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By Samuel Stoddard

December 2000

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Friday, December 22, 2000

Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II is a treasure trove for bad movie lovers. You can find my review of it in the Reader Reviews section of the It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Movie on this site.

Well, here's a treat. The following is a piece written by Dana V., who was an extra in that movie. Dana contacted me directly, after having seen my review of the film, and I wondered if he might write something up about his experiences for use in this journal. He graciously obliged, and here is his account:

I Was an Extra in "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II" (And Lived To Tell About It)

Of course, I was only on the set for one day, but what a day it was....

It all started when I answered one of those "Make Extra Money -- Be a Movie Extra!" ads in the paper. I thought it might be kind of interesting, and besides, I could use some extra money. The casting company was in a generic-looking little office somewhere in Hollywood, and after filling out several forms describing my height, weight, hair color, what kind of car I drove, and how they were not responsible for much of anything, they snapped a Polaroid, gave me a list of rules, and sent me on my way with a, "We'll call you when we need you." The list of rules was basically a list of "don'ts": Don't be late, don't look into the camera, don't speak to the actors unless they speak to you first, don't touch the food table, etc.

On this particular occasion they were looking for long-haired guys, and since I fit that description, I was one of the people they called. I, along with the other extras, was to report to the set at 7:00am for role call and a going-over of the List of Rules with a representative from the casting company. I was also told to bring my own lunch and a book to read -- kind of like jury duty. The set was a tiny, nondescript place tucked away in Venice, CA, which consisting of a few buildings and a small open area surrounded by high stucco walls. The open area -- which was covered with concrete and looked suspiciously like a parking lot -- was where the exterior scenes in which I appeared as a "peasant waiting in line for water" were shot. The side of one of the buildings had been fixed up to vaguely resemble a castle wall, and hay had been spread around on the ground to try to make the concrete surface look like, well, something besides a concrete parking lot. Did it work? You decide.

With pretty much everything that went on that day, it was apparent that speed was of top priority. The costuming for us in the "peasant" scenes went like this: we lined up and filed past two women seated by folding tables and two large cardboard boxes. One box was marked "shoes," and it contained all sorts of beat-up looking boots, sandals, and other miscellaneous footwear. It probably got used for costumes for everything from medieval peasants to Roman gladiators and everything in between. I don't recall how the other box was labeled, but it held an equally miscellaneous assortment of robes, ponchos, smocks, and other one-size-fits-all items. My guess is that it was all donated by local high school drama departments after it became too threadbare to use anymore. As we went by the tables, the costume ladies would visually size us up and rummage around in the boxes until they found something that looked like it might pass for something a thirsty peasant might wear. There was also a box of "accessories" like Robin Hood hats, belts, and bits of rope and felt that could be used for whatever. They were actually pretty creative with making do with what they had. We were instructed to get into costume and "go wait over there" until we were needed. As you might imagine, there was a LOT of "waiting over there." The actors had trailers; we extras had folding chairs in an unshaded corner of the hay-covered parking lot.

Before long, they were ready to begin shooting, and the principle actors arrived, including the big star of the movie, David Carradine. This was of course a bit of a thrill for me, having been a faithful watcher of the "Kung Fu" TV show when I was a kid. He brought along two of his own horses for the scenes in which he was supposed to ride a horse -- two beautiful animals who proceeded to heartily relieve themselves on the thinly spread hay at every opportunity.

It was when shooting started that I noticed a trend that continued throughout the day: the director was havin' himself a grand ol' time, makin' a movie. He would say "action" and "cut," but otherwise sit in his chair, relaxed, legs crossed, hand on chin, occasionally mumbling comments to those around him. The first assistant director was a different story altogether. This guy spent the ENTIRE DAY screaming at the top of his lungs, barking orders to people. It wasn't that he was angry; it was just obvious that they were on an extremely tight schedule -- I think they only had the use of the facility for the one day -- and he was just trying to get it DONE. I would not have wanted his job. I mean, he was already red-faced and sweating when I got there and didn't let up until everybody left that night. Definitely the hardest-working person on the set.

