Local author gets ‘Evan Almighty’ closeup

Story by Chris Graham

She didn’t get her SAG card – and barely got more face time than her car did.
But Elizabeth Massie still got a lot more out of her work on the summer blockbuster “Evan Almighty” than she ever could have expected.

“I’m very seriously considering doing something based in the idea of extras at a movie set,” said Massie, a Waynesboro-based author, in an interview for “The New Dominion Show” recorded on Monday.

“You have such a wide range of people who want to be extras, and the reasons they want to be extras. We had quiet people, and we had wild people, and we had crazy people – and we had literally crazy people. And we had some very creative people and funny people – it’s just an amazing cross-section,” said Massie, who worked as an extra on “Evan Almighty,” which was shot on-location in Crozet, Waynesboro and Staunton and premiered in theaters over the weekend.

Massie appears at the beginning of the closing credits in the first of several dance scenes featuring extras and members of the star-studded cast for “Evan Almighty,” which included Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes and Lauren Graham.

Her car also made the film – as did her license plate.

“I would have thought that they would have had somebody airbrush that out,” said Massie, who has been able to glean such minute details from the film because she has already seen it three times since its Friday premiere.

The award-winning horror writer (Stephen, Sineater, Homeplace, which is being released in August) isn’t on the same page with the critics who have almost universally panned “Evan Almighty,” whose storyline revolves around a New York congressman (Carell) who is told by God (Freeman) to build an ark to save people from a pending great flood.

“The story itself, I absolutely loved. I think it was likable, sweet, it was touching, it was very funny – and I was completely satisfied with the film,” Massie said.

She admits to being somewhat biased in her perspective – regarding both her work on the film and the fact that “so much of it was shot here in Virginia.”

Massie got involved in the production after answering an all-call with several friends and family members and getting a much-anticipated callback.

“We all went over to Charlottesville after having seen this all-call in the news. They had the extra casting director there with hundreds of us – and we stood in line, we got our pictures taken, we had to fill out our age, height, weight and all those dreadful details,” Massie said. “And then we went home and waited – and about two months later, I got a call, and my son-in-law got a call, that they were going to start filming, and they needed a few extras. And then as they needed more extras in Waynesboro and Crozet, they called more and more of the people who were there. And so out of the eight of us who went as a family, seven of us actually got called and were in the movie.”

The pay wasn’t exactly handsome – $68 a day, plus overtime and other extras, including the $25 that Massie was paid when her car was used in shooting one day. And the hours were … lo-o-o-ong.

“We usually needed to be on the set between seven and seven-thirty. That’s when you had to check in. That didn’t mean when we pulled our car in and got on the shuttle. That meant we needed to be in the extras tent to check in,” Massie said. “So we would be there very early in the morning, and they would serve us an incredible breakfast. Then we would walk up to what we called ‘the brick house.’ ‘The brick house,’ if you’ve seen the movie, is the house that’s directly across from the Baxter house. It’s supposed to be a neighbor’s house, but it was really just an empty hull – half of a house. Behind it, there was nothing but chairs and tents for the extras until it was time for us to come out and look with amazement at the ark.
“Sometimes we would be there all morning,” Massie said. “We’d go back and have lunch – we’d go back to ‘the brick house’ and wait. Sometimes we would not shoot more than an hour or so in the afternoon. It just depended on how the filming was going. Sometimes the things that they were going to film in the morning went faster than they expected; sometimes it was slower. We were just there at the pleasure of the director to be there whenever they needed us to fill in the spots across the street.

“Usually we’d be done around six-thirty or seven – and we’d crawl home and crawl into bed and get up again at five o’clock and head back to Crozet,” Massie said.

This went on for approximately 10 weeks – during which time she picked up an appreciation for how filmmakers go about their process of telling a story.

“When you’re writing (a book or short story), it’s you and you alone – except for perhaps if an editor is involved. And so it’s a very solitary job when you’re writing a book or a story,” Massie said. “In putting together a movie, I know that writing a screenplay, even the initial part of the writing, is not a solitary activity – because you have a lot of people who are involved in making changes. It’s a very collaborative effort in writing a screenplay and then having it accepted and then adapted to film.

“It takes a long time to get one scene done right. You may get two minutes of good film out of an entire day of filming,” Massie said. “You have to be incredibly patient. You have to be able to think not only in words, but to think in pictures, and think in sounds. It seems to me a much more complex process of creation – but I would love to take on something like that.”



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