Filming of The Deer Hunter

Weirton Daily Times
July 28, 1977

Movie Extra Shares Experience

By Milton Weinberg

The word "extra" has a charisma all its own. "Extra, Extra! Read All About It!" were the cries of the newsboys years ago. Webster defines "Extra" as "beyond or greater than what is due or necessary - better or larger than ordinary - something in addition to what is due, expected, or added extra edition of a newspaper other than the regular one."

In films, an extra complements the environment within which the actors and actresses work. Extras are the people in the background, supplementing the scene.

Many worked as extras in the film, "The Deer Hunter," while it was being shot in this area. And Weirton residents were among those swept into the world of "make-believe" working as extras in the final scenes shot in "The Deer Hunter" in Mingo Junction, Ohio.

And among those "added charges" swept into the world of "make-believe" from Weirton were George Kondik, Art LaStoria, Ed C. Bowman, Tom Shotlis, Eric Freeman, Art Bedway and yours truly.

We were in a mill gate scene. Through the blistering humidity and heat, we endured the arduous task of staging a shift of millworkers going through Gate No. 6.

The gate was made of plastic, incidentally, and the film crew were masters at reducing large industrial scenes to intimate details (plastic pipes, railing, check points, etc.).

The scene was shot 25 times, involving five hours work. And despite the 95 degree heat and despite the fall coats we wore (it was supposed to be late October), no one quit because of discomfort. We had showmanship exuberance, that's why. The extras had taken on that enthusiasm when the director yelled "Action" on the 25th take. There was that spontaneous freshness as if tis [sic] were being shot for the first time.

We provided our own clothes; costuming was kept to a minimum. And we tried to be whatever the character we played should be. You must not be caught "acting." The audience won't believe in your performance if they see you are "acting."

While we were millworkers on the street, in the tavern scenes, shot in Welsh's Tavern, Mingo Junction, we were buddies who enjoy drinking and "bull session." We had camaraderie men find in hunting, working, and drinking.

Then in a bar scene, where we were supposed to greet Mike, portrayed by Robert De Niro, we were required to have a new glass of beer for each take. And we did that scene over and over again, for two hours.

The scene was supposed to take place on Dec. 22 - three days before Christmas. Decorations and colored lights garnished the set. Though large air conditioner[s] were used between takes, the temperature inside the tavern was 110 degrees.

We had a lunch break and they certainly did feed us well. We had salads, jello with bananas, canned peaches, fresh watermelon, veal cutlets, barbecued spare ribs, escalloped potatoes, garden vegetables, ice cream, soda pop, beer, iced tea, lemonade, coffee, milk and chocolate milk.

It was quite an experience. At the end of our day's work, we were paid but no extra on the set tolerated the beastly weather just for money. Showmanship was the factor keeping us here.

Personally, I felt "exhausted" afterwards. We all couldn't wait to get home and shower or soak in a tub of cool water.

No, I certainly wouldn't want to make this a career but I must admit, we gave those scenes an "extra touch."

(Editor's Note: Milton Weinberg is a veteran English and speech instructor at Weir High School and served many years as faculty advisor for the school's Thespian Troupe. He resided on Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton.)

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