For the now-legendary (hey, it's legendary to ME, anyway!) "thirsty peasant" scene, our instructions from the first assistant director went something like this: "Ok, line up over here. Along this wall. Ok. Spread out a little. Good. You're peasants, there's no water, you're waiting in line to get to that well over there. Kinda shuffle slowly toward it. Not too fast. Ok? All right, when I say, 'Back to one,' I want you all to come back to those positions. Got it? Ok, good." With that, he hurried away. And so it went, into the afternoon. There was a tremendous amount of time spent sitting in the sun, waiting to be called, but that's what extras do. A couple of the bigger guys were called over to do some fight scenes, and one of them came back saying that a stuntman had "gotten him good" in the stomach. Of course, he also went on about those scenes being "more than extra work -- that was a 'silent bit'! I'm asking for a bump [in pay]!"

As the outside light was diminishing, the scenes inside the castle were being set up. What seemed like a very long time passed, and there were a lot of people running around not really accomplishing anything, as if they knew they had to hurry but weren't sure what to do next. I believe it was during this time that one of my fellow extras made the comment, "Y'know, I think they got together last night over pizza and beer and decided to make this movie." The rest of us agreed.

Some of the interior shooting was done before any extras were needed, but eventually we were sent back to the folding tables that was the costuming area. We were told we would be "ninja guards." (What do you do when you can't afford suits of armor for your movie? Make 'em ninjas!) This time, though, the costume ladies were actually MAKING the costumes as they went along. Someone had apparently made a run to the discount fabric store for some material, needles, and thread. I think the pants might have already been together, but the goofy-looking masks and upper-body suits were being cut and sewn together right there on the spot.

At last we were called inside and led down a narrow hallway to a small room set up to look like some sort of internal chamber of a castle. We were issued long wooden sticks and instructed to stand, guard-like, against one of the walls, holding the sticks upright. Everything moved along fairly quickly after that. Several different scenes were shot, and we would be moved around the room to match whatever camera angle was being used at the time. The end effect was that the room appeared to be completely encircled with Ninja guards, whereas in reality there were only enough of us to cover one or so walls at a time. Pretty clever, actually, as long as nobody looked too closely at the guards. There were not many retakes. The only times they would reshoot the same scene other than to get a different camera angle were when one of the principles blew one of their lines. (Which, in some of the actors' cases, was quite often. I won't name any names, though.) At some point along the way, a camera, a light, and a black background were quickly set up off to the side and a very short "head only" scene was done. I suppose this is what ended up being at least part of the "dead guy in the cauldron" sequence. The last scene we were needed for was the one where the guards all kneel and lay down their pointy sticks, which I believe was done in about two takes. After the final shot was done, everyone was asked to be very quiet and still for half a minute or so while the sound guy recorded some "room ambience,' and then we would be free to go. I kept hearing them talk about going out to Malibu the next day for some "real" outdoor scenes, and I seem to recall a scrawled shooting schedule tacked to a wall somewhere that confirmed this, but I don't know how many days they were into the production or how many they had left.

As everyone made his or her exit, the director still seemed relaxed, happy and satisfied. The first assistant director looked completely worn out, beaten, and exhausted -- no surprise there. I happened to be standing by the door (still, of course, in my ninja guard suit) when Mr. Carradine himself passed by. He gave me a "See ya, buddy," and a slap on the shoulder as he went. Wow, a brush with a celebrity.

I turned my costume over to the costume ladies, and back into the cardboard boxes it went, ready for the next time someone needed ninjas to guard the inside of a castle. Both of the costumes, by the way, I wore over my regular clothes, as did most of the extras. Underneath those thirsty peasant and ninja guard getups were jeans and a "The Who" concert T-shirt. The last step was to line up and collect our pay, and, as it turned out, we were given about 40% more than was originally promised, due to the unexpected long hours. Cool. Finally, at about 11:30 or so, tired and hungry, I got in my car and drove home. What a day.

For whatever reason, my one day on the set of "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II" has been my only foray into the mysterious world of movie extra-ing. Was it a fun experience? Yes. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I want to do it again? Sure. Every day? Well, no. I have since moved from California back to my native Texas, where I reside in Austin. More and more movies are being made around here, so it's possible I just might do it again one of these days. Who knows, maybe someone will decide to make "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom III."

