By Lt. Mara Title, SMC Public Affairs
/ Published May 07, 2010
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE,Calif. -- Twenty-six Airmen from the base got the chance to participate as movie extras on Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, Calif.
The scene from the filming of "Iron Man 2": A military audience comprised of Hollywood extras, also known as "background artists," with members from Los Angeles Air Force Base lining the front row. "And...action!" yells director-actor Jon Favreau. The audience rises to its position of attention as actor Gary Shandling, who plays an illustrious senator, doles out achievement medals to Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle; and Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey, Jr. As the camera pans the stage the presiding officer of the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Jane Rohr, Mobilization Assistant to the Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center, Col. Mark Vidmar, Chief of Operations Integration, Space Superiority Systems Wing, and the proffer, Command Chief Master Sergeant Edward Towner, previously the 61st Mission Support Group Command Chief, now serving as the 51st Mission Support Group Command Chief at Osan Air Base, Korea, can be seen behind the actors, representing Los Angeles Air Force Base.
"It was great to feature Airmen from the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base," said Lt. Col. Francisco Hamm, director of the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office of Public Affairs Entertainment Liaison Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office.
"Having already supported the first Iron Man film, we felt this was an opportunity to continue our partnership with Marvel Studios and build awareness, educate and inform the American public about the Air Force through entertainment," Hamm said.
The March Air Reserve Base Honor Guard also attended the day-long shoot. Not only did Air Force members get to stand on stage with the three prominent actors, the entire front row of the military audience included only members from Los Angeles Air Force Base, who were referred to as the "real military" on set.
When asked if she's been able to participate as an Air Force extra before in a film, Brig. Gen. Rohr, said,
"This was my first experience as an extra, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I was so very impressed with the professionalism of all the crew I met that day, from the director on down. They were so gracious to me and made my experience extremely enjoyable."
And despite what many outsiders might think, working on a movie set isn't all fun and games.
"Seeing how they have so much detail to work on is incredible," said Airman Stephen Klimczak, Accounting Technician, Financial Management, Space and Missile Systems Center. "There are so many things that need to be in place: Props, people, details of the setting, sound effects, etc. We spent the whole day on one scene that is really only a minute or two long," he said.
Brig. Gen. Rohr said the organization of the shoot rivaled a military event in terms of optimization of effort. "From the exact measurement of the camera angles, to the plotting of the lighting needed, to the specific markings of the key actors on the set, it was a day filled with intense, precise actions. The engineer in me was truly impressed!"
Despite all of the action taking place, Director Jon Favreau made the time to show his appreciation to Airman Klimczak, the youngest airman on the set.
"It surprised me that the director would actually coin me and I really appreciate it," said Airman Klimczak. The coin is about an inch and a half in length, and has a gold face of Iron Man with "Director" marked on top. Who knew Hollywood has coins?
Jon got the idea during one of his earlier visits to Edwards AFB in 2006, said Hamm. After several meetings with Air Force personnel through his travels who coined him, he decided to make his own.
Col . Vidmar was also intrigued: "I was impressed with the entire crew's efforts to make things representative of how the scene would unfold if it were an actual military ceremony, yet preserve the artistic license necessary for filming," he said. "Actor Don Cheadle took to heart Public Affairs' advice on how to properly stand at attention, and the team worked hard to make sure the medals were pinned correctly."
So was being an extra for a day really worth it?
"Overall, this was a fantastic experience," exclaimed Col. Vidmar. "It was an excellent opportunity to show the Air Force, and Space and Missile Systems Center personnel, in a positive light. The use of actual members ensured a sharp, professional look which I think lent credibility to the scene."
Within his long Air Force career, it was Chief Towner's first time as a movie extra.
"Now when I go to the theater it's more evident how movies are segmented," Chief Towner said. "I can understand why actors are not that interested in seeing themselves in a film, because their work is so focused on each scene. With so many angles and takes, it may surprise them how the film ends up through the editing process."
And like the other Air Force extras, Chief Towner has a higher appreciation for the effort involved: "To realize our days work will only be mere minutes of the movie...I can better understand why it can take months or years to complete the filming."
Within "Transformers," and the first "Iron Man" movie, Hollywood has chosen to use real military members as extras, and the result seems to benefit both parties. The movie crew gets an accurate depiction of the military, and service members get to experience the entertainment industry for a day. Both appear to come away with a newfound respect for each other, because although the mission is very different, the approach is the same--meticulous effort to create something that goes above and beyond the competition.
"The primary benefit for the Air Force is that our participation gives us an opportunity to communicate our capabilities and Air Force values to a segment of the American public we may not be able to reach through traditional media," said Hamm. .