All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

Here’s something different. . . for me anyway.

We just returned from making a movie, and this time I was in front of the camera.

Annette and I were cast as extras for a documentary film being made by the National Park Service about pioneer emigration on the Oregon Trail.

As a major history geek, especially U.S. western history, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this. My blushing bride came along because she tolerates my eccentricities, and sometimes even encourages them.

Personal interest in this stuff runs deep. My night stand and bookshelves are covered with histories of the West. Obscure past events almost no one else cares about thrill me.

And then someone tells me I can pretend to be a pioneer? And have it filmed? Where do I sign?

I mean really,  how often do you get to have professional wardrobe and make-up people fuss over you to make sure you look just right for the cameras? For you super-models I’m sure it’s no big deal, but it was unprecedented for me.

Anyway, because I’m usually behind the camera, and because most of my models have fur or feathers, the whole process was fascinating.

The make-up people coated my hair with simulated grease, smeared artificial dirt on my face, trimmed my real beard, and generally made me look dirty, old, and weary, (in other words, they really didn’t do much.)

In character, on location at Devil’s Gate in Wyoming.

As for wardrobe, I was one of the lucky few who got to wear a long wool frock coat, along with the worsted wool pants, vest, hat, neckerchief, and heavy cotton shirt. Did I mention it was hot?

But all that just added to the authentic misery. The real Oregon Trail was not for the faint of heart.

The filming was done at various locations on the combined Oregon/California/Mormon Trail near Alcova, Wyoming; in the ruts and the dust, and over the bones of some of our adventurous – and desperate – ancestors who came west in the mid-1800s.

With Independence Rock and Devil’s Gate as the backdrop,  we went with the period-correct wagons, drawn by oxen and mules through the prairie grass and the prairie heat of August in central Wyoming.

The only real concern was having enough drinking water on hand… and not stepping in fresh ox shit. (Two things the real pioneers contended with, too.)

All in all, this on-location, living history stuff felt pretty real.

When the director called “action”, the Wagon Master actually yelled “Wagon’s ho!!!” to get the train moving. And there wasn’t a hint of theater in his voice. He meant it.

In fact, the only people there who didn’t appear to be having a grand time were the teamsters and wranglers. They were busy trying to make sure no one got hurt around the livestock and wagons.

Since I was part of the cast, I only got to pick up my camera a few times between takes. Nevertheless, I had a grand time playing Pioneer in the Old West and now I can cross “act in a historical movie” off my bucket list.

The film will eventually be used in various places by the Park Service, but the big screen (and I’m told, interactive) version will eventually be shown in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

Hair and make-up for Annette.
The real deal. Period wagons on the historic Oregon Trail.
A cast of dozens. We extras awaiting our cue.
Annette leads the way.
Big skies on the Oregon Trail.
A break between takes.
Chickens going along for the ride.
Emigrants on The Trail
I doubt I’d be tough enough to survive the actual 1800s, but I know these Wyoming kids would be. At the end of a 13 hour shooting day the kids were still playing around and having fun!
I’m not sure what I’m saying here, but it probably can’t be printed.

A few more photos from the shoot can be seen at:  Lodge Trail Media


4 thoughts on “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

  1. Good write-up Keith. I’m right there with you. Would have been a great opportunity. I had wanted and was offered the op to do the L&C in 2003, but due to health problems could not go. What a great fit for you.. and yes, you definitely look the part. Thanks for sharing the post. Really enjoyed the vicarious living. 😉

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