Monday, December 18, 2000

2000 was a great year for RinkWorks, and the bummer of it all is that none of you know it yet. Throughout 1998 and much of 1999, I had a running list of RinkWorks projects that I was working on -- humor features and games, mostly -- and I sustained an average rate of one new feature per month. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I would love for that to continue, but my projects of late have been of a different nature. They're more ambitious, require more time, and the few smaller projects I've conceived to keep things going have not done well at sustaining my interest. As much as 75% of the time I've spent in 2000 developing new content for RinkWorks hasn't yet been realized on the site. New features have been few; most of the new material has consisted of updates to existing features. A big chunk of my development work in 2000 will finally yield fruit in January, when The Game of the Ages, for the Adventure Games Live feature, will finally be released. The game is done, and I'm biding my time so people have a chance to play and finish The Perils of Akumos and so I can draw some images for the game. It's been over two years in development, most of the development work taking place from September to November of this year.

The other major project of this year, consuming most of my free time from February all the way to May, with less intensive development continuing up through August, is known only as "Project X." It is the most complex feature yet and would be "almost done" except that the last remaining portions of functionality are the hardest. Around August I was getting burnt out on it, so I took a break by finishing up The Game of the Ages. Work on it won't resume until after Stupid Day, but I'm hoping to have Project X ready for release by Spring 2001. That is an ambitious target and depends on smooth development and an absence of distractions. The summer is more realistic.

At any rate, let's turn back the clocks and review how far RinkWorks has come in the last year.

By January 1, 2000, RinkChat had been around for a month and a half. It was already more than it was ever expected to be, but not yet anywhere near what it would become. Of all RinkWorks features, RinkChat is the one that surprised me the most. The Message Forum had already brought the readership of this site together, but RinkChat brought them close. In startling contrast to other chat rooms on the Internet, RinkChat has turned out to be a consistently decent, friendly, accommodating, and fun place to be. It has its ups and downs, of course, like anything, but both are of a more personal, more real nature than I would have expected to find before I opened RinkChat up.

On January 14, 2000, the Poetry Pool opened with a handful of poems, and that feature has been updated with 8-10 more poems every month or two. Again, it turned out to be more than I expected, in terms of both quality and quantity. I never expected to lure so many submissions, and I especially never expected to see such fine work.

On January 21, 2000, the first annual Stupid Day celebration occurred. This was a new RinkWorks Holiday -- and the first, really, as the other two days of note are anniversaries -- and it turned out a hit. The celebration consisted of a batch of updates to RinkWorks features -- this upcoming Stupid Day I have more new material planned -- but the most fun festivities took place in RinkChat, where people celebrated together, starting on Stupid Eve. The two days of celebrating stupidity is preserved in one of the most entertaining RinkChat Archives yet.

Around February (give or take), work on Project X began. Project X is some seriously intensive C++ coding, but I wasn't starting from scratch; I had some scraps of code built up previously, and I was able to use this work. For several months, Project X got me back to doing what I love to do. I love being in the thick of coding, provided it's a project I'm interested in and know I'll be happy with when it's all done. Once it started running, bare bones, for the first time, well, THAT was exciting. For one thing, I've never programmed anything so ambitious before (I've worked on far larger code bases, but these weren't things I'd written all myself), and I'd never be able to do it without the use of object-oriented programming. It's complex enough that it's difficult for me to "see" how everything works all at once. I have to think in terms of individual components of functionality, and when they all work together, it feels like magic.

On March 10, 2000, in the midst of the coding flurry, I somehow found a spare hour to add insults to the Fantasy Name Generator, so now you can generate silly put-downs like "cheesewipe" and "munchdip."

On March 22, 2000, I somehow found a great many free hours to write Enchanted Forest II, and looking back I cannot fathom how or why I did it at that time. I don't recall that it took much more than a week or two because the game engine for Enchanted Forest was already in place, but adding the Leviathan and the Pixie required some pretty major and bug-prone changes. I worked with "gremlinn007" for the testing part. Gremlinn is the King of the Enchanted Forest, with over 1000 games of Enchanted Forest logged in the score list (as of this writing, 1202 for Enchanted Forest and 748 for Enchanted Forest II). I consulted him for ideas for what to add for Enchanted Forest II, and he was heavily involved in the testing phase. Will there be an Enchanted Forest III? Probably. There are gameplay elements in II that I'd like to address, particularly how the hags selling strength potions make it too easy to stay alive. But I won't be rounding out the trilogy any time soon.

