This tiny crossroads town was supposed to be in upstate New York, but was actually filmed in Virginia. It may be near the town of Brownsville.
I was one of the hapless humans fleeing downhill from the menacing alien tripods, and for all I know got "zapped" in the movie.
I immediately recognized this house in the movie. It's where Ray (Tom Cruise) and his family took refuge with the deranged survivalist played by Tim Robbins.
I was among a hundred or so extras who waited alongside a gravel road while a dozen or so Army Humvees zoomed past at high speed and then, in perfect synchronization, turned right and sped up the hill to resist the alien advance.
I never did see Tom Cruise (left) or any other celebrities, but I was within a hundred yards of them in the background, racing up the hill behind the Humvees.
In this view of the battle scene, I am probably one of the people on the right side, wearing a white knit cap.
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Background / introduction
On December 16, 2004 I worked from the crack of dawn until well into the evening hours as an extra in the crowd scenes for the movie War of the Worlds. The weather was extremely cold, and it was exhausting having to run up and down hills over and over, as they did more takes. The movie production crew treated us very well, however, serving a delicious gourmet lunch. The movie set was on the north edge of Rockbridge County, about 15 miles northwest of Lexington, Virginia. What follows below is special compilation of relevant blog entries about my first, and probably only, appearance in a major motion picture.
One of the refugee scenes was filmed in this ravine, but apparently was not included in the movie; this view is from the northwest side (top left in the map below), looking toward the southeast. The farm house and barn seen here are indicated as gray boxes in the map above, at "Set #1."
Roll the mouse over that photo to see a different perspective, further to the east, looking toward the southwest. The roof of that barn is visible in both photos. The top of that hill in the second photo is where the U.S. Army launched its big counterattack against the alien tripod monstrosities. The slope where the Humvees and tanks charged up, as well as the farm house where Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins were hiding in the basement, is on the other side of that hill. Unfortunately, the gate is locked, so "you can't get there from here."
Andrew Clem archives
December 7, 2004 [LINK]
War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg is directing a remake of the classic science fiction movie based on H.G. Wells' terrifying novel, which was adapted by Orson Wells in that infamous panic-inducing radio show in 1938. Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins are among the stars of the new version. Several scenes are being filmed in this part of Virginia, and I went down to the scenic, historic town of Lexington for the casting call on Saturday. It was quite an amusing spectacle: Thousands of wannabe actors were lined up for the few hundred available parts!
Andrew Clem Archives
December 17, 2004 [LINK]
From before dawn until after dusk yesterday I was on the set of the forthcoming Paramount Pictures movie War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins. It is being directed by Steven Spielberg, with a production budget even greater than Titanic, and therefore is almost guaranteed to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. The 1953 adaptation (see imdb.com) of H. G. Wells' classic novel is considered one of the best of the sci-fi cinema genre, so Spielberg's remake has a high standard to meet. I was a humble extra in some of the refugee survivor crowd scenes (which I assume will be digitally multiplied), but I may have been close enough to the camera to be recognizable in the climactic battle sequence. Look for me in a dark blue coat wearing a white stocking cap with a Yankees emblem. Eleven Humvees mounted with machine guns and TOW missile launchers were in that scene, but they lacked armor plating. Someone alert Donald Rumsfeld! The road signs pointing toward the set said "WoW," hence the title above. I was dumbfounded to see the enormous scale of the production around the set, with dozens of big tents, trucks, tractors, trailors, and assorted machinery. A veritable city nestled in the scenic Appalachian foothills! After the filming was over (whew!), the cast of hundreds sang "happy birthday" to Steven Spielberg. I didn't get close enough to see Steven or Tom, but other extras around me did. On the local news this morning I learned that while stopping at a fast food establishment [Dairy Queen], Tom Cruise put $5,000 in the donation jar for a girl [named Ashley who needs costly surgery to recover from a near-fatal accident].
December 17, 2004 [LINK]
JMU Dukes win Division I-AA title!
