Last night we watched Ren's silver screen debut in Billy: The Early Years on DVD. The pause button and large screen certainly came in handy, but we were nonetheless excited to spot her. It had a short, limited release in October 2008 and I was able to see it at the Hendersonville theater but Ren was not with me that day, so this was her first time to see it.
In the spring of 2008 I was working in my office at school one Sunday after church when I happened to see a call for extras, or "background artists" as director Robby Benson calls them, when scanning the local news sites on the internet. Knowing Ren has always had a dream to be in the movies I hurried home and asked her if she would want to do it. Of course.
The article mentioned that those wanting to be considered as extras should come dressed in 1930's period attire. So I pulled out a tan skirt and off-white button-up sleeveless top that I thought would work and topped it off with a white button-up sweater. We also donned John-Heath in white t-shirt and overalls just in case.
The scene being shot was a tent revival on location in a large field in Lebanon, Tennessee (not too far from the Wilson County Fairgrounds). We arrived around 4:30 p.m. John and John-Heath bailed out around 9:00 that night (my niece Megan happened to be in Lebanon and came to their rescue). It seems that filming, even what amounts to no more than about 1 minute on screen, takes quite a while.
Ren had a blast getting to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. She was able to go through wardrobe and hair and make-up. The clothing she had worn passed the test and they only needed to accessorize her by adding a hat (to cover her highlighted hair - which would have been out of place in the 30s) and a church fan (you know the kind...the fan-on-a-stick usually provided by a local funeral home or other business). Her hair was just put in simple, low pigtails.
Once all hair and make-up was finished the extras were put into groups outside the tent and were instructed as to how they would enter the tent. By the time this began it was after 9 p.m. and the evening turned out to be unseasonably cool. Of course, they were filming a tent revival that was being held in the summer. In her little sleeveless top, lightweight sweater, and thin skirt Ren had already become cold. Some nice lady who had been smart enough to bring a large wrap loaned it to her. She was wearing this wrapped around her during the scene in which they enter the tent. I can spot her on the DVD walking toward the tent, pausing for a moment to let a horse-drawn wagon pass.
I had thought we would be able to make it through to the end (at 5 a.m.) but we, too, bailed after the supper break - which came a little after midnight. I think we were home by around 1:30 that morning. It just became too cold. I was okay, lucky to be in another tent with several large space heaters, but, by this point, Ren in her summer garments was so cold she was shaking. Though she was having a ball and wanted to stay she gave no argument when I said I thought we should probably head home. I waited until we were almost home to tell her that had she stayed until the end she would have been paid.
So, if you get a chance run out and rent Billy: The Early Years. And if you watch carefully you might just see her walking toward the tent. She also makes an appearance in the special features. You see her (to the left of the screen) turned talking to the man seated beside her during a break in filming. This is at the spot when the director is commenting on working with the background artists.
Of course, if you buy your own copy she'll be happy to autograph it for you - so you can say you "knew her when."