Two For Texas -- the final chapter

by Chuck Stull

Last fall, I saw an ad in the paper which read something to the effect "looking for people with facial hair who can ride horses and drive wagons." I threw up my hand and said "I could do that," and I went into town to fill out the application. After they looked the application over, they said, "don't call us, we'll call you."

To my surprise they did call and said they needed an interview, and it could be done right over the phone. They asked me if I would have any problems shooting Mexicans. I thought about that for a few moments because it caught me a little off guard, but before I could answer, they said I would be paid five dollars and fifty cents an hour for the effort. I said real quickly before they retracted the offer that "I wouldn't have any problem with this," and they said, "fine" and for me to show up at wardrobe that afternoon.

Applications are taken with photos attached
They needed folks "with facial hair who could ride a horse"

Wardrobe was an unused space rented for the movie in a small strip center in south Austin. When I got there, they fitted me with Texican cloths true to the year 1836. They had a top hat picked out, but it really wasn't me, and we settled on a nice slouch hat.

The movie was to start filming in six weeks and I was told not to shave or cut my hair until then. This was okay with me except that after about five weeks, cashing my personal checks around town became a problem. My 1836 look was becoming authentic.

The casting company called with the schedule and location for the first day. Since they would film only a few miles from our ranch, I knew that I had it made. They said, "be on the set at 4am" -- that meant getting up at 3am. I set the clock and thought to myself, "I really have to be desperate for that five fifty an hour to be doing this."

Everyone parked in a big field and rode shuttle vans the last few miles to the set. The landscape was littered with trailers and large tents. Lights were strung everywhere. The strings were fed by a bunch of scattered generators which were continually overloaded. When one would trip off, it would leave the tents and walkways in total darkness. The bigwigs had 18 wheelers with their own power generators built in. These were serious trailers driven in from Hollywood and their generators worked just fine.

We changed into our designated outfits in a large tent and then went to props where I received a powder bag and a flint lock rifle. The next stop was hairdressing and makeup where they added the dirt and grime appropriate to the time period. In between these stops one could grab a bite of breakfast in a buffet line. This process of gathering props and smearing makeup took about two hours every day. We had to be ready and on the set, which was over another hill about a half mile, by 7am sunrise.

In 1836 the Texicans had formed a loosely run army to fight off Santa Anna, who brought with him oppression from Mexico City, which governed Texas at that time.

Since we were supposed to look a little bit like a military adventure, the director marched us out to the set to practice rifle drills in formation. At ten that morning they had set up a scene where Sam Houston addresses the troops. This was a welcome relief to standing at attention in a drill line. In this scene, Sam rides up on his horse and gives his speech to get us fired up for the big fight. During his speech we walk up and surround his horse, and we get down right mad just thinking about those Mexicans and we go crazy when Sam mentions "remember the Alamo". The first five times Tom Skeritt rode up he forgot the lines to his speech. When he did remember his speech, the sixth time, we were about mad enough to shoot him and shouted so much that it spooked his horse. No problem, during the next take, we had to act in pantomime so his horse would be calm. But Tom never did remember his speech correctly after that so the director took him off his horse, sat him under a tree, and made him read the speech into a microphone. The audio would be mixed with the scene later. You will find me next to the left cannon wheel during this speech.

This simple scene took several hours to shoot. So at 3pm they let us go back to the tent for buffet lunch.

After lunch we charged the Mexican camp. This is what I was getting paid to do and it felt good. We were in two long lines. Our two cannons (named the Twin Sisters) fired. The first row of Texicans took two steps forward, knelt down and fired a volley. The second row moved in front of us knelt and fired while we reloaded. Then we charged their camp. During this scene I am about ten people down the line from the flag. It took until dusk that night to complete this scene, and I was exhausted. We were released for the day but still had to turn in our props, complete the paperwork for our time cards -- another hour and a half. I got home at 9 that night only to face that alarm clock at three the next morning.

