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As an American living in Panama for more than a decade, I am used to being approached on the street occasionally by beautiful young women; unfortunately they are not looking for undying love and devotion. They always had something more practical and unseemly in mind of a pecuniary nature. So I wasn’t really surprised that while shopping at the El Rey super market for groceries one night I noticed out of the corner of my eye, two very attractive girls heading in my direction. “Here we go again” thought I.
One of the girls asked me if I want to be in a movie. I was thinking this is a switch. Usually the man approaches the women with that line. So I asked them “what’s’ the scoop” and they said they were casting scouts looking for really white gringo men to be in a few scenes of the new movie about the champion Panamanian fighter, Roberto Duran. The movie was to be called “Hands of Stone”. They both wore badges around their necks identifying them as casting agents with the words in large print “Hands of Stone”, which is good because had they been ladies of the night with badges that said “Hands of Stone”, I might have started running in the opposite direction.
They explained that the scenes would be shot at the Roberto Duran Stadium, which was to be made up to look like Madison Square Garden in New York, hence the need for American looking men to portray ring announcers, photographers and the like and they were getting desperate to fill ring side with enough white faces since filming was to start in two days. It was to be a scene depicting Duran’s first major fight where he wiped the ring with Benny Huertas on September 13, 1971,
They said I would be a VIP extra. Not just a regular extra and I was guaranteed to actually be seen in the movie. Plus, they would pay me the whopping sum of $50 a day and shooting would last only two days. Apparently the regular extras would be sitting in the bleachers and were not likely to have a really identifiable showing in the movie therefore they could fill the regular extra quota with any race, sex or color.
Having heard that, I asked if my Panamanian girlfriend, Jamie, could be in the movie. They said yes, but if she wasn’t really white she would have to be a regular extra. I told her she was cinnamon colored. They said bring her, but she will be a regular extra. But the pay was the same for them, making me feel a little less VIP. I was excited to get back home and tell her she was going to be in the movies. But I wisely avoided mentioning to her about me being a VIP extra and her only a run of the mill extra. So in her mind we were the same status in the movie. This proved to be problematic after about the first hour of filming.
We had to promise the casting people that if we began this that we would stick it out because if we were missing in a scene it would mess up their continuity. So we agreed to see the thing out to the finish and to show up for both days.
They were to collect us at 7am in two days at the Hilton hotel and transport us to the stadium. Jamie got up two hours early and applied her makeup and clothing to perfection.
We arrived at the hotel on time and caught the small bus that was to take us to our big adventure. I had never heard of the Roberto Duran Stadium and had no idea of its existence, but it was explained to us that the stadium was a bit out of town and would take about a half an hour for us to get there. We arrived to a poor barrio with no stadium in sight and my first thought was, ah, this was all an elaborate ruse to get a bus load of rich gringos in a secluded area and rob us of our wallets and watches and leave us standing on the street in a neighborhood that you would not want to be stranded in. But moments later, my anxiety subsided because there it was, a giant stadium looming right in the middle of a low income neighborhood. Odd place for a stadium I thought. But then Panama never was known for having sensible zoning laws.
Upon our arrival we saw a line of people waiting to get in that must have numbered three hundred. The anxiety returned. Standing at the end of a line of hundreds of people was not the way I wanted to start the day. The whole bus load of people had a down cast countenance when we saw this. Fortunately, being a VIP extra (except Jamie) we were all (including Jamie) escorted to a side entrance and there was no line at all. Now I was feeling a bit more VIP.
We were escorted to a section of the stadium where we were asked to check in everything except the clothes on our backs and our wallets and watches. The clothes on our backs would come a short time later. A lot of people brought back backs, purses, etc. So there was a whole lot of checking going on.
Next we were off to the wardrobe area and several wardrobe personnel were waiting for us to match up with the clothing we were to wear the whole time. Except for our shoes, everyone was outfitted in whatever clothes they decided each person was to wear. We had no say in it. The clothes were all 1970s style since that was the period of time that this scene covered. It was the luck of the draw. Remember, that was a time when the world dressed funny. Bell bottom pants, ugly huge ties, poke-a-dots, weird hats, bright pinks, oranges and chartreuse were the colors and styles of the day. One poor guy looked like a character from a Dr. Seuss book, hat and all. No one including the regular extras was allowed to wear their own clothing with the exception of this really fat guy who they could not fit so they made an exception in his case. They had what seemed like hundreds of racks of period clothing. The time needed to get everyone dressed was a major part of the day. Not to mention the makeup. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Some of us looked like clowns and others not so much. Again, my anxiety returned. Were they going to make me look like Sonny Bono on a bad clothes day? Did he ever have a good one before he became a restaurateur in Palm Springs and a congressman in Washington? Some of the extras looked worse than that. You would have thought the circus was in town. But fortunately for me, since I was to be a record keeper around the ring, they made me look a little more professional. My suit was polyester green, but at least it was a dark green. But it was too tight on my ample body and the sleeves way too short, so I was uncomfortable in it the whole time. Between takes I unbuttoned the pants and unzipped them half way down so I could breath. Here is a picture of me on the first day in my “costume”. They slicked my hair down, which I also didn’t like. But like I said, we had no choices on how we looked.