On May 10, 2000, The Dialectizer was shut down (story of its life) because I was sick of receiving angry and threatening letters from people who felt The Dialectizer was violating their copyrights. A letter from a lawyer representing Bank of America was the last straw. Although all the letter requested was that Bank of America's web site be blocked, I shut the whole thing down anyway. The Dialectizer and I have a love-hate relationship. I love that it's popular. I love that people enjoy it, and obviously I love the audience it draws to the site. These are also some of the reasons I'm resentful of it. It's the most popular RinkWorks feature and has been since mid-1998. I wish people were as drawn to the features that I'm more interested in. I understand its success: it's hilarious, and it lends itself to repeat viewing in a way that most other RinkWorks features do not. Still, as much as I appreciate The Dialectizer's power in drawing visitors to the site, many of whom continue reading and discover the rest, I wish some other feature would evidence that kind of power. (Computer Stupidities does, actually, to a slightly lesser extent, so I can be thankful for that.)

At any rate, the huge controversy that happened in response to The Dialectizer closing was overwhelming. ran a story, directing hundreds of emails to me (for the first day, about one per minute) and even more responses in slashdot's discussion forums. USA Today, the Boston Herald, and a plethora of local papers all interviewed me and ran their own stories. The amazing amount of support I received from people online reinvigorated my interest in The Dialectizer long enough to spend some time mucking with the script to get it to support ways webmasters can "opt-out" of allowing The Dialectizer to translate their sites, thereby, hopefully, making it less troublesome for me to open the feature back up again. On June 5, I opened it back up, and so far the plan seems to be working.

In the midst of all this, Dave Parker and I finished up Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul, and I opened it on May 17. It was very well received, and we were quite pleased with it. The next day, I added the Demographic Survey and Privacy Policy to RinkWorks, both of which are used by the agency that handles the banner advertising here.

By this time, Project X development was still underway but had been pushed back into the background. I was getting exhausted from it, and it was discouraging that I had worked so much on it while the rest of the site suffered from lack of attention. (After all, if the site starves for updates, and everybody leaves, who's going to be around for Project X's release anyway, right?) The timing of Pea Soup's release was an effort to change that, and Story Hunt's was, too. Story Hunt was released on June 12, but it had been in development as far back as December 1999. Three of the four stories were wrapped up very quickly, but I got stuck on the plot for The Duke of Big, and it sat unfinished for months while I distracted myself with Project X. (See the pattern yet? I get new features up to the "almost done" part, finally collapse from exhaustion, work on some other feature to the "almost done" part, then go back and finish off the first one.) Story Hunt was, in part, a ploy to get people to visit the other parts of RinkWorks, and to some extent it worked.

On June 23, my renewed interest in The Dialectizer not quite settled back down again, the Hacker dialect was released.

The rest of the year is all about Adventure Games Live. "Brunnen-G," from the forum and RinkChat, wrote a game called The Mystery of Brackly Hall. She worked on it furiously, completing it in about a month (!). I didn't get very involved in it until the testing phase, and we worked on it together for a few days, me testing and her fixing, and it was released on September 11 and enjoyed a warm reception. A higher than expected number of people played Brackly Hall, and it also got a lot of people playing Fantasy Quest. There were a lot of people, apparently, that either didn't know Fantasy Quest was around or never thought they'd enjoy it until they played The Mystery of Brackly Hall, finished it, and wanted more. Brackly Hall also did two other very important things: it got "gremlinn" (the Enchanted Forest King) interested in making his own game, and it prompted me to resume work on The Game of the Ages. Work on the two games became an informal race. We weren't trying to beat each other, but we compared notes as we went, estimating how much progress we had left to go. I actually finished the coding stage first and finished all but the last 1% of testing before gremlinn was ready to begin testing with his game. Because I wanted to create some images for The Game of the Ages rather than release it right away, I figured I'd put gremlinn's game, The Perils of Akumos, out first. Gremlinn had been spending 8-9 hours a day on it for something like two months, and the week and a half of testing had both of us putting in those kinds of hours, because the game is extremely complex. But finally, on November 9, it was released.

The year isn't quite over, but there won't be anything other than the usual updates until Stupid Day. I'm starting my holiday vacation a little early; lately I haven't been doing much in the way of development work other than the occasional update, the occasional drawing for The Game of the Ages, or the occasional stint of Stupid Day preparation. There is also the RinkAwards, which will mirror the Academy Awards but award RinkChat Archives instead of movies. Voting on the nominations will commence in January, so there are three major things happening next month.

What, besides those and Project X, does the next year have in store? Not even I know everything. But I've got plans.

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