There was one big director and three little directors. The big director was just that. He did not sit in one of those wood and canvas chairs with his name printed on the back like the actors did. He sat in a steel chair that was double wide. Canvas isn't made that would hold him up. This guy sat in his little tent almost the whole time watching what was going on through the TV screens. Each film camera had a TV camera built in so that they could video tape what the film was recording. He would communicate with each little director through an elaborate radio setup. The little directors were busy fellas. They would set up the scene, position the cameras, and tell us what to do and how to do it. When all this was done the big director would shout "rolling," and then "cut." They would play the tape back to see if it filmed okay. If it didn't we did the scene over again, and again, and again.

Three cameras were used for each scene. Two of these were the large Panaflex type that sit on a tripod. The third camera was mounted on the top of a 30 foot tower and remote controlled from another tent. It was neat.

The movie scenes where the camera appears to be on the ground and you are looking up to see the horses feet running, is done with a small wind up camera about the size of a thick book. Its wind-up lasts 30 seconds. A person would push the go button and quickly run out of the scene; then the horses would charge and run over the top of the camera. It took some impressive shots. The camera was disposable if a horse stepped on it, otherwise it was ready for another scene. The big cameras came with a whole crew of operators. One girl's job was to keep the dust off the lens, several people were needed to move the thing, and each camera had a photographer behind it.

My second day started again at 3am. We were ready by 7, too when we were told to go to the set at the top of the hill. We formed in a long line ready to charge the enemy camp again. We had to wait several hours to get the cameras set up. Then the rains started. It would rain for a half hour and then clear and then rain some more. Some of the rain was a light drizzle and some rain was a real cloud burst. They did not allow us get out of the rain because it took too long to get us all back in line.

We stood out in the miserable weather for the entire day in a long line. And we charged the camp a dozen times between the downpours. The greasy makeup was streaking down our face into our shirts, down our pants and filling up our period Broughan shoes. We were all incredibly miserable after 12 solid hours of this. During this running charge across the flat field I am again about ten people from the flag, which is at the end of the line.

When we first started to line up, we stretched out about a quarter of a mile in length. One of the directors thought that he could direct what we were doing better from horseback. He called to one of the wranglers to bring him a horse from the picket. Then it started raining cats and dogs again, so we waited 15 minutes at attention in the rain while he got his horse. They brought him a white one. But he couldn't get on the horse for some reason. He was a ways off so I couldn't tell what the problem was exactly. He finally gave up trying to get on and we saw the wrangler lead the horse back to the horse picket to get another horse. The director got right on this second horse and he was able to patrol the line and give us our directions. Makeup was called in to redo what the rain had made a mess of on our faces. Then we charged across the field again. We lined up for another charge.

The starting position for action is called Position One. Movement goes to Position Two, something usually changes and then a person goes to Position Three and so on. So the director called everyone to Position One. He made one easy lope down the line to check on things, came suddenly to a stop and was thrown from his horse in the mud right in front of us. He got up, arranged all the various walkie talkies around his waist, called for a wrangler to remove the chestnut mare too, and he ever got on a horse again.

I got home at 9pm again that night exhausted and miserable, and I really didn't know how I was going to continue for two more weeks of this. A lot of the people did give up by the next day, thus ending their one shot at Hollywood fame. In the days that followed, the casting company brought in more and more people to replace the ones that dropped out. There was only a hand full of us that completed the two full weeks of shooting.

The third day was a surprise. They did not have enough people left to fill the Mexican camp. So all the Texicans except 20 or 30 became Mexicans at four that morning. Beards were shaved, sideburns and moustaches were added where necessary, a new wardrobe had to be fitted, and new props were issued. It was a mess. We didn't get to the set until 10am. But the Mexican camp was wonderful. There were tables and chairs to sit on, tents to get us out of the rain, and wagons to lean up against between shots. The perimeter of the camp was piled up in a line with brush and lumber and junk and barrels and boxes. This is what separated us from the Texicans, and was called the breastworks.