Huge congratulations are due to the James Madison University Dukes football team, and their coach Mickey Matthews, for defeating the Montana Grizzlies to claim the NCAA Division I-AA national championship. It was close for most of the game, but JMU pulled away in the fourth quarter, winning by a score of 31 to 21. Finley Field in Chattanooga was in poor shape, as the sod was ripped to shreds by the end of the game.
April 15, 2005 [LINK]
Spring photos, War of the Worlds!
As promised, there is a new photo gallery page: Staunton & nearby places, Spring 2005. It has ten photos.
One of the photos shows the set (click for popup) of the upcoming Paramount movie War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins, directed by Steven Spielburg. I was one of hundreds of "extras" for the crowd scenes, wearing a dark blue overcoat and white stocking cap with a Yankees emblem. Also see blog posts of Dec. 7 and Dec. 17. I may post a crude map to make it easier to get a perspective on the area where those movie scenes were filmed. Coming to a theater near you in late June!
Which reminds me, I need to see the new baseball movie Fever Pitch, starring SNL's Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, who of course starred in an earlier movie about space invaders: E.T. [oops--NOT Close Encounters of the Third Kind!]
June 29, 2005 [LINK]
War of the Worlds premier
Today the latest Steven Spielberg blockbuster, War of the Worlds, opens in theaters across the country. I happen to have been one of the hundreds of extras who were playing refugees in the crowd scenes, and will be eager to find out whether my face is recognizable amidst all the apocalyptic tumult. The map below shows where the movie was filmed in the Appalachian foothills of Virginia, back in December. Dark green areas are wooded, and the "X"s mark the spots where director Steven Spielberg's helicopter took off and landed.
The day I worked as an extra playing one of the many "war refugees" was bitterly cold. In the morning, about 200 of us were bussed from the movie "base camp" to the set where we picked up prop suitcases and assorted personal belongings. We filmed a few scenes in which we trudged along the gravel road, and one scene trudging through a low-lying field that was crunchy with ice. "Background! ... Rolling! ... Action!" yelled the assistant directors. Over and over, back and forth... I think the camera was at the top of the hill where the helicopter landed, but I have since learned that many scenes in the movie were filmed with hand-held cameras, so perhaps there were a few cameramen who "infiltrated" the ranks of us extras who were playing refugees.
Then we broke for lunch (prime rib!), but to my surprise, we did not resume filming until very late in the afternoon, near sunset. We were walking down a hill, and then breaking into a run, supposedly excited by seeing the arrival of the Army (I think). "Let's do that again," over and over. It's a good thing I was in semi-decent shape; some extras had a hard time keeping up. In a nearby spot we filmed the climatic battle scene (which I glimpsed in one of the movie trailers on TV), where eleven military Humvees come racing down a road and then make a simultaneous abrupt turn to charge uphill against the aliens, with a hundred or so of us civilian refugees chasing behind. We did that sequence at least seven times, and I was exhausted! It was nearly dark by time we finished that last scene was shot, after which the assistant directors gathered all the extras together to sing "happy birthday" to Steven Spielberg. I never did see him or Tom Cruise, however. There is a new War of the Worlds archives page that includes my previous blog posts on this rather unique "Hollywood" experience, including a photo I took of the movie set in rural Virginia.
As for the final cinematographic product, the initial reviews are very good. (See Stephen Hunter in today's Washington Post.) The underlying post-9/11 feelings of confusion, panic, and despair are obvious themes, as is the creepy suggestion that the evil ones "are already here" -- like Mohammed Atta and the other 18 terrorists. One unique element is Spielberg's portrayal of Americans becoming desperate refugees like the Bosnians, Kurds, and Sudanese vitims we have been pitying for years. There is apparently some confusion over whether the aliens are from Mars or some other solar system. I'll hold off on making further comments on the movie -- and the political implications thereof -- until I actually see it.
Tom Cruise: midlife crisis?
