Larry and I took in a movie this week. It's called "Courageous," and it was produced by the good people of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. They've done some pretty ambitious projects including "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof." They've obviously got some very talented people on staff there, people like brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick who write the screen plays, get the movies made and then somehow manage to get them distributed all over the United States. Amazing what a couple of church guys can do, huh?
After the movie was over, Larry and I remained seated and watched the credits roll until the end. I'll admit, those were some of the most interesting I've ever seen. I think everybody that lives in or has ever visited Albany, Georgia was listed including Jim Bob and Michele Duggar and their nineteen kids. I'm not sure what they did, but they're there. And I think everyone that brought in a nice home-cooked meal got their names on the big screen including most of the Sunday school classes at Sherwood Baptist Church. But the best part came towards the end when the dozens of baby sitters who helped watch kids during those long, grueling months of film-making are recognized as well, a few seconds of film devoted just to them.
There was a time I wouldn't have bothered with the credits. They seem to take forever, and I thought it totally unnecessary to include all those hundreds of names. Then in 2003 some big-time movie people decided to make a movie in our part of Alabama and put out a call for people who might like to be a part of it all. I sent in my resume along with a picture and they called me within a week or so. A few days later I drove to Montgomery to be fitted for my costume and get my assignment. I would be filming for three days on a cotton farm about a forty-five minute drive from my house. My only instructions were to wash my hair each night, set it in sponge rollers while it was still wet, sleep in them and wear them to the site. Oh, and I wasn't to wear any makeup.
It was still dark when I arrived at the farm that first morning. There were signs pointing to the parking areas, and after I locked up my van, a shuttle took me and several others to a large tent set up in the middle of a cotton field. We were encouraged to help ourselves to a nice breakfast that had been set out and after that proceeded to another tent for makeup and then on to another for our costumes.
Turns out I was hired as a background actor, my official title. Okay, I know I spoke no lines, was hired merely to fill in the landscape and got minimum wage. But I must admit it made me feel good to have the word "actor" in my job description, especially as I stood on that Alabama river bank for three days in February in nothing but a skirt and a blouse and a blazer. Those who live elsewhere assume that Alabama can't possibly get all that cold, even in the dead of winter. Well, they're wrong. It can and it was. I was freezing as were all the others who stood in costume on the bank of the Coosa. I shouldn't complain, at least I had long sleeves to protect me a bit from the wind cutting across that river. I could have been one of the girls dressed in a strapless prom dress or a circus entertainer dressed in a leotard. If it wasn't for those running out with blankets and setting up propane heaters between takes, I think we would have stood frozen in place until Spring came to thaw us out.
I came away from that experience with an appreciation for those who were working so hard behind the scenes, and in this particular movie, there were hundreds of them. I would arrive at the set before daybreak, but the extras' coordinator and her helpers had been checking people in as early as 4 a.m. One crew had been preparing breakfast, others were driving the shuttles back and forth, several were doing makeup and hair and getting everyone into costume while others were setting up for the day's shoots. And who knows how late they had been working into the night, many surviving on just a few hours of sleep. During the filming, as soon as the action stopped and cameras were being repositioned, people would suddenly appear with those blankets and heaters I mentioned while others would move quickly up and down the hill rearranging hair and checking makeup. Then, just as quickly, everyone and everything would quickly disappear as the director began the count once again and called for the action to begin.
If you asked me the name of the film, who directed and what actors starred in it, I could spout their names off quickly. But beyond that I can't tell you the name of the woman who cast me or the one who did my hair or those who helped fit me for my costume or wrapped me in a blanket during the coldest of those three days. I no longer remember them or even what they looked like. They were simply people working behind the scenes, doing their jobs.
The movie did real well by the way. It was even up for a couple of Academy Awards. But don't look for my name in the credits. Not everybody thinks like those people at the Sherwood Baptist Church. Actually, don't look for the names of any of the background actors. We all knew that was just a fancy name for what we really were anyways. Extras. But the others, those working behind scenes, doing their part to take a story and visualize it for us, their names are there. And that's as it should be. That's why I don't complain about all the time it takes to run those names after the movie has finished telling its story.
A few years later, I got a phone call one night from one of the guys in our church in South Carolina. "Marcy, is it true that you were in that movie 'Big Fish?'" he asked. I told him it was true. "I want you to know," he said. "A few years ago I was at the end of my rope. My life was going nowhere. I was into drugs and alcohol big time, so I checked myself into a motel. I turned the TV on and that movie was playing." He paused for a moment. "You know about my dad and all, how he died in prison for killing my mom. I held a lot of anger and bitterness towards him." He paused a moment. "By the time the movie was over I was bawling. That story helped me to get some stuff resolved where my dad was concerned. Just wanted you to know."
Larry's talking about seeing "Courageous" a second time. I'm not sure yet if I'm going or not, but I'm tempted. It's a good story and hopefully might help change some lives for the better. And if I do, I think I just might hang around for a few minutes at the end. I wouldn't mind watching the credits again.