Water For Elephants: A Rube’s-Eye View (PART 4)

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Cody Wood, an extra on Rob’s upcoming film, ‘Water For Elephants’, is sharing his on-set experience with the fans. Without further ado, here is the 4th installment…

Monday July 19th, 5am. Twenty or more cars waited single file for entry into the Fox Studio parking garage off of Avenue of the Stars. I reached to the passenger seat and picked up my water bottle. The cars inched forward.

Once past the security guard, the security gate, and the second security guard, I was directed toward the white canvas wardrobe tent. The tent looked odd now that it was planted in the middle of a mini-city. The entire experience felt odd now that we had all been transplanted from the desert.

I found my suit in the usual spot and hung the pants and shirt I wore on the empty hangers. The hats were stored in boxes that ran along two walls. I scanned each one for my number. Nothing. Finally I cam across a miscellaneous bin and found my hat crushed on the bottom. I fell into a sleepy trance just staring at the hat before Ellen, one of the wardrobe specialists came to the rescue. “Good morning, Cody!” she said in her usual chipper demeanor. I mustered up a big smile and returned the exchange. “Good morning! How are you today?” Ellen was a petite woman in her 50s who had probably been working on movies for a long time. She was always alert, always friendly, and could fix a torn shirt in seconds.

I felt refreshed by my encounter with Ellen and headed over to the “hair and make-up” tent with a little more pep. I was quickly called in and plunked down in a chair that faced an old wooden framed mirror. The hair supervisor looked over and said to my hair stylist that I could probably use a fresh cut. I thought to myself, “alright, another free haircut!” Immediately I regretted the offer. The stylist either had a personal vendetta or had never cut a man’s hair. She grabbed the top of my head and pulled up so hard I almost verbalized the pain. She cut quickly and pulled again. “What the hell is going on?” I thought. The only good thing about it was the speed she was moving. She finished in two minutes and I wondered how much hair she had pulled out rather than cut. I relaxed. “Ahh, thank goodness that’s over….” Bzzzzzzzz. The clippers interrupted my moment and she dug the blade so deep into the back of my neck my eyes started watering. “F#$k!” I silently yelled at her. When I finally got up I felt like I had a rug burn from my shoulders to the top of my head.

If it had been SuperCuts, I would have asked for a refund and recommended that she never cut hair again. In this case it was free, and how could I ask for my hair back? At least there would be food. I moved up the hill to the third location. The dining hall was a giant empty movie studio. The room had been completely gutted and it was big enough to hold an airplane. The buffet was also huge and ran like a landing strip down the center of the room.

I felt much better after breakfast. I walked happily down the hill. When I looked up Christoph Waltz was coming my direction! He looked rested with a pleasant expression. “Good morning!” I offered. “Good morning,” he said, and gave a genuine smile. I smiled all the way to our holding site.

Our holding site was behind the biggest green screen I have ever seen. On the other side was a small city. I scanned our holding area for the perfect spot. Not too close to the other actors, but not so far that it looked like I was avoiding them. We were called as soon as I had picked out my chair for the day chair and set my bag down. The group of Rube’s had slowly dwindled since my first day on set but there were still over one hundred of us; dirty, and ready to work. I followed the group toward the little city. On the other side of the green-screen we split down the left and right sides of the street. It was beautiful. The buildings had been designed and decorated to look like the 1930’s. There was a barber shop, a candy store, a restaurant, and a small convenient store that was selling plump watermelons. On the corner of the alley-way four large posters read: “Benzini Bros Circus!”

At the far end of the city street the film crew was poised. Behind them was the trailer park. Of course, in this trailer park you’re probably served filet mignon and given an afternoon massage. “Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.” I looked over and two men in cargo pants shoveled dirt onto the street where the barren asphalt had been exposed. Their movements got faster and faster until the first animal cages came around the corner for the parade. The men pushed the wheelbarrows off the street and the Assistant-Director yelled, “This is a parade folks, have fun!”…. “Action!”

The animals came two-by-two. The line-up was like a giant mix of Animal Crackers. Clowns rode by on unicycles and zebras trotted along side. We cheered. Four horses pulled a majestic cage through the center of the dirt covered street. On each corner the wood had been carefully carved and on the top a gold-embroidered lion looked on. A Persian rug had been draped behind the bars to hide the secret contents. The lower right corner of the rug lifted up. The eyes shone first. The rug raised higher. Two large nostrils. The rug swiftly lifted all the way up and an African lion revealed its triumphant mane.

In unison everyone watching gasped. The noise of our breath was loud and visibly startled the lion back to the darkness. The cage rolled on making room for the star of the parade: Rosie. Wearing a shimmering headband she lumbered down the street. Her trunk swayed back and forth, back and forth. Children laughed with excitement and pointed from the window of the candy store. A man next to me lit a hand-rolled cigarette. I gave a big holler to Rosie and clapped my hands. Back and forth, and back and forth, she lumbered. I rested my right leg on the bumper of an old two-door Ford – a relic from an era passed.

“Great job ladies and gentlemen!” “Back to the top!” The AD had the megaphone again – and for good reason. All of the cages, carts, clowns, and circus animals turned around and walked back to their starting positions. Christoph and Rob slipped into the parade without fanfare. On the next take the two actors walked near each other but not too near. There was a visible tension between them, especially now that Marlena sat atop her prized Rosie. She looked stunning in her silver shimmering costume and waved at the crowd. She looked my direction and I waved back. Who knows, maybe she was looking at me?

The parade continued on for a couple of hours before we returned to our tents and I drank six Dixie Cups of ice water. Some of the Rubes sat in circles and talked, others went to sleep in the grass. I paced. I wanted more. When the next call came I was first in line.

We followed the AD back down to the street and gathered around the corner convenience store. I wondered why they had so many watermelons. A middle-aged Asian man stood high-up on a ladder in cargo shorts and a sweaty t-shirt. He wore a faded blue baseball cap fastened down by an over-sized pair of headphones and held a ten foot long boom mic over the crowd. “Ok folks, make some room!” Out of thin air, Rosie appeared and was walking toward the middle of the crowd. We immediately split and cleared a path. Once she was in position I was so close I could reach out and touch her hind leg.

“Thank you for your patience folks. Here is what’s going to happen. Tai (Rosie) is going to be eating the watermelons and Rob and Camel are going to come and take her away. When she starts to back up, make sure you….” Ptthhhmmpppp. Silence. Laughter. “Ewwww,” a group of people groaned at once. The Rubes directly behind Tai took a few steps back and covered their mouths. Elephant fart.

Once everyone regained their composure the filming began. My job was to look enthralled by the fact there was an elephant eating at the convenience store. How could I not be? Jacob and Camel pushed their way through the crowd and attempted to lure Rosie away with the smell of whiskey. This turned out to be harder than they’d imagined. In between takes Rob stood comfortably in the back of the crowd. He had an undeniable composure and worked diligently to make the scene the best it possibly could be. He inspired all of us to give our best until the sun began to set.

I didn’t want to, but I hung my suit back up on the wardrobe rack. I dropped my hat in one of the boxes, and took one last look at the set. The sky darkened and the lights of the Fox Studio buildings covered the evening canvas with glimmering light. This was the end for my time on Water for Elephants, but just the beginning for everything else…..

TO BE CONTINUED

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