Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A-Z Challenge 2012: I is for I Was a Teenage Production Assistant - A League of Their Own!

As we work our way through the April 2012 A-Z Blogging Challenge - the time has come for one of the new semi regular blog departments to show up - and it's important to me to keep my eye on the ball...and that's very appropriate, you see...because...

I is for I Was a Teenage Production Assistant: A League of Their Own!

Disclaimer: I wanted to have my stories of working in and around the film and television industry under a blanket title - and I'm going through chronologically - so here is another of these blog posts from before my time as a production assistant. This one really should be housed under the title Extra Extra Read All About It - because this is one of my experiences as a movie extra...

After I graduated college in the spring of 1990 with a BA in Cinema and Photography, I headed up to where my parents were living to base out of their home and try to find a way into the film business. My parents were close to Chicago Illinois, but across the state line in Crown Point, Indiana. Crown Point is probably still most famous as the small town where John Dillinger broke jail in the 1930’s with a wooden gun coated in black shoe polish.

How’s that for a digression?

From May 1990 until the fall of 1991 I worked in a video store, part of a small locally owned chain called Box Office Video that worked hard to make you think you might be stepping into the then-relatively new Blockbuster Video. I was also trying hard to get my resume – such as it was – to the production companies shooting projects in nearby Chicago. It was a pretty hot time for the city, in terms of film and television production there. John Hughes was at his peak, with feature after feature shooting there; and the syndicated series version of The Untouchables was shooting there as well. So I faxed, and called, and waited. And waited. And waited. I never even got an interview, let alone a job. In October 1991 someone back in Southern Illinois alerted us that a movie was shooting in Evansville Indiana – about an hour or so from where we’d last lived – and they were looking for bodies to fill a stadium for crowd shots. They were so desperate for warm bodies they were having announcements made on radio stations all around the area and in Illinois and Kentucky – both near Evansville on the southern side of Indiana, and in newspaper articles throughout the same areas.

A random pic of a Box Office Video location - but not the one I worked at...

So, somebody heard about this, and knowing I’d be interested, called and told us. I immediately made plans to make the 5 or so hour drive down to try to appear in this major motion picture – a period baseball movie called A League of Their Own. The production asked for you to wear something period if you had it, so my mom and I went out and we put together some clothes that we thought might appear 1940’s style. Armed with this natty wardrobe, I drove down to Evansville the day before the shoot day I was going to try to work on. I got a hotel and passed a long boring evening with 1991 Indiana television before an early bedtime.

Bosse Field

The instructions indicated that the extras should show up at 6 am, so I was up at 4:30, showered and already at the Bosse Stadium location by 5:30am. There was already activity bustling everywhere – but they were holding to the 6am start, so I cooled my heels in my car until about 5:45, when I joined the line of people signing up to be extras.

The line took you to a table where several extras casting people were passing out paperwork – a list of rules to follow on set; a release allowing the production to use your image in the film for no pay, and limits of liability should there be an accident or illness while on the set; a coupon for two hot dogs and two coupons for bags of peanuts – this was lunch, believe it or not; and a carnival type ticket with a serial number on it – these were given out to everyone, and throughout the day the tickets would be drawn, with each winner getting some kind of prize as an enticement to be there (and to stay for the whole day). After the paperwork was filled out we were moved over to another area to be examined by representatives from the wardrobe department.

When my time came, I was given a thorough going over, and although my wardrobe person did say she appreciated the effort, in the end none of the clothes I’d purchased were deemed usable. Also, my non-period glasses were going to be an issue, so I had to change clothes and put my glasses in my pocket. The changing area was an area of the tent with a curtain hung – it was one side of a large tent, probably 5 or 6 “changing rooms.” I don’t remember now where my clothes went from there – but they were put into some kind of storage with wardrobe. I wasn’t too worried about them as I had the pockets cleared and everything I’d been carrying was with me in the wardrobe clothes. As we got ready, makeup and hair had a quick look over – but I needed nothing, as my hair was relatively period short and I’d be wearing a Clark Kent-style hat.

Although I didn't take it - I had no camera with me
that day - this is an actual picture of the extras
makeup and hair for A League of Their Own.

After finishing this process, we were left to hang out in the extras tent – a really large tent with dozens of tables and hundreds of folding chairs set up, along with a small craft service table consisting of a large thermos jug of ice water, and a second of iced lemonade. We waited there long enough for the other extras to be made ready, then our readiness was reported to the set through a walkie talkie by one of the 5 or 6 production assistants (PAs). We didn’t wait long – a few minutes later we were called to set. The PAs bellowed at us to follow them, and they led us into the stadium proper.

When we got inside, we were surprised to see some of the seats already filled. Roughly every 8th seat to be exact. They were filled with cardboard people – photographic representations of about 6 different people scattered all over the stadium to stretch out whatever warm bodies turned up. I tried to find a picture of these cutouts - but since the process of maximizing your extras has gone digital - I'm guessing the company who used to supply these has gone belly up.