The Mexicans were a highly trained and regimented military outfit comprised of three different types. There was the mounted division, the regular grunts who wore a top hat, and the Presideo. The Presideo were the personal guards for Santa Anna. They carried a pike (a 10 long pole with a point and a small flag on the end.) I was one of the seven Presideo guards with pikes. The Presideo had a wide flat brimmed hat with a short flat top. So, when you see a shot with Mexicans carrying a pike I am one of them.

On the set, they always had a table with water and Gatoraid, and at 11am they brought in doughnuts. They did not allow us to wear watches but it wasn't too difficult to figure just when the doughnuts would arrive. When I saw the white doughnut boxes piled up, this third day, I started drifting toward the table. I got three chocolate covered donuts and was trying to juggle them in my hands with a pike, and I was trying to keep the chocolate out of my moustache which was thick with black mascara, when the director said he needed two volunteers. The directors never made us do anything we didn't want to. I raised my hand with a half eaten doughnut to volunteer but there were two fellas in front of me who got their hands in the air first. They didn't have any doughnuts yet. The director picked them and not me.

He told the volunteers that a few Texicans would ride into camp and that they were to charge the horses on foot. The Texicans would then beat them over the head, they were to fall down and play dead, and then the mounted Texicans would continue into the camp. At this point, I and another Presideo would fall in behind and give chase to the horses and riders. Well, the horses rode in, the Texicans clubbed the two volunteers (not really clubbed, it just looked that way), the two volunteers fell quite dead on perfect que, but one horse hesitated from going forward and swung around and stepped on the lower leg of one of the volunteers and broke it in half. The break sounded like a muffled pistol shot. When someone gets hurt, the whole set comes to a complete stop, I guess to show respect for the injured. Nothing else will stop their cameras from shooting film. There was a nurse available full time during shooting. They got the poor fella on a stretcher, loaded him into a station wagon and sent him to the hospital. I figured I was a half a doughnut away from being on that mans stretcher. After that I was careful about volunteering for just anything.

The uniforms that we wore as Mexicans were the same uniforms used in John Wayne's movie, "The Alamo." These uniforms had not been used since that film. There was another Alamo film made after John Wayne's but they made their own uniforms for that one. The guns were real. They were fully operational antique flint locks. We only shot a powder charge. Each time we got ready to fire we checked the bore for bullets; there were none. The swords and knives were all real. The only exception to the swords was the hand to hand fighting on horseback. Those swords were rubber.

The pike that I had was a problem when it came to fighting. It was too dangerous to have raised around the horses, and it was too cumbersome to use in the hand to hand fighting on the ground.

The directors would lay out the basic ground work for the next scene but they let us choreograph our own hand to hand action. For example, he told us that there would be 5 Texicans coming over the hill on foot, you 8 Mexicans fight at this spot, etc. It was up to us how we fought. Since it was difficult to fight with my pike, and the since the scene needed some wounded and scared Mexicans running off into the stream (it actually happened this way in the real battle), the director let me throw down my pike and run like a rabbit.

Until then I had not taken a hit. I didn't exactly know how to do it. I had seen gunfighters in 1950 westerns take a dive in the street but I didn't think the directors were looking for that kind of melodrama here. I didn't know if I should fall down on my face or my back or what. The director came over and said there would be fighting on the knoll and for me and another fella to turn around, run behind a tree, turn right and run with all our might down the beach next to the shore line. At the end of the shoreline would be a camera. The cameras rolled; I ran with the other guy but he was too slow and we arrived too late to meet more Texicans coming out of the woods to shoot us. The action didn't work. They called for another take. This time I threw down my pike aside and ran like hell down the shore, (my partner was still back by the tree), and I was met by two Texicans who fired simultaneously at me from ten feet away. I threw my feet straight up into the air and landed on my back in the soft sand. The Texicans came up and took turns pounding their rifle butts into my neck, and each time I was hit, I quivered a death throe. I was the only person right in front of the camera. We'll see if they show it. It should be pretty good.

