Behind the scenes |

Behind the scenes

Alison Osius
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

When Elinor Fish was called back after trying out to be an extra in “The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford,” she thought she would be just another person in the street, she says: “wearing a long coat.” The movie was being filmed in wintertime in Canmore, British Columbia. Instead, Elinor, who now lives in Carbondale, found that she was to play a prostitute, to wear a light, low-cut gown, and dance on the porch of a brothel – at night. “It was freezing!” is all she can say. Her scene never appeared.

Movies, movies. Plenty of people in this valley have been involved in them, and those I know have usually been extras or stunt doubles. Some had fun, some were driven crazy. Some were remunerated well, some – like Elinor – not.

Two winters ago, at a benefit screening of the old ski flick “Aspen Extreme,” the best moment took place before the showing, when everyone in the auditorium who had been involved in the filming was asked to stand, and at least two dozen smiling people rose. One was a friend, Lisa, who played an aspirant ski instructor in the unintentionally hilarious hiring scene. A few other acquaintances were riggers, and the local stunt skiers included Lizzie Talenfeld as the bad girl, and Billy Madsen as the hero. This past winter, my friend Heather Ardley was an extra in the feature “Cougar Hunting.” She wore a fur hat and a red one-piece climbing suit so tight she could not bend over to snap up her ski boots. She has no idea what has become of the movie, and, not having worked a certain last consecutive day because she had to return to her job, was never paid.

Recently Tom Perkins, a former Aspenite, now of Moab, was hired to be an ER patient in the upcoming Aron Ralston bio “127 Hours.”

“I sat around in a hospital gown from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m.,” he says, “which is way too long to be in one of those things! … At nine I was released, not used and promised a check would be in the mail.”

Still, I’ve always wanted to be a movie extra, just once. Many friends have populated climbing films: Gea Phipps Franklin took the big – as in 400-foot – fall at the beginning of the Sylvester Stallone howler “Cliffhanger,” when a harness supposedly breaks (as if). Various friends were involved in the filming of “Cliffhanger,” “K2” and “Vertical Limit,” in which a mountain rescue is conducted, I kid you not, by blowing the top off a mountain. For that movie, I happened to be asked, as an editor of a climbing magazine, to recommend a young woman for the opening desert-tower climbing scene. I tapped Lindsay Herlinger, my cheerful and energetic intern, who then played in a sister-brother-father climbing scene. When two goofball climbers fall past her group from above, their rope snags the father, and the camming devices holding the family’s belay start to pop out (wouldn’t happen). The father bellows at his son to cut him loose, even as sister Lindsay feverishly objects, trying to place another cam. The brother cuts the rope just as she succeeds.

Once, though, destiny did knock for me. It was 17 years ago, after I met the gracious and graceful Bev Johnson, a legendary climber, at an American Alpine Club annual meeting, and she phoned me.

Then coordinating stunt work on the film “The River Wild,” Bev asked if I could come to Utah in August to double for Meryl Streep, doing some boating, rock scrambling, and possibly climbing.

I said, “Bev, it’s killing me to tell you this, but I’m four months pregnant, and in August I’ll be eight months.”

She said, “It’s OK, there’ll be another time.”

I wish there had been. A year later Bev was killed in a helicopter crash. And so the fact that I never got another chance has always seemed small.

– Alison Osius ( lives in Carbondale.

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