Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Memoir of Being an Extra Appearing in the 2014 American Godzilla Movie

Stuart K. Hayashi

This is adapted from an e-mail I wrote in late 2013.


While it was by no means a panacea for problems in my life, a childhood dream came true for me on Wednesday, July 10, and Thursday, July 11, 2013. :'-D

Ever since I was a little boy, I appreciated a particular movie franchise, one starring a character who is similar to a dragon and yet is not explicitly called a dragon; he is more often compared to a dinosaur. We knew that back in 1998, TriStar claimed to come out with a big-budget American adaptation of the character with its own movie, only for us to find that the beastie in the TriStar offering looked and behaved nothing like the dragonesque character at all. Then in 2010 they announced that they would again do another big-budget American adaptation. Upon seeing an interview with the new director, Gareth Edwards, I felt more optimistic. He said everything correct -- that TriStar's 1998 adaptation failed because it wasn't true to the character and, far worse, it disrespected longtime fans. Edwards said that his version would actually look and behave like the character I had grown up loving. [In retrospect, this movie was, in one important respect, the opposite of Godzilla Resurgence. The monster in Godzilla Resurgence looked passably enough like Godzilla but did not behave like Godzilla. By contrast, the monster in the 2014 American Godzilla movie did not really look like Godzilla, but it did behave enough like Godzilla.]

Captain Nobody
The Saturday, June 1, 2013 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that there was an open casting call for a movie. The movie company didn't want the actual identity of the movie to be widely known; its employees referred to it in public as Nautilus. In Honolulu, the company even worked through a shell corporation called Captain Nemo Productions. Evidently the movie company wanted to fool people into believing that they were doing a remake of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. However, Hawaii's news media were not fooled; the newspaper very explicitly said it was probably Godzilla.

This announcement was made on very short notice -- the day before the casting call went out. Still, I decided that if I refrained from standing in line for the casting call, I would come to regret that decision in my old age. I therefore decided to be a part of it. The casting call was supposed to go on from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but it ended up being extended later into the afternoon.

The lines were literally around the block, winding around corners of buildings and into at least three different parking lots. Ahead of me in line was a very talkative old man who introduced himself as Mike Crozier, saying he was a State Senator in Hawaii until 1992. I didn't recognize his name; his political career was l-o-n-g before my time.

I got really sunburned. Fortunately I only had to stand in line for four hours in order to fill out two forms for five minutes. I really did get dangerously burned by radiation -- unintentional method acting on my part.

The mural is of a dissected shark, for some reason. o.O
This is less than a third of the line.

In the first week of July, I received a phone call from Katie Doyle Casting informing me that of the 2,000 people who had filled out forms at the open casting call, I was among the 200 selected to be an extra for the movie. That's 1 out of 10. I couldn't believe my luck. :'-)

They shot the scenes in Waikiki at Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Wednesday, July 10, and Thursday, July 11.

Day One

Me on the morning of July 10, 2013, before getting the destination. I hold up the instructions that Katie Doyle's company gave me. In Microsoft Paint I blacked out some sensitive bits of information.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 6:00 a.m. -- Getting ready to remove my backpack and get on the bus that would take me to the set. Little did I know what awaited me there.

I was told that in the movie, a monster swims to Honolulu and wreaks devastation. At the time, I was not informed of the identity of any of the monsters in the picture -- I had not heard the name “MUTO.” At Duke Kahanamoku Beach, the crew built a whole set of building rubble, complete with wreckage of a helicopter. #REKT

A screen shot of the finished motion picture, with my captions added.

I was cast as one of the Honolulu residents wounded in the devastation. The props department put bandages on me and the makeup department drew wounds and gashes on my face and arms. They also threw dirt and ash in my beautiful hair.

I remembered how horribly sunburned I was waiting in line for the casting call. This time I came prepared and had sunscreen all over my face, neck, and arms. But I didn't anticipate that the wardrobe department would insist I change out of my clothes -- a T-shirt and jeans -- and into the beige button-down shirt and baggy shorts they wanted me to wear. Hawaiian people don't dress like that, but the movie people wanted everyone there to wear the sort of clothes that mainland Americans inaccurately expect Hawaiians to wear. Anyhow, I had neglected to put sunscreen on my legs, and they became terribly sunburned anyway.

"It Was Meant to Be"
Since the scene is of a disaster area, there are police officers, soldiers, and FEMA employees all over the place. The movie studio cast real-life police officers, National Guardsmen, and soldiers as extras, though they didn't wear their real uniforms. I came across a really talkative, incessantly jokey, stocky policeman there who introduced himself as "Tony." I said to him, "But your uniform says 'K. Thomas' on it." He said, "We're real police officers, but we're not allowed to use our real uniforms for the movie; these are from the wardrobe department."

Tony was an African-American but he spoke with a really thick pidgin Hawaiian dialect. In our first scene, the assistant director told Tony and this other officer, a middle-aged white officer (I don't know his real name, but the fake uniform said "D. Dornan" on it) to escort me, as an injured person, to the FEMA tent.

