Movie fulfills wishes of welfare recipients
Photos by E.E. Araiza, The Arizona Daily Star

Jobless receive bit roles in film, chance to work

Monday, 7 February 1994
Edward L. Cook

Bill McClure and Dean Johnson didn't need much makeup. They already looked worn and weathered, like they belong in Redemption, a vile movie border town where only outlaws and Sharon Stone dare to tread.

McClure, 47, an out-of-work Tucsonan who calls himself a schizophrenic and alcoholic, said he ``was found'' at an indoor swap meet.

McClure said he hadn't worked for years before he was hired as a stretcher-bearer for a movie that started filming near Tucson in October. In the movie, he is responsible for carrying bodies from the dusty and blood-stained streets of Redemption.

Dean Johnson, a 33-year-old unemployed warehouse worker, was at Tucson's Department of Economic Security office trying to get his unemployment benefits transferred from California when a talent scout from TriStar Pictures approached him.

``Someone asked me if I wanted to be in a movie and I said, `Oh sure!' and kissed it off,'' said Johnson. He was given another chance and now wears a gunfighter's sidearm in ``The Quick and the Dead,'' a classic but different kind of 1870s Western being filmed about 40 miles east of Tucson.

McClure and Johnson, both scruffy-looking and badly in need of a shave and a haircut, are among 82 extras in the movie. More than half of the extras were out of work and drawing state welfare or other assistance when they were hired.

Stone, the sexy blond actress of ``Basic Instinct'' fame, portrays ``Ellen,'' a mysterious gun-toting woman who rides into town to settle an old score and challenge the social order of Redemption, which is ruled by ``Mr. Herod,'' played by actor Gene Hackman.

``She plays a grimy, tight-lipped, Clint Eastwood type of character. She's dirty like everyone else,'' said Stanley Brossette, unit publicist for the production being filmed at Old Tucson's Mescal Road movie set near Benson.

Hackman, natty in his suits, is the only clean person in town. He's also the fastest gun and the town's most-feared resident.

Irene Parra, 30, of Tucson, a mother of three children, said she was receiving food stamps and $418 a month in state aid when her father told her about a newspaper ad he saw about the movie jobs. They both applied.

``I got accepted, but he didn't,'' Parra said last week. Parra, a 1981 Cholla High School graduate, is a street vendor in the movie, which features most of the extras in a Day of the Dead celebration scene. Parra said she started working as an extra last November, about six months after she was laid off from her job at an income tax firm.

``I've been working 12 to 13 hours a day,'' she said. ``I love it.''

So do extras Grace Kostal, 36, a Pascua Yaqui Indian who lives in Sahuarita, and Betty Moore, 44, of Chihuahua, Mexico, who said she was hired ``because I've got that Indian look.''

Kostal is a ``corn woman'' - she grinds corn in the film - and Moore is a ``posole lady'' who sells soup on the town square.

Cecily Jordan, the extras casting director, said the film's producers wanted to hire people who were on welfare rolls. Up to 1,000 would-be actors and actresses applied for the 82 job openings, which were announced in newspaper ads and by community outreach groups, and posted in state unemployment offices, she said.

Jordan, of San Francisco, said the extras live within 100 miles of the movie set. They get to a parking lot at Interstate 10 and Mescal Road the best way they can - including by car pool and hitchhiking - and then are transported in vans to the production site.

The extras are paid daily at the rate of $5.75 an hour for up to eight hours, with time and a half for overtime. Most work at least 12 hours a day when they're called.

Jordan said the movie's producers wanted actors and actresses who looked like they've had a hard life, ``with a million miles on their faces,'' to portray the pathetic, downtrodden residents of Redemption - the ones who are left behind and unable to leave when outlaws take over the town.

``Some of the extras are very poor. And it's hard for them,'' Jordan said. ``Some days we start shooting at 2:30 in the morning. But they've all been wonderful.''

A death on the set Jan. 26 brought the whole cast closer, she said.

An extra, Frank Pilney, 68, who retired from a sales job in the Chicago area and moved to Tucson last year, collapsed on the set from a heart attack. Funeral services were held last Tuesday at First Assembly of God Church in Green Valley.

Jordan said the extras and other cast members started a collection and raised $1,700 for his widow, Katherine Pilney.

Katherine Pilney said her husband studied screenwriting and directing at the Pasadena Playhouse in California in the '40s and '50s, but never was able to pursue his dream of being an actor until he was signed last fall as an extra.

Jordan said Pilney played the town drunk and will remain part of the film as a legacy to his family.

``He had a W.C. Fields look on his face. Everyone loved him and he will be seen a lot in the film,'' she said.

Filming will continue at the Mescal Road set for about three more weeks. ``The Quick and the Dead'' is expected to be released in the fall or early winter.

Photos by A.E. Araiza, The Arizona Daily Star

Extras on the set of ``The Quick and the Dead'' relax between takes of a Day of the Dead celebration scene.

Movie worker Frank Trigani, left, outfits Dean Johnson with a pistol.