It was the summer of 2000. Digital hardware was still a new trend in film and video production and movie theaters were considering acquiring massive digital projection units. My business partner Jason Moore and I had just left the church at which we’d served together, Ginghamsburg, and were starting out in business. We decided to attend a big audio-visual trade show called INFOCOMM, which was held that year at the Anaheim Convention Center. It was a week long expo of big booths, big swag, big screens and bigwigs in suits.
Considering our creative preferences, by Thursday lunch, we were ready to compare the merits of hanging out at the expo some more or shoving bamboo shoots into our fingernails. So we hopped in our rental car to explore SoCal. We drove past an indiscriminate number of fish taco stands and grafitti scenes and eventually emerged where the RMS Queen Mary is moored as a hotel and tourist attraction. With nothing better to do, we pulled in for a look.
Immediately we noticed the parking lot was closed off and surrounded by temporary, six foot high chain link fencing. A series of long white docking crates were lined up across the asphalt lot, and full sized trees lay on their sides, exposing bare wooden supports underneath. We recognized the trees as props.
Jason and I looked at each other. Now, I don’t remember who knew this information first, because we are both big Spielberg fans, but one of us said, “This may be the Spielberg movie, AI: Artifiical Intelligence. They’re supposed to be shooting it around here right now!” We marveled that not only had we had stumbled upon a movie set by sheer luck, but that it was a Steven Spielberg movie.
We noticed a security guard sitting behind a white folding table near the chain link fence entrance. We approached him and with full moxie asked if this was a movie set. He answered yes, and we asked if it was the Spielberg movie, AI. He said yes again.
Now, we were scheduled to fly home the next morning. But we had just discovered an amazing thing. We both instantly realized the choice before us – do we return to the bamboo shoots of staring at projectors and go home on time, or do we see what would happen if we were to ask the next question? We decided to ask the next question.
“Do you need any extras?”
We were crushed. We turned to walk away, and he said, “What a minute though. I think we need some tomorrow. Could you guys be back here at 6:30am?”
Yes. Without hesitation. We called our wives and fake apologized for the delay in coming home, then showed up the next morning at the crack of dawn.
The scene that day was called the “Flesh Fair.”
We didn’t know the full storyline but learned that in this scene, humans in a future society were rebelling against the lifelike nature of robots by destroying them in a violent country-style fair — like ancient Roman gladiators meets Green Acres meets weird dystopian sci-fi future.
There were approximately 100 of us extras. We were shifted around throughout the day to fill a stadium about eight times our size. Spielberg directed and the director of photography operated a large jib – a camera on a crane. At one point Spielberg came up and sat near us in the stands to frame a shot. We saw Jude Law on the floor of the set, and the effects wizard Stan Winston roaming around.
The other extras weren’t nearly as hyper as us. They were industry vets, mostly; people who weren’t trying to earn a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) card but just liked to make a little money doing something fun. One extra was a dentist’s wife who had been one of the floating bodies at the end of Titanic. She had acquired the three speaking lines necessary to apply for a SAG card, and had even been personally offered a job on the television show “Coach” by star Craig T. Nelson, but was content just taking opportunities on her own schedule.
We were the Texas guys with the funny story about an AV conference and a random discovery. We were aggressive, too. We watched the set director closely, and whenever they indicated positions for an upcoming shot, we would put ourselves as close to the bottom of the bleachers as possible. We figured, rightly, that we would only have one or two chances to make the film, so we made the most of it.
In each shot they gave us popcorn and told us to yell and shout in anger at the horrible robots. As it turns out, we made it in the film for almost five seconds. There’s one screen capture at the top, and another here, with red arrows pointing to Jason on the left and me on the right:
A few weeks later I got a check in the mail for $116.
While it’s not likely I’ll ever earn a SAG card, it’s fun party conversation to be able to tell people that I was in a Spielberg movie.