It took a while to get us seated, with a few strategically empty seats and such – trying to maximize the amount of space we occupied so the camera could have the widest possible choices in shot. The bunch we had – probably between 400-500 people – filled the bottom half of one section pretty well, with the population getting pretty sparse up in the nosebleed seats. Once we were all settled, we could see the activity on the field. There was film equipment all over the baseball diamond, and a fair amount of lighting for a day exterior scene. But it was chilly - with a temperature in the 40's - and overcast, so I could see why they would need lights.

The day’s shooting involved a segment from the latter part of the movie – it was a segment from the first game of the World Series. In it, one of the Rockville Peaches was pregnant, and our big scene was one where a player from the other team slid into her base – and she ends up spiked in the belly, putting the baby in jeopardy. Everything for this day’s shoot revolved around that.

They got us settled, and basically we were there for the day. They moved us around several times, but we were in place for roughly 10-12 hours other than bathroom breaks. Some shots looking toward us required us to "act" while others were pointed away from us and only required us to "be quiet." To try to move us all out for the shots we weren't needed for would have eaten up a lot of time, so they just left us there and kept shushing us as needed.

Oh, and about ten minutes after sitting down I slid my glasses out of my pocket and put them back on. I couldn't stand not being able to see! And it was fun to watch the filming. Sorry if my modern eyewear ruined the movie for anyone.

Every hour on the hour they pulled a ticket, and whoever had that ticket would win a donated curling iron or blender, or a Polaroid with either Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, or Madonna - and they were on rotation - not a "winner's choice" kind of thing. So at 8 am they did a Polaroid - and it was Hanks. Then at 9am they gave away some donated item. 10 am Geena Davis picture. 11 am item. 12 pm supposed to be Madonna - but she is in her trailer and says no. So Hanks steps in for her. In the end, I don't think Madonna took any of her rotation pictures that day - but Hanks and Davis covered for her like champs.

"No I ain't taking a picture with you, loser!"

It became known that Madonna did not enjoy herself on location in Indiana – she would spout off about not liking Evansville in every interview she did while there – and combined with her boorish behavior not participating in the Polaroid sweepstakes – the city decided they’d had enough – so a couple of months after filming ended – a photograph made its way to the news wire services – I saw it in TV Guide:

That's 300 residents of Evansville Indiana making their feelings known.

I guess the actor trailers were just out in the parking lot – but most of the lesser light actors seemed to hang around set between camera setups. Possibly it was because of brief estimates that would make travelling there and back kind of a waste of time. Of the big three, of course, Madonna disappeared every chance she got, Geena Davis went to her trailer for a while at one point, and Hanks was hardly ever out of sight. I appreciate Tom Hanks for hanging out – although I know he wasn’t doing it for the benefit of the crowd – it was still cool to be able to watch a huge star like him bopping around and kibitzing with the crew. The best part of the day for Hanks watching came in the early afternoon – maybe to combat the big lunch he’d eaten – knowing he had to pack it in to keep “Jimmy’s” weight up – he grabbed a bucket of balls and a bat and went out into center field with them. He then started lobbing the balls up one at a time and whacking at them with the bat – going for the home run each time from the size of his swing. Eventually, he was in the way for some lights or equipment; so he moved out to the baseline between 1st base and 2nd base. He probably did this for a twenty minutes or a half hour on a big relight – and he had even gone out and retrieved his own balls and refilled his bucket. Finally, though, he really caught one well – SMACK! – and the ball sailed straight and true – into the scoreboard, knocking out one of the numbers! He made a big show of looking around in terror even as Penny Marshall got up out of her director chair and stalked out to him. She proceeded to chew him out in a big theatrical manner, with lots of gesticulating and hands thrown up in the air as he drooped down all hangdog. The crowd loved this – it really was a very funny bit. However, it did also cause the crew extra work as someone from the art department had to go out there and fix the sign back – so Tom Hanks put away his bat and his bucket of balls for the day.

If you can tear your eyes off that blonde, you can see some of the period signs they used, and one of the old businesses
that got featured in the background of some scenes.

I wasn’t all that familiar with the supporting cast who were there that day – although several of them have gone on to become better known – I had no clue who Lori Petty or Tea Leoni were. Consequently, I didn’t pay all that much attention to them. I know now that sometimes these are the best people to interact with if the opportunity arises – because they have less pressure on them so they’re usually a little more free to chat – and because as they later increase in fame you suddenly have a better story to tell. The only known quantity in the supporting cast that day was Rosie O’Donell – who at the time was a stand up comic who was starting to be a part of Madonna’s circle of friends. However, despite not being as big a star as the three leads – Rosie imprinted herself on my memory forever – and here’s where you start being glad I didn’t have a camera with me – at one point she decided to work the crowd a bit – by MOONING us! YOW! The shock to my optic nerves took months to calm from the shock.