The movie crew actually put up these little railroad tracks in the middle of the pavement, and then they put this platform onto the railroad tracks. On the platform went this large crane, with the camera at the end of it. That's how the camera moved forward and backward.
When the white officer and Tony were making other small talk, the white officer said, "When did the last Godzilla movie come out?"

I said to him, "Do you mean the most recent Godzilla movie, or do you mean the horrible 1998 version TriStar made?"

The white officer said, "The American one."

I replied, "That was in 1998. But the most recent Godzilla movie from Japan was made in 2004."

Then Tony said, "Ho! You one Godzilla aficionado?"

I smiled and said, "Yes. Ever since I was a little boy, I appreciated Godzilla. When I learned that they were shooting the new movie here, I stood in line for three hours. By luck, I was chosen to be an extra. And now I'm here."

Tony said, "Ho! This is destiny! It was meant to be. Time for your loyalty to Godzilla to be rewarded. I'm going to help make sure that you get into the camera's view when they're filming." He said that teasingly, but as the day went on, he actually did scheme for us to be in the camera's view. We did multiple takes of the same scene. And, before any of the takes were even recorded, we did rehearsed takes, complete with the camera moving into the same position that it would be in during actual filming. Tony kept timing it so that we would be in the correct position as the camera passed by -- where we would be right behind the main actor as the camera focused in on him.

The assistant directors weren't completely consistent about continuity. At first they stressed that when they edited the different takes together, they wanted accurate continuity. Therefore, after we shot the first sequence, we had to remember where we stood when the director said "cut." Then, we they began filming the second sequence, we had to start in the exact place where we were when the first sequence finished filming. At least, that's what the assistant directors claimed they wanted. But eventually one assistant pointed to a place 70 feet from us and said, "There is too much empty space over there; not enough is going on. Therefore we want you guys to be in the background in those scenes, too." The assistants therefore moved us. When you watch the finished movie and spot me, you find out I’m all over the place, as if I have teleported every which way around the movie’s lead human actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. That’s because the assistants expected that no one would notice that the people in the background immediately appear and disappear from one place to another in microseconds.

The two cops and I are east of Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Tony and I got behind Aaron Taylor-Johnson as he talks to the soldier (we are still east of him). How did we get there so fast?

Tony and I are west of Aaron Taylor-Johnson all of a sudden! This is at the 1:00:05 mark of the motion picture on the DVD.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Back on June 1, I read the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's list of the people cast to star in the movie. Of the names, I recognized only Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (to me, he will always be Dr. Tim Whatley from Seinfeld as well as the voices of monsters from the first 1993 season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). Also cast was the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen . Of all the stars there, though, only one appeared at our shooting -- some young British actor named Aaron Johnson. I did not recognize his name.

One of the extras pointed out, "That's the main actor. He was that guy in that movie." I didn't recognize that actor. Then the extra said, "He was the star of that movie . . .Kick-Ass."

Then it hit me. Oh, my God(zilla). Kick-Ass was the only movie and I ever went to see with someone whom I care about, but who has scared me through make various morbid gestures (suicidal, self-harming, and body dysmorphic) in a very public fashion. It was her kind of movie -- really bloody, unpleasant, and cynical. We watched Aaron Johnson on the big screen. And, at this moment, Aaron Johnson was, in the flesh, just a few feet from me. Not even when I'm in this movie can I escape from something that brings up memories of that person I care and worry about.

It was a really hot day, and the movie people had Aaron Johnson wear a really hot leather jacket. As soon as the camera stopped rolling, Aaron Johnson would remove the jacket. Underneath that he was also wearing a hot, bulky sweatshirt. What's the deal? In his scene, he was carrying a little Japanese boy in a red T-shirt. He takes the boy to a FEMA tent and says, "This boy been separated from his parents." Then a Japanese couple, playing the boy's parents, walk by. The mother screams in relief, "Akio!" and the boy jumps into her arms.

It was important that the other extras and I didn't begin moving when the assistant director Alex Rayner (who, at the time, I mistook for the main director Gareth Edwards) said "Action." First he said, "Action!" Then main director Gareth Edwards (whom I thought was assistant director Alex Rayner) yelled, "Sound!" The sound crew yelled, "Rolling!" in near-unison. Then the assistant director would say, "Background." Background refers to us extras in the background. That's when we extras would begin moving and doing what the assistants told us to do. When the shooting stopped, the director did say "Cut." Then he would say "Reset," which means we had to return to the spot we were last in before the last time the assistant director said "Background."

At the end of the first day of shooting, we were all done, but a woman from Katie Doyle’s company (I don’t know if it was Katie Doyle herself) said, "Nobody is leaving yet. I don't know what the reasoning is, but I have clear instructions that none of you can be paid unless you leave after sundown." This guy sarcastically shouted out, "Yayyyyyyyyyy!!" and then he sarcastically applauded. That was infectious, because then about forty extras sarcastically applauded with him.

In the evening, we left the set and the bus took me back to the location where the extras first gathered together.
Here, you can see the movie makeup. In the morning, I only looked beat-up. By the evening I FELT that way.

