more cave stuff. The ceiling was bare beams and lights and stuff.
There were approximately 950 skimpily dressed extras (all youthful, beautiful, and diverse). All were citizens of 'Zion', and most were 'revelers', a few were 'dancers', a few were 'priestesses', and some were 'warriors'. The revelers and dancers were dressed in beige, tan, cream, or light blue clothing. Silver and beaded jewelry in the same color scheme abounded. The priestesses wore a deep blue, almost indigo, and they carried around big baskets of bread and huge portabello mushrooms. (I guess if you live underground, mushrooms are a popular crop. That doesn't, however, explain the bread because wheat must be grown above ground.) The warriors wore more military dark colors, with maroon wool patchwork vests. Some were equipped with hip looking dark colored fanny packs or satchels. About 10% of the extras were outfitted symmetrically with little metal round things on their arms, legs, torso, or up the spine, or one big one at the back of the head. I suppose they were the 'unplugged' ex-Matrix people. Jada Pinkett was on set, in a deep red/orange velvet (?)dress. She looked bored and ate some stuff. She's tiny! Is she pregnant again? She seemed to rub her tummy in a pregnant kinda way. She wasn't in any shotswith us, except for maybe a 'gazing at the crowd shot.' Later Carrie Anne Moss came out, out of costume. She was in some casual jogging (pants) and a navy tank top. She seemed cheerful and left after a bit, and they didn't shoot with her that day. I think I also saw Ray Anthony Parker.
Laurence Fishburne arrived and he then introduced Anthony Zerbe (whom the crowd of mostly 20 somethings did not recognize) to the extras. He didn't do that many retakes so I don't remember exactly what he said. Zerbe's character was shot 'introducing' Morpheus to the crowd. He said something about introducing 'someone we have all been waiting for, Morpheus.' Morpheus came in after the introduction (cheer) and said that he had to tell us something, that the enemy was drawing closer to our homes (act scared), that he was unafraid. 'Am I unafraid because I know something you do not? No, I am unafraid not because of the path that lies before me/us (I forget which pronoun he used), but because of the path that lies behind me/us.' He said something to the effect of- we have been here for 100 years (Zion has existed that long?) and Zion is still here (cheer again). 'We are Zion, we are still here, and we are unafraid' (fanatic cheering, fists in the air while shouting ZION and some shouting MORPHEUS). Each time we shot it, Fishburne tried a different effect, more angry, more calm, more authoritative, more variations in tone, or consistent throughout. It was neat to see how an actor works. Laurence Fishburne is so sweet; every time we finished a shot, he would clap for us, even if we were being stupid and did something wrong. Never underestimate the power of stupidity in large crowds of 950 extras, most of whom are their for their looks and not their brains. The directors (no Wachowskis to be found anywhere, but there were a few Australian or British accented assistant directors) were infinitely kind and patient with our remarkable ineptness. Before Fishburne left, he graciously thanked us for being there. Then there's a huge dance scene.
They played 3 kinds of music. For the first, they told us to dance 'the crack' which was 'like the 'pop' from the eighties but set in the future.' The music was techno with a heavy bass, and we were told to jab our arms up and down like we were going into convulsions. The second kind of music they did not introduce to us. They said they would just let it play for a few seconds and then they would start filming. It was slower than the first and more 'tribal', I guess, with drums. They said we should just 'feel the music' while 'keeping what we said earlier in mind'. The only instructions they gave were: some of the men should move their hands around 'like flowers', some should 'punch the air', the ones with dreads or long hair should use their hair when they dance, some of the taller men should bounce up and down like pogo sticks every once in a while, and they spread out about 5 couples (professional dancers I think) to do partner lifts, choreographed to lift the female partner when the camera swung by. The last kind of music was called it 'the conga' and it was tribal also, but much faster than the second. Again they didn't introduce us so as to make our dancing more natural. This dance sequence took forever, and we were all sweating like crazy. It was fun though. We danced so hard that one of the 'hills' cracked.Later on, one of the assistant directors tells us to dance like it's the last time we'll have fun before we have to fight the enemy. Is he implying that the citizens of Zion will be going against the Matrix robots in battle? We did a bunch of crowd shots, made to look like there were 3,000 of us rather than just 950. There was some white dude running through the crowds toward Morpheus. It wasn't clear whether he was running because he had to tell Morpheus something, or he was just excited about hearing Morpheus talk like he's some big groupie, or what.
The crowd scene was shot in 3 parts, so that we looked like a bigger crowd. The first shot was us watching the pulpit and cheering, etc. The second shot they had us turn around and face the blue screen, and pretend to be the crowd 'behind' the crowd from the first shot. The blue screen would be fixed to look like the first shot. The white dude ran through this one. (He ran right past me on my right, so you might see my back in the final cut). The third shot was 'behind' the second shot, and they had us walk towards the blue screen, chatting, and acting like we were going to the meeting. The guy ran through this too. The blue screen in this third shot would be the second shot. That way, they made 950 people look 3 times as large. It's hard to explain chronologically and try to visually locate it in your imagination."
(Set Report sent in by 'BunBun'.)