Rosie O'Donnell and one of the production assistants.

And that was basically it – we moved around a little more – and they kept shooting stuff. Finally they released us – but I don’t think the day was wrapped – more likely they moved in and did some dugout stuff or something where you didn’t see the stadium seats.

Yeah, Crawford Door Sales basically got an hour and forty minute
commercial out of this movie.


When I saw the movie after it was released in July 1992 I was not surprised to not see myself – as I’d always been several rows up in the seats. What I was surprised about was our entire subplot, and the first game of the World Series – were both edited out – with game 1 only represented in a quick montage of the first 6 games – leaving the climax for the 7th game. Of course, shots from our day’s production could have been used anywhere in the movie – especially the big reaction to the girl getting knocked down at the base – we all stood and look concerned – so it is possible I’m in there somewhere. But I’m not going to go to the trouble to look. I’ve got a blog to keep. I did enjoy the movie – and recommend it as a lightweight comedy from the Penny Marshall ouevre.

This is very close to my position that day - except I was probably about where the lady in the white hat near the
top left of the picture is - and then back another three rows or so.

As for my production work – we’ve covered the two I was around before moving to NC and really making an effort to break in – so bear with me – these posts should get better as we move into the jobs where I really was a production assistant!

You can call me Ray, or you can call me "J," but either way I hope you'll return for tomorrow's post just hours from now - and until then, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Very cool that you got to be on the set, I loved this movie when I was kid. It's probably been over 15 years since I last saw it, but I watched it many times in the early '90s.

    - Cody

    1. It was a lot of fun, and pretty eventful for basically one day. The next of these posts to go up will be more extra work, but this time several months later, and in North Carolina!

  2. That is a very cool story. I do like that movie and it's fun to hear about the storyline that didn't make it cut. I always wished I could've been in the crowd when they filmed the Fenway scene in Field of Dreams.

    1. That Fenway scene would have been a corker to be in! Thanks for the kind words!

  3. that is a great story... I remember being thrown off the set of "Lucas" you at least had some fun. great story thank you for sharing.

    Impressive, Most Impressive... to the challenge "I" is for Interesting!
    Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
    A to Z Co-Host
    My New Book:
    Retro-Zombie: Art and Words

    1. Well I'd like to hear that story! Were you taking Corey Gain's lunch money? Thank you for the kudos - which I heard in my mind in the voice of James Earl Jones, by the way!

    2. we did a drive by on the set, where we were suppose to be in the background driving while the actors were doing their scene... we drove up fast and squealed tires and rolled down windows and screamed over here to them... disruption at the best as we took their picture with a camera. we were gone after that, never to return... i need to find those photos again

    3. Yes, please do! And blog post them! Also, in my first reply, obviously I meant Corey Haim - but that's the cost of replying through an autocorrect-happy smartphone while you're still working your way through the first cup of coffee!

  4. I think I would have thrown up in my mouth just from the sight of Rosie. I'm positive I would have after seeing her moon the crowd. I admire your dedication sir.

    1. It was definitely a sight to behold. And by that I mean a sight to turn your hair white. Thanks for coming by!

  5. For me, that movie is all about the guy in the crowd with contemporary eye-wear! Excellent,sir!

  6. so far, the coolest and most interesting blog entry you ever posted (though Ive never seen ALOTO and don't plan to).

    Hanks and O'Donnell seemed to be just cool, while Madonna... well, she was a moron, she is a moron and she'll always be a moron.

    Love the stuff you wrote about your clothes and your glasses, plus: I know of Blockbuster Video but never heard of Box Office Video. You never stop learning :-)

    1. Wow - thanks a lot Harry. I really wondered if this one worked at all - so it's really nice to hear such nice things! Cheers, buddy!

  7. That must have been insane! I can't imagine being an extra on that set. You should totally write a book about your experiences. I'm not surprised Tom Hanks was so congenial. Spielberg was interviews on a Tom Hanks documentary and the one thing that impressed him the most about Hanks was that he was down to earth and a regular guy.

    1. It was a wild day. Maybe when I've finished all of these I Was A Teenage Production Assistant posts - I'll have that book written! Cheers, Luana!

  8. What an incredible adventure! I love the experiences that you share. This just made me love ALOTO even more. Thank you, my friend. :)

    1. It was a blast! I'm glad you like the movie - I had a good time watching it too. You're always more than welcome! Cheers MB!

  9. I love behind-the-scenes looks at films I've seen! And I've a soft spot for period pieces. I hadn't heard about Madonna ingratiating herself to Corn Country folk. Somehow, this doesn't shock me.

    As I recall, Steve Martin did something similar--then came back to shoot his next film in the town he'd slighted.

  10. I hadn't heard that about Steve Martin - at least he made up for it...

    Yeah, Madonna was persona non grata there for a while. She might still be - but I doubt she's gone back to check...