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Students Serve as Extras in Hulu Miniseries

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Onlookers gather awaiting presidential motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy. | Photo by Michael Dunlap.

Ellen Case, student staff writer, Brookhaven College

Not many people my age can say they experienced the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. On Oct. 8, I had that chance. I had the opportunity to be an extra on the set of "11/22/63."

The Hulu original miniseries is based on the Stephen King novel by the same name. The novel is about a man who goes back in time to try to save Kennedy. The producers decided to film the motorcade and some other Dallas-based scenes in the actual city, and they needed extras. This was my first foray into the world of screen acting: a huge step for me personally.

The job of an extra is not glamorous. I woke up at 3:30 a.m., and I was due in downtown Dallas for a 5 a.m., call time. Once there, I signed in and got the costume I had been fitted for the previous week. By the time I got in line for hair and makeup, it was nearing 6 a.m., as they had around 300 extras all needing the same things.

Once we were all ready, we were loaded into a bus to go to the set. As I got out of the bus, I looked around at the scene. Dealey Plaza had been closed down for the shoot, and dozens of 1960s automobiles were parked at Houston Street and Elm Street, with the extras milling about waiting to get props.

It was like we had all time traveled as well. I was given a vintage camera and we were directed to the Dallas County Courthouse (Old Red) to wait. Film, especially for the extras, is "hurry up and wait." Do everything fast, but then sit down until everything else is ready.

Finally, around 10 a.m., the extras were being stationed at different points in the plaza. I was put in a few corners to fill gaps until I was finally stationed at the police barricade on Houston and Elm.

I got a good look at the presidential motorcade that was parked, waiting, and it was surreal to see an actress, in the iconic Jacqueline Kennedy dress, walking around the street. We filmed shots of the extras cheering the currently non-existent motorcade until 1:30 p.m., while the main characters, played by James Franco and Sarah Gadon, did their thing.

Moving on, we were given lunch then sent back to Old Red for a short air-conditioned break. After those 30 minutes of wonderful coolness, it was back out to set. We were finally going to film the actual motorcade.

I was put on a new corner, right where the Kennedys, and the camera, could see me. The motorcade came around the corner from Main to Houston, and we started cheering and waving. The atmosphere was authentic as the motorcade turned onto Elm. Seeing the cars pass by, I really felt like I was welcoming JFK and Jackie to Dallas.

For the next two hours, we filmed the motorcade with the camera shooting different angles. Around 4:30 p.m., it was time for the filming of the shooting. We were given instructions on what to do when we heard the blanks, and then we started.

We cheered and waved again, but as soon as we heard that sound, we screamed, ran, ducked and pointed as the policemen whipped out their guns and the motorcade stopped. I have spent all my life knowing the history of Nov. 22, 1963, and seeing those iconic pictures.

Film is not an easy job and, as I said earlier, the job of being a film extra is not glamorous. For over 80 percent of that day, I was dressed in old-fashioned 1960s clothing, which meant a level of discomfort, standing in the Texas heat, waiting for "background action" to be called.

It sounds miserable, and it might have been at some points, but it was completely worth it. Seeing the other extras and the old cars and then being a part of history in Dealey Plaza is one of the reasons I love film. The world of film gives us a chance to experience things that we could otherwise never experience.

To read more news pieces from student writers at Brookhaven College, visit The Brookhaven Courier online