From Iceland — A Few Brave Extras: The Dirt on Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

A Few Brave Extras: The Dirt on Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

A Few Brave Extras: The Dirt on Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers

Published August 19, 2005

However, a few brave extras have given the Grapevine a unique insight into what it has been like to be a part of the Hollywood dream machine. One young man, whose identity shall be kept secret to protect the innocent, says that the number of extras working on the film is somewhere around 600 people. They are divided into 12 groups, so-called “platoons”.

The first drafting of extras involved standing in line with hundreds of others, having a picture taken and filling out an application. Emotions ran high in the audition process. An anonymous blogger who auditioned for a part shared his experience with the public on the world wide web. “It was the worst experience I’ve ever had. I was shitting my pants the whole time. I blew it big time.”

One Grapevine source did better. His callback involved acting out a completely unrealistic death scene that he felt was typical of Hollywood. His line: “No no, I’m OK” with his guts spilling out of him.

The training day for the lucky who landed a role (including our informant), involved getting on a bus with 60 other extras and being driven to a small swimming pool in Keflavík, where they had their first costume fitting. Once in the costume, they had to jump in the pool in full armour. This is a preventive measure, since there’s always a chance of an extra falling overboard during a shoot. If that happens, he better know how to handle the situation or millions of krónur are potentially wasted. Our informant also told us that it had been less than thrilling to be in the 2nd draft of pool training, since his costume was already soaking wet from the guy who got to jump in first.

After the pool test, extras had their hair cut to fit the WW2 period. Regarding hair, we had multiple informants. One told us that he had his head shaved. “I’ve never had hair this short in my life. My head felt cold and naked afterwards. I’m still taken aback every time I pass a mirror and see my reflection.” The whole shebang took a full nine hours of work, and you ended up with dorky hair. Nobody got paid for training day.

Speaking of pay, the contract made between the extras and the casting agency Eskimo Group ehf. has been understandably controversial. Each extra will be paid 5000 ISK per day, regardless of whether the workload is four hours or 12. On top of that, you must take into account that all extras are contracted, so for many they will take home only half of the 5000 ISK, the other half going to taxes. “It’d almost be better to be paid nothing,” one extra told us.

On the bright side, there was supposed to be amazing food. “They said they had the chef who raised the bar on Hollywood cooking, so I was thinking this is what I would like to see,” a source told us. “But then we get there, and there are two tents. One is for the real actors, and one is for us Icelandic idiots and the guys from the base. They get lobster and we get this weird chicken that is both overcooked and raw. The funny thing is the guys on the base, the Americans, eat it anyway. They say it’s better than what they get there.”

Okay, so the pay is shitty and extras don’t eat well, we all knew that. The truly disturbing part of the deal, however, was the fact that, as originally written into the contract, if an extra fails to return props or anything else belonging to the film crew, he’ll be slapped with a two million ISK fine. This is even more disturbing since the extras get no coverage whatsoever. The contract explicitly states that Eskimo Group ehf. is in no way responsible for any bodily harm or financial damage caused to the extras during the filming of Flags of our Fathers. To put it this way: “If we screw up and break your leg, it’s not our problem. If you screw up and fail to return your fake WW2 helmet, it’ll cost you two million.”

The local media got hold of this fact, and it caused a minor uproar, which resulted in the striking of the two million ISK fine from the contract.

Flags of our Fathers tells the tale of the battle between American and Japanese forces on the island Iwo Jima, during February and March 1945. Only 1,083 of the approximately 20,000 Japanese soldiers who fought survived the battle, or a rough 5%. Approximately one-third of all US Marines killed in action in World War II were killed at Iwo Jima, making it the battle with the highest number of casualties in US Marine Corps history. In order to recreate this event, one would think that a good number of both Caucasian and Asian extras needed to be involved in the filming. However, the Grapevine’s sources tell us that although hundreds of Caucasian extras will participate, the number of Asian extras is only a mere eleven people. It remains a mystery how the Eastwood team is going to portray an army of 20,000 with 11 actors. Perhaps they’ll duplicate each actor 1800 times.

Another Grapevine source tells a slightly more disconcerting story about those cast as Japanese. He doubts the high number of 11, and claims that Japanese aren’t necessary, as the soldiers at Iwo Jima could rarely see their enemy. In any case, at present he claims “there are only two Asian guys, and when they walk into the room, everyone just starts laughing… it’s just so absurd. All these Icelandic extras sitting in helmets and these two Asian guys come in… they don’t even speak the same native tongue, one of the poor guys is from Sweden, so they sit in the corner and speak in broken English. It’s really horrible.”

Apart from the battle scenes (which will be filmed in Iceland), other parts of the film will be shot in Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles. Why Iceland was chosen as a shooting locale is a question worth asking. Although Iceland and Iwo Jima share a similar topography and the famous black beaches Eastwood was admittedly looking for, it’s also impractical for a number of reasons. Iceland is one of the most expensive places to stay in the world. A recent study placed Reykjavík number four on the list of the planet’s priciest cities, after Tokyo, Osaka and Oslo. It’s cold here, the weather is completely unpredictable and it costs an obscene amount to get drunk. So really, apart from the landscape, why Iceland?

The answer lies in tax reimbursement. Special legislation has been passed in Iceland that aims “to enhance domestic culture and promote the history and nature of Iceland” by temporarily supporting movies and TV programs produced in Iceland. In other words, the producers of Flags of our Fathers can apply for reimbursements from the Icelandic State Treasury of 12% of the costs incurred in the production of film. The part of the movie filmed here costs an estimated two billion ISK, so the reimbursement (or basically discount) Eastwood and his team are looking at rests somewhere around an impressive 240 million ISK.

But what’s in it for us? The hundreds of locals employed as extras in Flags of our Fathers are as good as volunteering to participate. Sandvík and Krýsuvík will be blown up by 700 kgs of Hollywood explosives. The vegetation will be burnt down in order to create a war zone. At a glance, it seems both our people and our country are being abused to film a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with our local history. On the other hand, shooting a major Hollywood movie in Iceland brings substantial revenue to our economy. In order to be eligible to apply for the tax reimbursement, foreign producers need to establish a company in Iceland for the production. This ensures that part of the money flow will be filtered through our economic system. The crew will have to eat and sleep while they’re here, creating work for catering companies and hotels. Last but not least, Iceland gets major media attention. Yes, the tourist promotion received for making an Icelandic beach look like the bloody sands of Iwo Jima should no doubt be priceless.

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