Clapperboards are electronic now; but much remains unchanged about moviemaking, including a lot of “hurry up and wait”.

Clapperboards are electronic now; but much remains unchanged about moviemaking, including a lot of “hurry up and wait”.

The Editor’s Desk: Moviemaking magic

The editor seizes the chance to get behind-the-scenes during a movie shoot in town.

I feel rather bad today about gently teasing former Journal editor R.D. Cumming over his fascination with, and endless coverage of, the installation of the Ashcroft phone system in 1914, and then the construction of the Ashcroft Public Building in 1916–17. He was obviously enthralled with both projects, and I have said I can picture him peppering the workmen with questions as they did their jobs.

Well, this past Monday I pulled an R.D.—in a manner of speaking—by repeatedly leaving the Journal office to watch the filming being done at the corner of 4th and Brink Streets in Ashcroft. There must have been more than 50 crew members, and a serious amount of equipment, present, and no one seemed to mind as long as I kept out of the way and didn’t get in any shots.

At one point I was close enough to the clapperboard to see that the movie in questionwas called A Dog’s Way Home, and that it was being directed by Charles Martin Smith, an actor-turned-director whose work I’ve admired since seeing him star in the movie version of Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf back in 1983 (Smith plays the Mowat character). I asked a crew member if this was second unit filming, and he said no, it was the main unit.

Second unit filming is usually supplementary material, and is not generally helmed by the main director; so this told me Smith was on set. And sure enough, a few minutes later he appeared. I didn’t immediately recognize him; but as soon as he spoke to one of the other crew members I recognized his voice.

No, I didn’t go over and say hi; he was at work, and judging by the number of crew members around, any unauthorized person wandering toward the director would probably have been removed from the site pretty promptly. But I did get to watch a few scenes being filmed (and then filmed again and again and again; that’s the nature of moviemaking), and was as fascinated as R.D. was all those years ago when the phones were being installed and the Public Building was being constructed.

The former Public Building—now the museum—was in the shot being filmed, so the Ashcroft Museum sign had been covered up with a sign saying that the building was a library, presumably somewhere in New Mexico, since the cars used in filming one scene all had New Mexico plates, and a few cars parked in the area (including museum curator Kathy Paulos’s) that would be in shot had also had New Mexico plates attached to them. The Ashcroft Legion sign was also in the shot; or would have been, had someone not draped it in a camouflage tarp and then placed shrubbery and foliage in front of it to completely obscure it.

And that’s the magic of filmmaking: taking a street in Ashcroft and making it look like somewhere in New Mexico (I presume; never having been to New Mexico, I have no idea how closely we approximate it). I’ve always been fascinated with the behind-the-scenes aspect of making movies, so to be able to witness it at first hand was a lot of fun; and I was gratified to see that although moviemaking has changed a lot over the years, someone still yells “Action!” at the start of a scene and “Cut!” at the end. It’s nice to see that some things never change.

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