A call went out for anyone interested to be a movie extra for a film being made in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl. The time was Sunday afternoon, and I went. It was cold and rainy, but a few thousand people showed up. The weather was so bad that they decided not to do much filming, but they did give us nachos, which was the first time I had ever had that dish.
The movie they were making was called "Semi-Tough". It starred Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Robert Preston, Carl Weathers, Richard Masur, Norm Alden, and more. Since the weather was so bad, they shot a few scenes of football players sloshing around on the field. The rest of the time, they brought in the stuntmen to put on a show for the crowd. They had guys jumping out of helicopters into pads. Hal Needham did a lot of the stunts.
Since the weather was not cooperating, they told us that anyone who wanted to come back on Monday could and would be filmed. My school was on winter break, so I said I would be back. The next day, not as many people came back. Maybe enough to fill up one end of the stands. They introduced Burt Reynolds. He was a big star and had a security entourage around him. Kris Kristofferson was much more approachable. He was just coming off of "A Star Is Born", but he hadn't let it go to his head. The Assistant Director was named David Sosna. His job was to be in charge of the extras. Dave was a cool guy. He went on to work with John Landis on several of his films like "The Blues Brothers" and "Trading Places". Dave was a practical joker, and he did several things to lighten the mood, because there was a lot of waiting around.
The film was set in Miami, but they filmed almost everything in Dallas. Since it was supposed to be Miami, we had to wear short-sleeved shirts. It was very cold in the stadium, so when they were ready to shoot a scene, we had to take off our coats and look like we were hot. Another trick I learned was how to cheer. They said that everyone born between January and June cheer for one team, and everyone born from July to December cheer for the other team. That way, there were some standing while others were sitting and vice versa. We figured out that we wanted to get as much camera time as we could, so there were many of us who changed our birthdays, and we stood up a lot. They caught on to our trick and told us that if we didn't follow directions that we would have to leave. Because it had rained, the areas of the stadium closest to the field had ankle-deep water accumulated down there. Anyone who sat there had the best chance to get on camera, and also got very wet feet.
I was there for a week. The crowd dwindled down each day until there was about twenty of us. In order to look like there was a crowd behind the sidelines, they would move us into the shot. When it was time for the next shot, we would all move to that spot behind the players. It made it look like a full stadium after editing. One of the scenes was for the Super Bowl. We were there cheering away. When the movie came out in widescreen, I made a startling discovery. The cameraman did not frame us too well, and you can see empty seats on either side of us.
The football teams were made up of stuntmen and professional players from the Houston Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys. There was one Oiler player who was about 6'9" tall. He was very big. Dave told us that he wanted us to play a joke on this guy, so we were to cross the field from one side to the other. As each of us passed this guy, we were to hit him in the back. So, we did. The guy was not very pleased with Dave's joke. But, we were following the direction.
In the end, we didn't get paid much money, but they fed us, and we got to be around the stars and players. Except for Burt Reynolds. We saw him, but that was all. One interesting side note. The film was directed by Michael Ritchie. He later directed "The Bad News Bears". That film was written by Bill Lancaster, who was Burt's son. During the auditions for "The Midnight Man", I had gotten to know Bill, and he recommended me to his father who was directing that film, which is how I got that part. Small world.