Day Two
On the second day of shooting, they did the continuation of that scene. Three waves of soldiers walk in formation. Aaron Johnson goes up to the man in front of the first wave and says something like, "I'm in the Navy. I need to get back to the mainland." The soldier in front says something to the effect of, "You're in luck, because that's where we're going. We're all monster-hunters now."

On the first take, Tony maneuvered me right behind Aaron Johnson as he was talking. You know the sound guy who holds that big pole with a microphone at the end, and the microphone has this weird fluffy covering on it? The back end of the pole almost hit me in the face. Then I would have had real bruises there to match the fake ones.

I said to Tony, "Why do they put that fluffy thing on the microphone?" Tony replied, "That's because when the wind hits the microphone directly, the impact makes that staticky feedback noise. When they put that fuzzy thing over it, the fuzzy thing absorbs the impact of the wind and the noise isn't made." Later he went directly to the sound guy to ask him about it, and the sound guy confirmed that that was correct.

Then many crew members began telling me that I had them worried because my eyes were so bloodshot. People have often told me my eyes are red and watery. Hence I initially didn't think it was a big deal. But then the crew actually brought in their on-call medic -- not one of the many extras playing medics -- to look at my eyes. That got me worried. I took out my contact lenses but my eyes didn't get less red.

Stand-In Boy Meets the Big G
The Japanese boy -- Jake -- had two stand-ins, both also in the same red T-shirts. I thought they were triplets, but they weren't related. Tony was talking to the parents of one of the stand-ins, and he pointed to me and said, "My boy Stuart right here is a Godzilla expert. I'm helping him get into as many shots for the movie as possible." The mother looked at me and said, "Our son still hasn't seen Godzilla yet."

I facetiously pantomimed a look of horror and exclaimed, "Unacceptable!"

The mother said, "Which Godzilla movies do you recommend we show our son? I don't mean that horrible American one from 1998."

I said, "In Godzilla: Final Wars, they have the real Godzilla fight that fake American Godzilla, and the real Godzilla defeats him really easily. And a character says of the fake Fraudzilla from TriStar, 'I knew that tuna-eating monster was weak!' "

The mother said, "What was that movie?" She took out her iPhone and said, "Tell me the title of that movie." I told her Godzilla: Final Wars. That movie is very far from the best entry in the series, but I figured it was the one that little boys are most apt to like. The parents also took a photo of me with the boy with their iPhone.

"I Consider All of You Here My Family!"
It turns out that Aaron Johnson had been filming the movie for 80 days; this was his 81st day. The director Gareth Edwards (who looked so young in person that I mistook him for the assistant director) got a microphone and said, "Everyone, this is a special day. For many of us, this is the end of filming." He said, "This is Victor's final day of shooting." Then he handed a microphone to Victor, who was dressed as military personnel, and said, "What was your favorite part of filming?" Victor said, "My favorite part was shooting up Godzilla!" Everyone laughed.

Then Gareth Edwards chuckled and said, "What are you talking about? The movie is called Nautilus."

Then Gareth said, "This is also Aaron Johnson's last day of filming," and he gave the microphone to Aaron Johnson. Speaking into the microphone, Aaron Johnson addressed all of us extras and said in that rather cloying way that actors talk, "This has been a great journey for me, and I consider all of you here my family."

Then Gareth went up to the little boy (the main one) and announced, "This is also Jake's last day of filming." He said to the boy, "What was your favorite part of making the movie?"

The boy said in a very breathy voice, "My favorite part was . . . was . . . " Then he said nothing. Everyone laughed about his cuteness.

Gareth said, "Okay, 'Cut.' 'Reset.' What was your favorite part?" Then again the boy said, "My favorite part was . . . was . . . " Nothing.

Gareth said, "That part with the train was good, wasn't it?" The boy said, "Yes!" and everyone laughed about his cuteness again.

All in all, it was quite an adventure.

And I don't want to do anything like it again any time soon. ^_^

The movie company's instructions forbade any picture-taking on the set or of the set. But I still wanted the moments captured. That's why you see these photos of me getting onto and off the bus.

My return from the second day of shooting. I was tired yet invigorated. My makeup wound was bloodier on the second day.

At the start of the shoot, I only looked beat up. By the end of it, I felt that way, too. The dragon-like creature has beaten up many worthy opponents in his time -- Mothra, Rodan, and King Kong. And now me. ^_^

When I watched the movie in the theater, I didn’t see myself, but John Paul Cassidy (who has an excellent contribution in August Ragone's excellent biography of Godzilla/Ultraman special effects director Eiju Tsuburaya) assured me that he saw me. I got the DVD for my birthday and, sure enough, I spotted myself.

September 24, 2014.

I have appeared in my favorite movie franchise -- in a motion picture that grossed half a billion dollars worldwide. One of my two great childhood dreams was finally accomplished. ^_^ Now I can move on to trying to accomplish the second childhood dream, which is a much easier feat: becoming a millionaire. ;-)


UPDATE from Saturday, January 21, 2016:  This is also a separate post here.

I drew this from January 13 to January 15, 2017.  You can also see it on Instagram here.

Godzilla is a registered trademark of Toho Co., Ltd.

The drawing on January 14, before it was finished:

Upon completion: