Extras learn the not-so-glamorous side of showbiz

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About 20 years ago, Bill Ruse of Ellsworth, Washington County, was chosen to star in a Rolling Rock beer television commercial filmed in a South Side bar.

His 15 minutes of fame now two decades past but looking much younger than his 81 years, Mr. Ruse joked that he thinks it's time for another round of fame. That's why he waited in line yesterday morning outside the Petersen Events Center in Oakland to be an unpaid extra in the martial arts movie "Warrior" being filmed primarily in Pittsburgh.

"I came here to be in the movies, to be a big star," Mr. Ruse declared.

His son, Wesley Ruse, 56, of Burgettstown, cracked a smile, saying that, in reality, the men hoped to win a new Ford Ranger truck or other prizes with a total value of about $25,000 -- flat screen TVs, iPods, gift certificates -- being raffled for the extras during what was expected to be a nine-hour day. And for each extra who showed up yesterday, the filmmakers pledged to make a $5 donation to the Pittsburgh Fallen Heroes Fund.

The opportunity to participate in the Lionsgate movie, starring Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy and Joe Edgerton, drew a diverse group that entered the "Pete" shortly after 10 a.m. There were professionals, college and high school students, parents and children, active and reserve Marines -- the movie's protagonist is an ex-Marine -- those interested in theater careers and those who only go to theaters.

They included fans of mixed martial arts, such as Lori and Todd Ouimet, who brought their children, ages 5, 7, and 11, from Harper's Ferry, W.Va. Darrall Swiff, 27, of Wilkinsburg said he liked the "manly" aspect of mixed martial arts and "I wanted to be involved with something like that."

Two sisters from Cranberry, Elisha Fleig, 18, a student at St. Francis University, and Christine Fleig, 16, a student at Seneca Valley High School, long have been involved in theater.

"We wanted to do something different. We thought it would be exciting," Elisha said.

Christine, one of 13 finalists in March at the annual Shakespeare Monologue and Scene Contest at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown, said she may seek a career as an actress.

"It's a start," she said of being an extra.

Friends Diana McCombs, 59, of Canonsburg, and Donna Jones, 63, of Wexford, said seeing how a movie is filmed seemed like a fun thing to do on a Saturday.

"I think it's fascinating," said Ms. McCombs, the mother of Caroline McCombs, University of Pittsburgh assistant women's basketball coach.

What all of the extras learned was that filmmaking is anything but glamorous. There is a lot of waiting. And then you wait some more.

"They're facing a long day, but everyone seems energetic," said executive producer John Kelly, an Arizona native who, since arriving here in March, has become a devoted fan of the city and of the Pittsburgh Penguins. "We want everyone to have a safe and fun day."

Filmmakers hoped that as many as 10,000 extras would show up yesterday. But the actual number appeared to be only about 1,000, including some paid extras. In the movie's final version, digitalized special effects will make up for the no-shows.

Movie-making magic was already visible. The venue no longer was the site for Pitt basketball games, commencements and concerts. It had been transformed into "Boardwalk Hall," a fictional Atlantic City site where the movie's climatic high-stakes martial arts tournament "Sparta" is held.

A martial arts caged ring held center court surrounded by floor seats populated by extras. "Ushers" wore yellow sport coats bearing the Sparta logo. Police officers and paramedics wore Atlantic City uniforms.

The movie is expected to be released next year.

To entertain the extras yesterday as they sat, rock and rap music blared from speakers. Overhead were spinning spotlights and rigs of lighting that changed from blue to green to yellow to purple. Disc jockey Bubba from radio station B94 acted as emcee and pulled winning raffle tickets every hour.

"Are you ready to make a movie?" Bubba yelled.

The crowd of extras cheered. And then they waited some more.

Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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