A day in the life of a ‘Shots Fired’ extra

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

By Connie Peacock

Special to the Salisbury Post

In the spring of 2016, the Rowan County Courthouse exterior was transformed into Gates Station Courthouse for filming of Fox TV’s “Shots Fired,” a 10-part series that will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“Shots Fired” is a fictional series set in a small North Carolina town where racially charged shootings lead to the investigation of a possible political cover-up.

The series stars Academy Award winners Helen Hunt and Richard Dreyfuss. Other stars include Mack Wilds, Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Stephen Moyer and Aisha Hinds.

The television production was filmed in Rowan, Cabarrus, Iredell and Mecklenburg counties. Most of the crew and extras were local residents who contributed  to the economy in Salisbury and other locations.

Following 20th Century Fox’s policy, I arrived well before my 10 a.m. call time with two extra sets of clothing. I had packed my dad’s khaki work shirt, given to me after his death by my mother. However, I had to remember I was playing a townsperson, not a protester. The protesters had filled the previous week.

Two buses transported us to another waiting facility in downtown Mooresville. Yes, the production company fed us. We waited for what seemed to be an eternity until finally the production assistants began calling us out in smaller groups. I watched as eager extras walked out the door into the great unknown. I felt something between stage-struck and stage fright. I was part of the last group of 200 extras to leave the building.

In the downtown Mooresville area, we saw a parked sheriff’s car, which I thought was Iredell County’s. I recall thinking, “That car looks a little dated … a little like, well, ‘Mayberry.'”

“Shots Fired” is set in modern day. I could get into a discussion here about how Hollywood filmmakers perceive North Carolina, but I won’t go there.

I noticed that the car had “Gates Station” on the side. At least I knew I wasn’t in Mooresville or Mayberry any longer.

We were sent to join other extras standing about 12 to 15 feet from Helen Hunt, who was behind a podium on a covered platform. She plays the governor. I was moved closer to the front where I could hear Hunt’s character make some statements about sit-ins, about how one person can stand up — or, in this case, sit down — and make a difference.

Hunt was interrupted at one point by the sound of an approaching train. She looked shocked, but she’s an actress. I was concerned about the ambient train noise overpowering the dialogue. It was a black engine followed by two black box cars with white Norfolk Southern letters. A friendly conductor waved as he sat in the engine. He didn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. A little while later, he backed down the track the same way he had come.

I have since seen a similar train in a movie. Was this a case of life imitating art or of art imitating life? I have also since heard that there is a special “movie train haven” somewhere, but not in Spencer. And the white letters are not painted on the side; they just look that way. Not everything is as it appears to be.

Film, take a break. Film, break. Film, break.

At one point, the director came over and said, “Stay hydrated. Keep drinking water.” After a while, I reached my floating point. I needed to take a break. By the time the shuttle returned me to the set, someone was in my spot. This just about killed any preconceived notions of fame and glory.

I could always tell friends and family that I came for the food.

After we wrapped for the day, two very long tables for 200 hungry extras held salad, veggies, lentils, salmon, chicken, beef, rolls, chocolate cake and lemonade.

After this, I have five words for Fox TV: When are you coming back?