Fort Lee archaeologist among 'Lincoln' extras
November 14, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 14, 2012) -- Bryce Stanley at the Regional Archaeological Curation Facility digs history, literally. So, it's not surprising he was willing to take a few days off from his job last December to be an extra in Steven Spielberg's film, "Lincoln." The movie is slated to open Friday.
"I saw the ad in the paper. They were still looking for extras," Stanley said. So, he sent in the brief biography and photo requested. "They were looking for males with beards between the ages of 20 and 35. I sent in my information, and they got back with me."
Although the Richmond native has never had an interest in acting, he has supported himself as a musician in Savannah, Ga. Stanley plays guitar and harmonica, writing much of the music he plays and sings.
After earning his bachelor's and master's degree in archaeology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Stanley had a variety of contract jobs in his field and pursued his music full time before coming to the Fort Lee position about four years ago.
Stanley applied to be an extra to immerse himself in the Civil War era, he said.
"It was a very interesting experience, but I learned more about movie-making," he explained.
He got a close look at how "movie magic" can transform a place as well as people.
"It's amazing what they did to downtown Petersburg," Stanley said, noting that the Old Towne area took on the look and feel of 1865.
He was one of 40-50 extras who donned reproduction Union uniforms and overcoats and toted reproduction Springfield rifles for the scenes shot there. The make-up artists "made us look dirty," he said.
One day, the neckline of his 21st century T-shirt was showing under his uniform.
"A girl came along and snip, snip, it was gone," Stanley said. This is just one example of the attention to detail paid by Spielberg's staff. Stanley even witnessed an argument over whether one set of suspenders fit the period.
Properly uniformed, Stanley worked one day on a street scene, crossing the street in front of Lincoln's carriage and trying not to get hit by it. He also found himself standing beside actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt who portrayed Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's son.
"He was in his period clothes, and he pulled out his iPod and put his ear buds in" while waiting for instructions on what he was needed for next.
The life of an extra is often hurry-up-and-wait, said Stanley. Notified the day before about where to report for filming, Stanley and the others would show up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. for a morning shot.
"They feed you breakfast," he said. "You get all of your paperwork done so you can be paid. Then you go to wardrobe and make-up. A lot of people are shouting and pushing you around, saying, 'Go here. Go there.' Then you basically sit around and wait for your scene."
"When your scene is called," said Stanley, "you are directed what to do. You may spend three, four or five hours on a scene that will take 30 seconds in the movie."
Where in the movie, and whether the scene makes the final cut, remains a mystery until it is released.
"Since you're not the director and you don't have an overall idea of the flow of the movie, you don't know how your scene fits in," said Stanley.
One scene he participated in was set in the old train station in Old Towne. A bunch of Union Soldiers were sitting around the telegraph, waiting for the results of "voting" in the House of Representatives for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Lincoln's political struggle to secure passage of the amendment reportedly is central to the film's script written by Tony Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner. The movie is also based, in part, on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, "A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." The Oscar-studded cast is led by Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln.
Stanley earned about $80 a day for the time he worked as an extra, and he gained a new perspective on movies. Besides being more aware of the time invested in making a film, Stanley now pays close attention to the extras. He noted movie-goers, if they watch closely, will realize a relatively small number of extras keep popping up in scenes throughout the film.
Extras sign non-disclosure forms and are forbidden to take photographs, said Stanley.
"One day, they got word that an extra had taken a picture of Daniel Day-Lewis. They berated us for a good hour and then checked all the photos on every extra's cell phone."
Stanley had previously taken a photo of himself in costume, and it was deleted.
Despite that bit of censorship, Stanley thinks he would take part in another period movie if the opportunity arises. "It was cool getting dressed up like that and seeing how people lived back then. It was really neat."