Being an Extra in an East Tennessee Film

Me in period costume.

There really is a film industry in Tennessee. One day, while we were living in Niota, my husband was driving home and was stopped by a gentleman wanting directions. Imagine his surprise when he recognized the man as Claude Akins. Mr. Akins was in Tennessee filming scenes for the forgettable movie, King Kong Lives.

Anyway, a few years later, I heard of a Utah film company that was getting ready to shoot a movie not far from Vonore. It was called The Work and the Glory, and while the first part of the story was set in upper New York state, the word was that the terrain and vegetation around Vonore was very close to that of New York and the seasons were more cooperative. When the call went out for extras, I applied online. After all, $80 dollars a day to appear in a movie sounded pretty good! A few of my friends signed up as well and we went together on the first day. Early! About five a.m.

The Work and the Glory is a fictionalized account of Joseph Smith and the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) through the eyes of a fictional family. So we female extras were outfitted in long, heavy dresses suitable for the early 1800’s, and for those of us with shorter hair, we wore bonnets. The men had old fashioned shirts, vests and britches held up by suspenders. It took a little while for all of us to get fitted and dressed in the two wardrobe trailers and then it was wait around to be selected for a scene.

The first film was created to look like Palmyra, New York in the 1820’s. I did two days, but only ended up in the film in one distant scene, a baptism scene at the end of the movie. That’s all that is expected of an extra. You don’t speak, you don’t interact directly with the principle actors. You also have to be available when they call you.

One of the locations I was called up for was at the Blount Mansion in Knoxville. The dresses were made with the same types of materials women wore in those long ago days, wool and cotton mostly. When doing a location shot, you had to wear them all day because that was often how long it took to do a major scene. For that particular scene, the production crew was filming in an outbuilding, not the mansion itself, but with all the downtown traffic, I imagine we were quite the sight. I was in the rehearsal, but they had to cut several of us because of space restrictions. The cameras and all the other equipment take up a great deal of space in a small building.

Later, when they shot the two sequels, that was another two or three days work and it was much more complicated. They had a set of a three-story Kirtland, Ohio, building recreated where ‘Palmyra’ used to be and the ‘canal’ that ran through Palmyra became an Ohio street. Having seen the original building (Kirtland Temple) that was being copied, I was amazed at how the set people could put together a replica that looked so real on the inside. At the same time and up the hill, they were shooting the third movie, which was set in Missouri.

It was even hotter this time, being later in the summer, and the extra’s tents were welcome. I think I enjoyed this more as I knew what to expect and had more friends with me this time. It was worth losing a day of teacher’s salary. I was able to not only do one of the scenes in the church building, but also a frantic scene of an 1830’s run on a bank, capped off by mundane sweeping on a porch in the far background as the principle actors did a scene a couple of blocks closer to the cameras.

Extras are kind of like peons in movie filmdom, but we were treated well. We were fed a nice catered lunch, had plenty of water on hand, and were able to hang out in the extra’s tent until we had to make an appearance. It was a great experience.

Some notable productions that have been done in east Tennessee are Christy, filmed in Townsend; October Sky, filmed in Knoxville, Morgan, and Campbell counties; and Bell Witch; the movie, filmed in Sevierville. There are others, but these are the most notable.

The idea that such gorgeous locales are being underutilized by the film industry might be changing. Knoxville had five productions filmed in 2018, and Visit Knoxville Film Office says this year is looking even better. We can only hope!

Susan Kite is the author of five science fiction, fantasy, and historical novels. She has also contributed to several anthologies. Visit her web site at: http://www.bookscape.net/author/main.htm

Gives a bit of perspective on how large some of the equipment is. At the Blount Mansion, Knoxville.

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Robert L. (Speedy) Dyer-age 65 of Corryton went to be with the Lord Monday, July 1, 2019 at his home. He was a member of Corryton Church and was a retired employee of Tomcat USA. Preceded in death by his wife, Sally; father, Robert (Bob) Dyer; mother and step-father, Jean and Bill Danley.

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Lowell Edward George Sr.

Lowell Edward George, Sr., age 81 of Knoxville went home to be with the Lord on Friday, July 5, 2019 at 11:05 am with his family surrounding him. He was a longtime member of Central Baptist Church, Fountain City and lifelong resident of Knoxville. He was greatly loved by his family and all who knew him and was a father figure to many. Lowell is preceded in death by mother and father Eva and Tom Newberry.

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