There was a handful of stunt guys from Hollywood, but they only did one stunt; the elevator. The rest of the stunts were done by us volunteers. A little stunt like a squib added $25 to the days pay. A little more dangerous stunt brought $50. The folks face down in the water each got the usual $25 minimum. These additions to the pay were called a bump. With a squib and a wire a person could get a nice $75 bump in pay. This was a cheap movie. I think a person can get double that on a big action movie in Hollywood.

They were beginning to film the scene where the Texicans chased the Mexicans into the water. Since I had taken six (I counted everyone of them) falls that morning I figured I knew what I was doing. I volunteered for a squib. A squib is a little explosive charge sewn into the jacket. A little metal plate is between you and the charge, so that when it goes off it shoots blood out the front of the jacket like you are shot. They did not pick me for the squibs, but the director got two other suckers. I checked the temperature of the water and I did not volunteer again to go in. It was cold as ice. But we all got to sit on the bank of the river, eat doughnuts, and watch the next scene with the dead soldiers floating face down in the stream. Be sure to watch the Texican take his horse slowly around the dead bodies. His horse's feet came within inches of their legs under water. There were two takes of this scene and miraculously no one was hurt.

In the old westerns, a bad guy that got shot with a shotgun in a saloon would be plastered up against the wall. This is the wire stunt. Two volunteers were chosen to wear a squib and a wire while defending the breastworks. They were rigged with a chest harness attached to a fine wire that stretched out about 20 feet from their back. When they got shot, the squib blew and two big stunt men on each wire jerked these Mexicans right out of their shoes. They both got injured. One sprained his neck, because he was not perpendicular to the wire when they pulled. The other fella caught his thumb on something while he was pulled and needed 6 stitches.

The professional stunt men did the elevator. The elevator is a small plate about the size of a bathroom scale, just large enough for both feet to stand on. The heel side of the elevator is hinged, while the other side is connected to a big cylinder precisely controlled by a gas charge. The cylinder lifts one side of this platform like a book, flat on a table. When the cylinder fires, whatever is standing on the plate in going into the air. The stunt men placed body armor under their uniform. Two mattresses were placed end to end six feet away from the elevator. A test run was made and we all watched with enthusiasm. The thing fired the stunt guy past the two mattresses and he fell flat on his back. The operator reduced the charge and he tried it again. This time he fell short of the mattresses and again fell flat on his back. But the operator had the setting figured out this time, we were told to move back out of the scene. The mortar fired like a cannon ball had hit and the elevators went off perfectly shooting the stunt men out of the hole.

The mortar was interesting. It was a heavy cast iron pot, open on the top. The stunt people would cover the bottom with gunpowder and fill up the rest of the pot with a mixture of sawdust and horseshit. The whole thing was lit off with a blasting cap, and it looked like an explosion from a cannon ball. These mortars were not particularly dangerous but they did make a lot of noise. They said the safe zone was 20 feet away but most people got closer. Pay attention to the explosion of the Mexican ammo wagon. There were three mortars under some plywood to make it go off. I have a story about this wagon later.

During the raid of our camp one tent caught on fire. You will see me running with my pike toward the camera. When I got next to the tent already on fire it exploded with a hidden mortar. The director wanted me to show surprise when the mortar went off. I had no trouble doing that, I was only a few feet away. He also wanted me to shield my face from the heat of the fire. I did. I continued running past some panicking horses still toward the camera when the man to my right and a few feet behind me stepped in a mortar as it was going off. He played dead -- he wasn't hurt, just shaken and covered with horseshit.

We did dozens of scenes like this for another week. Toward the middle of the second week the rain had let up and the days were incredible beautiful. I was getting the hang of the movie business. I didn't even mind the 3am wake up anymore and I was beginning to get used to the heavy makeup and grease in my hair. There were only a handful of us regulars left at this point. They kept recruiting new people to fill in so I felt like a seasoned hand. I followed the director around as much as I could and when he needed a warm body someplace I was there to do what he needed. It paid off on the last day as you will see.

