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Exclusive Watchmen Extra Report

Another background actor comes forward with tales from their Watchmen movie backlot experiences

Comic Related’s “Cassandra Faust” was the first extra to officially sound off — not once, but twice. Now, another extra recounts his experiences in a WCM exclusive editorial.

Now, our extra wishes to remain anonymous, and like “Cassandra” was very careful in crafting his tale so as not to spoil anything the production wouldn’t want to get out.

He told me he could have said a lot more, but has too much respect for what Zack and company are doing to spoil anything for them. The following editorial is his words. Thank you Mr. “Ex” for sharing…

Working With Watchmen

When I heard that a film adaptation of WATCHMEN was in the works, my first thought was: “God, I hope they don’t ruin it.” Later, fresh from multiple trips to the theater to see 300, when I heard that Zack Snyder would helm the film version of the classic graphic novel, I thought, “Well, the film’s got a chance now.” I was skeptically optimistic that if anyone could handle the material it was Zack Snyder. It was like Christmas morning when I heard that the film would be made right here in Vancouver! I’ve been working as a background performer (film extra) for a few years and couldn’t believe my luck. Just to have a chance to work on the film was too exciting for words. When the call finally came I was over the moon!

Some of my fellow extras have described the wonderful New York street set and everything you’ve read or seen of it is true. It’s nothing short of fantastic. From the RUMRUNNER sign to the Gunga Diner, Promethean Cab Company and the Institute For Extraspatial Studies and the newsstand, it has all been flawlessly recreated and knowing that I was going to be a small part of the production was a dream come true.

But it really hit home once I (and my fellow extras) arrived at the Wardrobe Room for a costume fitting. All the wardrobe people were at lunch so we found ourselves walking along the costume racks, looking for someone to sign us in. The room was cavernous and there were thousands of costumes. Clothes from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, hats and coats, boots. New York City cop uniforms, Vietnam and WWII army uniforms… The scope of the production became suddenly apparent. Then I found a rack with costumes labeled ‘Rorschach’, ‘The Comedian’, ‘Laurie’, ‘Nite Owl’… here were the actual set worn costumes for these timeless characters. And I said to myself, “MAN I’M GOING TO BE IN WATCHMEN!”

Someone finally did show up to sign us in and he explained a little of what the movie was about, offering a copy of the graphic novel on the table for folks to flip through. That was a first. I told him I was a fan and was very familiar with the work and he said that a lot of extras who had passed through since production started also knew the work and were happy to be a part of the film.

The wardrobe woman took my measurements, dug up some retro 80s clothes for me to try on and assigned me a costume number I had to remember. With me in full wardrobe, they took my picture next to a sign with the number on it. They took full body shots so the look could be reproduced on the shooting days. Then all I had to do was wait anxiously until the call to work on the film came.

My first day got pushed back because of a windstorm that battered Vancouver and Burnaby where the set was located. Sure enough, the set did receive some minor damage due to the high winds, which explained the delay.

But luckily the call finally came. Walking past the set this time was a much different experience. They’d moved the giant green screens that had been partially blocking my view at the fitting and I was able to see the set in its entirety for the first time. It was incredible to see that on one side there were sandbags, cables, steam machines and wooden poles holding up the building facades and on the other was a section of downtown New York City perfectly recreated. I saw a row of brownstone facades and knew who lived in one of them.

I signed in. When they announced the all-clear for Wardrobe, I headed over to the wardrobe trailer. Racks of costumes were lined up in a changing room. We just had to find our costume number and everything we’d been fitted for previously was waiting for us. All we had to do was climb into the clothes.

The image of that awesome set was foremost in my mind and I wanted to get there ASAP. Finally everyone was ready. And it was time to go to set!

Walking onto that set was a thrill this WATCHMEN fan won’t soon forget! The set designers truly went out of their way to recreate the world of the comic. The level of detail was really something. Official photos have been released and they don’t do the set justice. Amongst the posters and placards all over the walls of the fake businesses up and down the street were splattered, soiled posters advertising the “Veidt Method” from the back of the Black Freighter comic Bernard is reading. At one point, they filmed the guy putting up the Fallout Shelter sign. The newsstand was full of magazines from 1985 and there were dummy copies of Nova Express and a Newsweek with Veidt and Dr. Manhattan shaking hands on the cover. There was the Rumrunner, Moloch’s hovel, the movie theater showing “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” the pink neon elephants of the Gunga Diner… Incredible!

I won’t spoil what was filmed during my days working on the movie. Anyone who has read the novel should be able to guess from what little I can convey. They filmed the newsstand extensively – everything that has to do with the newsstand. I heard that a certain disagreement between the Comedian and a spray-painting youth was also put on celluloid. I watched in awe as Rorschach made his historic leap away from the S.W.A.T team. By the way, the early report that splashed across the Net got it right. It truly was an amazing scene that moviegoers are going to love!

A large group of Asian extras were brought in for the Vietnam sequences that were filmed on the New York backlot with celebratory firecrackers and cheering. These scenes also included the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan in the bar, which was an interior of one of the New York facades. It was fun to see the Asian extras slowly being transformed into Vietnamese peasants and Buddhist monks while talking on cell phones and pounding laptops. Part of the exterior Saigon stuff was shot directly across the street from Dreiberg’s brownstone! With carts full of straw, and stalls selling US Army gear, rattan baskets and such. Only in Hollywood!

The Comedian’s funeral was on the call sheet one day though no extras were needed for that. One day I caught a glimpse of a Veidt street sweeper. Dreiberg and Laurie got herded into an alley by a group of knot tops…

Every day was exciting. Just watching the crew put this incredible story together scene by scene was the thrill of a lifetime.

Zack Snyder would jog the length of the set a couple of times a day just make sure everything looked right. This is a testament to how focused he is on this project. Everything has to be right. And he went about directing in a very open way. You didn’t doubt for a second that he is in charge, but he would laugh and joke and was always open to listen to any suggestions made by the actors. He’d let the people do their work behind the cameras, watch/comment on the rehearsals, then he’d call out from the tent, “Film it!” This meant he was satisfied with the shot and no more futzing was necessary.

From what I saw and what I heard from my fellow extras, it seems to me that everything is being done to keep this film as close to the novel as possible. From the looks of the characters to the dialogue I heard, the film follows the novel. Simple as that. There are some slight variations. Anyone who expects to walk into a theater in March 2009 and see a word for word, shot for shot version of the graphic novel will be disappointed. BUT, from what I witnessed and took part in, in the rare instances when a scene did vary from the source material it did so very slightly and the intent of the original scene was captured perfectly.

This movie version of WATCHMEN should satisfy most fans of the novel. Seeing the characters, the sets, the props, hearing the words firsthand they needed no explanation. So much work has gone into every detail that everything I saw was self-explanatory because it looked like it had been ripped right from the pages of the novel. It’s this fan’s opinion that the movie will be as close an adaptation of the novel as it is possible to do. The scenes I got to be part of looked fantastic without the post-production movie magic. I can’t imagine how great they’ll look up on the movie screen. And I can’t wait to find out.


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