Set Visit: Year One

Harold Ramis interview / Michael Cera interview / Jack Black interview

We've been privileged enough over the years to have visited film sets in faraway and exotic places like Prague, Ireland, Iceland and Romania. So it's with some bit of surprise that I can say the most amount of fun I've had on a set was off a dusty old road in Shreveport, Louisiana.

It's not exactly the rolling hills of Ireland. In fact it's not even the brightest city in its own state. But what Shreveport doesn't exactly offer in tourist hotspots, it makes up for in tax breaks, a key draw for studios looking to cut costs on a movie (while I was in town, Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac were also there filming SOUL MEN). Which would explain why I packed my bags one early March and headed down to Shreveport to visit the set of YEAR ONE.

Biff Tannen and Oliver Stone

6:00 AM. It's way to early for me. The phone rings and there is silence on the other end. My wake up call. I'm at the Shreveport Hilton and I need to be in the lobby by 6:30. This is not an easy task (I don't drink coffee) but I collect my stuff and eventually still make my way downstairs. I'm still bleary-eyed but the brisk morning air swoops in like a smack across the face. I'm feeling slightly more awake.

While I wait for the rest of our crew, director Harold Ramis ambles by looks incomprehensibly upbeat for this time of day. And am I still dreaming or is Oliver Stone sitting in the lobby restaurant? Sleeping later is just much easier on your constitution.

Later, as the press shuffles downstairs, we're led to a shuttle which is going to take us over to the set, which I'm told is about 15 minutes away. Right now we're staying in the heart of Shreveport (which reminds me oddly of BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 when Biff opens up all the casinos) but we're leaving the flashing neon behind and head down country roads lined with bible stores and hunting depots to a location I begin to think to myself, "this can't be where they're filming this movie..." Oh, but it is.

There is a yellow sign out front with "YO" and a black arrow pointing straight ahead. That is our only indication there is even anything beyond the expanse of pine trees ahead of us. But as we get closer, we begin to see what we couldn't see from the road. A massive clearing among the trees. And smack dab in the center is the largest movie set I've ever seen in person.

Just an idea of how big the set is - this is only about half of it

Getting Dressed in a Tent

Right now it's hard to make out exactly what we're seeing. I'm behind the set so all I really see is a blank wall with a vast array of 2x4s propping everything up. But there are some major doings on the other side of that wall. As we pile out of the van, extras start shuffling out of wardrobe and towards the set. Peasants, warriors, guards, merchants...all nature of ancient people. I am about to become one of those people. It is off to wardrobe for me.

It's not often I walk into a tent and I'm told to go into a corner and disrobe. OK it's not that often... That is, however, the situation I find myself in now. I walked into the tent and was immediately sized up by the YEAR ONE wardrobe coordinator. It was a the quickest casting session I've ever been involved in as he gave me the once over, disappeared into the racks of clothes and reappeared with a getup on a hanger and some boots. "Go try these on."

On the set of YEAR ONE today, I'm making my feature film acting debut. I'll be "That Guy in the Background" as Jack Black and Michael Cera film a scene with a large group of townsfolk behind him. I will be one of those townfolk. Get the "For Your Consideration" ads ready.


I take this time waiting for the rest of the press to wander around the wardrobe tent. There are barrels of weapons, tables filled with wigs and a giant poster board of facial hair (one costume is bluntly marked "slut"). I'm not camera ready just yet though. I'm directed to the people at makeup as it appears my wintery New Jersey complexion is a little pale for the sun soaked life of a middle easterner in biblical times. With a few swabs of dark makeup, I look a few shades darkly and have lost my Casper-like glow. I'm having too much fun and the hair dresser can tell. "You need a wig, don't you?," she asks. I do. I so very do.

After my wig (which was actually just hair extensions bobby-pinned to my real hair), makeup and costume was finalized, I had to pack away all my stuff (no cameras, cell phones, etc.) and actually make my way on set. It's an insanely cloudy day and the weather is still brutally cold. It doesn't help that my little number barely comes past my elbows and has the insulation of a t-shirt. My first acting job of the day requires I act like I'm not freezing my ass off. We're told that the clouds are residual from days of rain that have delayed shooting. This is, as I realize now, what is called foreshadowing....

When I finally walk onto the set, I can hardly believe my eyes. This thing is HUGE. I haven't walked onto a set, I've walked onto an actual city. I feel like I'm in Disney World somewhere because just when you think you've found the end, you turn the corner and there's even more. You can walk in a doorway and be in an actual store.

At the center of the city there are a bunch of slaves building a giant tower. There is scaffolding surrounding the entire structure that is filled with extras in filthy, tattered robes. We weren't told what exactly the tower was but those slaves must have toiling away to get it up that high. Behind us was a giant bull head (later we were told that is where the virgins are sacrificed) that spits fire. To our left was a luxurious temple where the royals would spend some time. But there wasn't much time to be awestruck. I was about to watch Michael Cera get whipped.

"Will my toil see no end?!"

In this scene, Michael Cera runs afoul of a guard/soldier who's assigned to corral the slaves. And by corral, I mean whip into submission. Cera's Oh (his character's name not his exclamation) has gone undercover as a slave to try and track down his love Eema in this little kingdom. As I mentioned before, the slaves are hard at work building this tower. It is a massive structure in the middle of the set and actual extras are populated all over the thing. Once the extras are given their action cue, they quickly snap into character, busying themselves with hard labor.

This guy got to beat Michael Cera take after take

After lunch, we were able to watch another scene filmed more intimately. Our awesome unit publicist walked me right past a director's hut where Harold Ramis was lounging back in his chair and gently strumming on an acoustic guitar. Wait, shouldn't he be screaming at someone or slamming his headset to the ground? This was clearly a lot different than a lot of other sets I've been on.

I was walked directly behind the camera as Jack Black was prepping himself for the scene, which essentially follows him getting whipped and coming up with adlibbed reactions ("Will my toil see no end?!!"). As assistant called to Ramis who set his guitar down and came over to give Jack some quick direction before he took his place behind the camera. Now at this point I'm about five steps behind Harold Ramis as he directs Jack Black. If this were Christian Bale I'd be petrified about getting a verbal lashing. I ask if I'm cool standing here and assured, yeah, it's all cool. Am I in bizarro world?

Beards as Spoilers

Sadly later that afternoon we were told that the scene we would have been filming has been postponed because of rain delays. They're not going to get to it today, which means my acting debut will have to wait for another day. (The set photographer though was awesome enough to direct us in some scenes for her camera.)

Later we got to watch as Ramis brought the whole crew around (including Christopher Mintz-Plasse who was off that day and just wearing street clothes) and they discussed the next day's task of filming the final scene of the movie. Yeah they were cool with us sitting and watching them prep the finale of the movie. Just a few weeks prior I was on a set where I was forbidden from mentioning that the main character has a beard at one point and now they're cool with discussing how the movie ends. I kinda wanted to fire up the bull's head and sing "Kumbaya" with Harold's guitar.

For me it was time to head back to wardrobe, remove my mullet extensions and wash the makeup off. I sadly couldn't spend more time on set but that day, as the weather slowly warmed, we got to interview Harold Ramis, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross and Jack Black (who I made laugh out loud, a personal triumph) and we'll bring you those interviews to you later this week so stay tuned!

For now check out this brand new clip from YEAR ONE titled "Stoning!"

Source: JoBlo.com



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