Next we were moved to the make-up stations and there were a lot of makeup artists on the job. All of the extras had to get make-up applied. I had only a little makeup, no doubt due to my natural, youthful appearance (I like to tell myself that). But others, like Jamie, who spend a good portion of her morning getting her face ready for this event found herself being wiped clean of every product she had previously applied that morning. This was the beginning of her negativity and it grew from there. They spend a lot of time on her. And as far as I could see she looked about the same as when she got there - maybe a little more dramatic looking. But they know what is best for the camera so they made her over. Some things men will never know or understand and female makeup is one of them.
Now it was time for lunch which was included in the deal. Lunch and dinner both were. There were two dining rooms, one for VIP extras and the other for the regular extras. I found out that the only difference was that the VIP extras dining room had tables to sit down at and the regular extras had to stand up and eat which I thought a bit strange and unfriendly. The food was typical Panamanian which Jamie would have appreciated had she not gotten angry and bored with the whole scene and hailed a cab for home.
It was time for the separation of the goats from the sheep so to speak. VIP extras were ushered to seats around the ring, extras to the stadium seating. This was where Jamie got the full force of the difference. She finally caught on to the fact that we were not on the same level of extra status. She was not happy because she thought she would be sitting with me. But they explained everything to her and it did not make things better. After about a half an hour she walked over to me and said she wanted to go home. She was seated by some Colombian women and they were not nice to her said she. I reminded her of our agreement to see the whole thing through and she said she didn’t care and off she went to hail a taxi and that ended her movie career. She was pretty icy towards me for a couple of days after that. But she got over it, especially when they went ahead and paid her in full.
I asked one of the managers there, why they paid her in full when she only was there a few hours and she said that the producers bent over backwards not to cause any hard feelings with Panamanians or anyone as they did not want any negativity towards them to fester between the time of filming the movie and the couple years until the movie was released, in August of 2016.
This movie making experience reminded me of one writers’ description of war, ninety person boredom and ten percent terror. Except you can substitute the word terror with excitement I guess. Similarly, we sat around doing nothing most of the time. That turned out to be pretty fun though, because most of the VIP were interesting people and I got to know a lot of them during this waiting around time. Apparently it was considered quite prestigious to be able to say you were in this movie so some of the captains of Panamanian industry and business were there. The VIP extras included many owners and presidents of large companies that Panamanian residents would all recognize. Talking to these men (there weren’t any female VIPs) made the time go by faster. This film was set in the 1970s and in those days you did not have women scorekeepers, sports photographers and announcers. Hence, no female VIP extras were included in this part of the movie.
I spent two long days in the making of this film and I was in the movie for one fast second. But I should take heart. None of the other VIP extras that I still know, about four, were even in the movie and some of them spent ten days on the various sets. In fact, I was in the movie trailer. The scene I was in was when the boxer in the white shorts gets knocked out towards the beginning of the movie. His leg, when he went down, encircled my head. Robert Di Nero was setting behind me and slightly to the right. Here is a still shot of a scene with me and Di Nero.
We worked, if you can call it that, until 10pm the first day and until 1am the next. It started to get a little grueling, especially when they took eight or 10 shots of the same scene over and over again. One of the employees explained to me that they shoot about three or four time more footage than what will actually be in the movie because when they start cutting and editing the movie there is no way they can go back and shoot it again. So apparently my VIP extra friends’ film is now in a dumpster somewhere in Venezuela (the director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, is in Venezuelan) since they weren’t in the movie. I am not quite sure how these guys are going to collect on that guarantee to be in the movie if they were VIP extras though. Frankly of all the scenes I was in, and there were many, this one second was all I got in the film, so undoubtedly the majority of the film that I was in is also in the dumpster.
They say everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. I guess I still have fourteen minutes and 59 seconds still coming into my life. They better hurry up I am old.