A Star is Born. Then Shot. (Part 1)

Posted on June 24, 2012

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The ANZAC soldiers have big floppy hats that fall over their eyes leaving only their grimacing mouths in view. I shift my weight on the wooden planks of a horseshoe-shaped trench that gives me no avenue of escape. Even the moonless sky seals me in with backlit hay smoke.

Ready!

The men raise their five heavy rifles. Their barrels resolutely pointing at my face are the only steady objects amongst wobbly light and shadows cast from the burning torches.

Aim!

I should really have a blindfold and cigarette, shouldn’t I? The camera stops rolling on its track. Stops and zooms. Then focuses. I begin to think about just how comically out-of-place my groomed goatee is, here, at the end of World War I.

Fire!

Silence. Then all five soldiers’ shoulders bounce from the imaginary kickback as mine are thrust powerfully against the dirt wall.

How did I end up here faking death by firing squad on the set of a Turkish film helmed by one of the more famous and controversial directors in the country? I’m glad you asked!

(Children of Galippoli directed by Sinan Çetin)

It was a Friday at the end of a stressful work week at the middle school. The children were antsy and ready for summer. All classes were gathered together for tören (the end of week prayer to Atatürk). I had just given up trying to keep my sixth grade class quiet when the high school principal came floating up to me. She said, “Hey would you like to be in a movie tomorrow?” I don’t think anyone would have expected such a question at such a time. After the initial weirdness of the moment wore off, I thought why not?

At eight in the morning on Saturday, I met an Irishman outside of Starbucks on Taksim square. This being Turkey, the driver picked us up forty minutes late. Our driver was a kid in a car who took us on a route mapped out by a decapitated chicken. After he had picked up his dry-cleaning, a buddy, breakfast, and a Frenchman, we headed out to famous director’s compound near the Black Sea.

We arrived at the compound, and I must say, it was gorgeous. It was made up of acres of wooded hills surrounded by stately villas overlooking the sea. To my left I could see the front yard which had been convincingly transformed into WWI style trenches. Straight ahead was the cabin home with a derelict three-story high water slide ala Six Flags Over Georgia. Yes, you read correctly. It was a swirling water slide overgrown with trees and vines. To my right, the shed where all of the lowly extras and actors hid from the sun.

The shed was a disaster. Trash, ANZAC and Turkish uniforms, cigarette butts, and fake blood blanketed the pool table where people were eating brunch.

“Drop your trou,’ mate!” a half Turkish half Aussie instructed. It’s true, acting can sometimes leave you very expose. I was handed my ANZAC uniform bit by bit. I looked around for the Irishman and asked him where the Frenchman was? Apparently, they had already shuffled him off to make up.

Wow. These people were organized and meant business. They had a plan and were executing it independently and efficiently. Was I still in Turkey?

A cool looking man said, “So?…”

A director maybe? He wasn’t in uniform.

“How many roads must a man walk down? Can you tell me that?”

Darn. He is a director, I thought. And he is testing me. This is not what I wanted. I’m not an actor. That’s my wife. I just wanted to come here, put on make up, run around with a gun, and get in a movie for kicks.

I don’t think my answer impressed much as there was no follow-up question.

Eventually, it was time for the first shoot of the day, so we headed out to the battlefield. We made a quick stop at make up, where we met up with our new French friend again. Those blasted Turks really messed him up good. The whole left side of his face was peeled away in a bloody dripping mess. It had to be uncomfortable with all that on. I felt lucky that my make up was merely fake dirt. The Turkish extras kept walking by and licking his wounded face to weird us out and show us that it was edible. Thanks guys for that useful image which is now taking up space in my brain.

We shot all day from the ANZAC trench in the blazing hot sun, and the special effects men were hard at work keeping every frame filled with real smoke from burning hay piles which they positioned with pitchforks. After shooting for nearly all day, I began to think that it wasn’t such a good idea to breath in real smoke for so long.

The sun was setting, and while it had been fun so far, I was a little disappointed. I had tried valiantly to creep into a shot. I wanted to be able to see my mug from the theater seats when this thing opened. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel I had succeeded in making it front and center.

However, this was nothing compared to the miserable Frenchman. The wax makeup was now falling off his face, and you could tell that it was beginning to be a real torture. On top of that, they kept yelling at him.

“Hey! What is he doing here? Get him out of the shot! His face is f***** up!”

Poor guy couldn’t get in a single shot all day. Finally, his good nature wore off. (I find French travellers are insanely good-natured.) He asked when they were going to shoot the scene where he gets wounded.

“What!? Oh, no. We decided not to do that today. Why are you wearing this make up?”

Aha! There’s the Turkey I know so well.

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(End of part 1)

Here is sneak peek of the cinematic feast that awaits you when this film comes out in November. It is recommended that you down a few alcoholic beverages before viewing.

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