The release of this blockbuster movie has been undermined somewhat by the recent strange words and actions of lead actor Tom Cruise. Much of the celebrity hoopla has focused on his purported romance with the ultra-cute Katie Holmes, which has elicited widespread scoffs and/or gestures of indifference. (Curious coincidence: Steven Spielberg was the idol and inspiration of the character Dawson played by Jason Van Der Beek, with whom Holmes co-starred in the WB teen drama Dawson's Creek.) Tom's jumping on Oprah's sofa seemed to be a contorted effort to display the last vestiges of youthful appearance, something I can relate to. At least he wasn't cavorting in white briefs like he did in Risky Business. Soon he will be buying Rogaine, Viagra, and Metamucil, or maybe even doing TV ads or commercial endorsements for those products. The way he's been acting lately, I wonder if he might need some Prozac, which is ironic given the bizarre interview with Cruise on the Today show last Friday. His strained lecturing to Matt Lauer on the overuse of drugs to "cure" psychiatric illnesses gave me the creeps, but I must admit he made a good point. We are a grossly overmedicated society, seeking easy remedies (subsidized by the government wherever possible) to the pains and frustrations of life that people used to accept as perfectly normal. Leaving aside Mr. Cruise's suitability as messenger, the message is very apt.
June 30, 2005 [LINK]
The movie: W o W indeed!
From my admittedly biased viewpoint, War of the Worlds was awesome -- in the genuine, pre-Gen X sense of the word. I was riveted to my seat for almost the entire  minutes, which was notably shorter than I had expected. Like a roller-coaster ride, however, it seemed a lot longer. I had anticipated the incredible, state-of-the-art special effects, such as the utter destruction of that huge arched bridge which is seen in the movie trailers. From what I can tell in my DeLorme Street Atlas, it was probably the Bayonne Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Bergen Point, New Jersey. There was no attempt to replicate the kitschy obliteration of national landmarks as in Independence Day, which was just as well. The focus of the movie was on the Ferrier family, and the character development and acting were as high quality as in practically any other science fiction movie I've ever seen. Jacqueline, who has a strong distaste for science fiction movies -- No me gustan las peliculas fantásticas -- decided not to go at the last minute. No matter; the scenes I was in were too rushed and filled with explosions for anyone to be able to pick out faces in the background or even see my white knit cap. Perhaps in slow-motion when the DVDs come out... After the ferry crossing scene, I instantly recognized the farm house at Set #2, as shown in the map of the set in yesterday's post. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at least 20 minutes of the movie took place at that house, when Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning were hiding in the basement with deranged survivor Tim Robbins. That is where some of the best alien close-up special effects are seen. Unfortunately, there is a locked gate on the road to that house, so I couldn't take a picture of it when I returned to the movie set in March. I have added a second photo of the movie set on the War of the Worlds archive page, taken from the position where the "alien tripods" were coming. Contrary to the impression that we extras on the set were given, that battle scene was not toward the climactic end of the movie, but just over half way through it. Also, I was surprised to see M-1 Abrams tanks charging up the same hill in the movie; no tanks were present on the day when I was there, just Humvees. The scene of the refugees marching along the road at Set #1 apparently ended up on the cutting floor; perhaps it will make the extended DVD version. Thanks to Donald Sensing for linking to yesterday's posting. When it comes to military matters, and especially the vital personnel side of military matters, he is the true voice of authority.
The precocious pre-teen sweetheart Dakota Fanning appeared on Dave Letterman last night; her constant giggles were in marked contrast to her many blood-curdling screams in the movie. Dave said in his monologue: "I don't want to spoil the ending, but Tom Cruise saves the Earth by converting the aliens to Scientology."
January 31, 2006 [LINK]
Tom Cruise: Worst Actor? Not!
Tom Cruise has been nominated for Worst Actor in the 26th Annual Razzie ® Award for his role as Ray Ferrier in War of the Worlds. Say what you will about Tom's offbeat religion, views on psychotherapy, his midlife crisis, or his strained matrimony with the cutie Katie Holmes (see June 29), he does not belong in the same category with Rob Schneider and the other low-brow nominees in that category. See razzies.com.
By the way, I got the War of the Worlds DVD for Christmas, and have not yet managed to pick myself out from the crowd in the scene where the Army Humvees charge up the hill. I'm pretty sure I'm in the preceding scene where the tripods are vaporizing the humans running down the hill, but the lighting was too dim to discern any details. Oh, well...