Last year at this time, I received an intriguing offer. In May, the movie Draft Day would be filming in Cleveland, and I was one of eight writers selected to have a chance to be one of the first four writers to commit to coming to the set and being in the movie.
The not-so-subtle “act now!” nature of the pitch should have made me leery. But it’s Hollywood (OK, Cleveland). They do things differently in Hollywood (OK, Cleveland). And this was perhaps the only chance I’d ever have to see how they actually do things in Hollywood (OK, Cleveland).
Besides, it was worth the slim possibility of creating something like the scene from the remake of The Longest Yard, in which Peter King and others exclaim in unison, “I think he just sh-t himself!”
The quid pro quo was obvious to the point of blatant. We’d spend a day on the set of the movie, watch the sausage get made (from inside the meat grinder), and then write something about the experience as the movie approaches its release date, in conjunction with the overall effort to get people to pay $10 or whatever to see it and $20 or whatever for popcorn.
Still, I agreed to do it. And while we got something other than what we were promised going in, 12 years of Catholic school ultimately prevented me from reneging on my agreement to write something about the experience.
So here it is.
I was told at first the project would entail an “on-camera extras scene as a sportswriter.” At first, the scene was supposed to feature the four writers chasing Kevin Costner’s Browns G.M. character for a quote. Later, I was told we’d possibly be dressed as crazed Browns fans at the team’s draft party. (I really wanted to don a Ryan Pontbriand jersey and shout at no one in particular, “You are a factory of sadness!“)
Ultimately, the plan was there was no plan. So when Jeff Darlington of NFL Media, Alex Marvez of FOX, Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine, and yours truly arrived at the Browns facility in Berea on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, none of us knew what we would be doing.
And that was kind of the feeling for the entire day. And night.
We went to the trailer that had been brought in just for us, just for the day (our names were on the trailer, something I think we were supposed to be a lot more impressed by than we actually were), we took a quick tour of the area, we got some food, and we sat around and waited for the next step. Darlington and I agreed at some point that, whenever the time came to be on camera — if/when we ultimately were on camera — we’d say, “I think he just sh-t himself!”
Eventually, we were led to the Browns’ practice facility. In the middle of the indoor field had been built a room that was supposed to be a draft party.
And it gradually became more clear that, for us, the plan was there was no plan.
Once inside the team’s real practice facility/pretend party room, we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. Which isn’t necessarily a soothing experience for someone accustomed to constantly updating a website.
Eventually, the four of us ended up at a table in the pretend party room, picking at plates of food while what appeared to be a rehearsal eventually became without any warning actual filming. Caught in a room full of extras all sitting at similar round tables, we took direction about what to do after hearing, “Action!”
It was the-crowd-murmurs reaction-type stuff. So at the appropriate time we’d try react in the appropriate way.
And while trying to execute the appropriate reaction, I’d say to Darlington, “I think he just sh-t himself!”
It became more and more clear that this wasn’t what we’d signed up for. Still, for an hour or so (maybe longer — there are fewer clocks on a movie set than in a casino, and almost as many cameras) we weren’t simply flies on the wall for the filming of a movie. We were flies in the middle of the room.
After that part of the day ended (and following plenty of additional waiting in the practice facility), the plan continued to be, you know, no plan. At some point, it became a given that there would be no scene at all, and that we’d simply be extras with preferential placement.
Someone abruptly asked for two of us, so Darlington and I were whisked back into the pretend party room, where we stood at a bar with Costner, who’d turn from the bar and walk away to start the scene, right after someone behind the bar carried conspicuously in front of the camera a carton bearing a huge Budweiser logo. Between takes (and there must have been 25 versions of the same 15-second shot), we made small talk with Costner.
I’m mildly confident I didn’t say anything particularly stupid or embarrassing or grossly predictable like, “I’m a big fan; I loved you in that thing you did.” What I remember most is that Costner seemed like an entirely normal guy, which arguably is the best compliment I can give to anyone whose job description is to continuously be someone else.
After that, more waiting. And more waiting. Marvez and Wickersham were given preferential extras placement for another scene shot at the draft party, while Darlington and I hung out in the back of the pretend party room reacting to the numerous takes of speeches (which seemed to have different wording each time) from Costner, Frank Langella (who plays the team’s owner), and others. When the 150 or so extras were told to chant in unison at one particularly raucous moment, “Here we go Browns, here we go!,” I opted for “I think he just sh-t himself, I think he did!”
The same scenes were shot with cameras facing the front of the stage in the pretend party room and then, after more waiting, with cameras on the stage, facing the crowd. They shot take after take after take so that, ultimately, director Ivan Reitman could splice together the best of the various shots and sounds and angles to make what appears to be something that happened all at once, even though it unfolded over a period of multiple hours, which extended well past midnight.
It’s given me a much more discerning eye when watching movies or TV shows, which sometimes gets in the way of just enjoying the finished product. Every time the shot changes (and in most cases the shot changes every 2-3 seconds), there’s a very high probability that what’s shown next didn’t happen next. It may have happened before. It may have happened after. It may have happened 50 different times in 50 different ways with 50 different versions of a line that had been meticulously crafted by the writers, with the director ultimately choosing slivers of anti-reality to piece together, creating the impression of events unfolding in linear time.
Which is one of the reasons why there’s such a long lag between the completion of filming a movie and the actual release of the movie.
In December, I received a call from one of the producers explaining that my Oscar-quality standing next to Kevin Costner at the start of a scene had been cut from the movie. The alternative supposedly was some sort of a “montage.”
Sources close to me tell me that the ongoing editing process thereafter resulted in the snap-of-a-finger moment being resurrected. The four of us actually receive mention in the credits with the designation, “As Himself.” (Darlington attended the premiere and sent the still frame from his bootleg of the film.)
Which means that anyone who happens to not be engaging in the natural process of cleansing the bare eyeball with the retractable skin that covers it and who realizes that it’s me standing next to Costner in that flash of an instant as he walks away from the bar in a scene near the end of the movie (possibly with a demeanor that suggests, “I think that guy just sh-t himself“) will wonder why in the hell I’d spend the first night of the draft at a party in Cleveland and not, you know, attending the actual draft in New York.
When the real 2014 draft happens, that’s where I’ll be. But at least one aspect of my role in the film will be to true to life. On the night of the real 2014 draft, I’ll say “I think he just sh-t himself!” at least 100 times.