When a scene was simple to do, like sitting around a campfire, there was only one take and no rehearsing. When the scene had several groups of folks that had to be in Position Two or Position Three and timing was critical we would do a full speed rehearsal or two before the final shot. When horses were involved we did several half speed rehearsals then one or two at full speed. The horses were always the unpredictable factor. They either went too fast or too slow. The horses always had the right-of-way and it was our job to watch ourselves.

The Mexicans in 1836 were not really motivated to fight the Texicans, they preferred to go back home in one piece. But they got caught in a situation with Santa Anna, and at the time, the best thing for the Mexicans to do in this battle was to just run. There were two avenues of escape, across the river behind them, or back across the bridge that they came over to set up their camp. The director said he needed some hands to shoot the retreat across the bridge and, of course, I volunteered.

There were three pup tents set up. There were Texicans and Mexicans (I was a Mexican this time) doing hand-to-hand in front of the tents and there were mounted soldiers from both sides doing sword-to-sword fighting directly behind the tents. The camera was a half mile away with a telephoto lens. We would battle a while then the mounted Mexicans would break loose and run their horses toward the freshly blown up bridge. I am standing directly in front of the left tent. The director said to practice some hand-to-hand. I picked out a partner Texican and I asked him if he wanted to practice a little. This was his first day on the movie. He said that he didn't need to practice. I thought to myself that I really have a winner (sarcasm) here.

It was early in the afternoon and it was hot and humid. I had long handle underwear on under my uniform because the early mornings were bitter cold. But the afternoon had grown hot and I was burning up and tired. This movie was supposed to end Tuesday but because of the previous rains they were behind schedule, this was Wednesday with no end in sight. There was no place to sit, the ground was covered with thistles and sticker burrs and in the few places where a person could possibly kneel down on one leg to get a little relief, there were fire ant mounds. And I had a partner who was supposed to kill me and he wouldn't even get off his ass to practice. I said to myself that I just don't care anymore. I looked for a place to take a fall. I was absolutely in no mood to tangle with the fire ants so I choose to fall down in the thistles. Being a Mexican on the loosing side not only humbled me but I also had plenty of practice on how to fall down dead by this time. I would fall on my tummy so that I could pick my stickers out by myself the rest of the afternoon.

The director said "rolling", and three seconds later "action". On "rolling" I had my pike pointed at the chest of my partner. On action, I took a jab and tried to do him in. He dodged and the pike missed and went under his arm. I recoiled and jabbed again. This time his rifle butt came under my pike and he knocked my pike up over his head. I came down hard on the top of his head but he countered by blocking the blow with his rifle. I came down a second time but he blocked again and with an upward thrust of his gun he knocked the pike out of my hand. I grabbed his rifle at both ends and we struggled first dropping to the left and then to the right and back up again. A Texican directly behind me, having dispatched his unfortunate partner, turned toward me and ran me through with his Bowie knife. I fell face down in a patch of ground 2 feet wide by 4 feet long that was full of stickers. Some Texicans kicked me on the way by and I jerked my muscles involuntary for dramatic results. For me, the action was over, but I had to continue laying there dead for a few minutes to let the horses run the half mile to the bridge. Thankfully there were no ants where I was laying. The director yelled cut and he came over and told my partner and I that we did a really fine job, but next time we were to also knock over the tent in our struggle. My partner thought we did a fine job too then he was my best buddy all of a sudden. He must have thought the same of me as I did of him at first. I discovered that he was a professional actor from San Antonio. We fixed the tent pegs to break loose and during the struggle on the next take I pushed partner back slightly to knock down the tent. When it came down I cued him to push me back to my fall position so I could line up with that bloody Bowie knife. We did our part right on the takes, but the horses could not seem to get it together. We had to do ten takes of this scene and it took the rest of the afternoon. I truly was exhausted.

The next day I was back at the Mexican camp; conditions were better. Everyone in the camp was taking it easy between camera changes. The highlight of the day was when the big director rolled out of his tent to make an announcement. He did not appear to be in a happy mood. He informed us that there had been 28 injuries in the last few days of the hand-to-hand, his budget was all eaten up, and he had a belly full of people getting hurt. He went back into his little tent.

A few days earlier when it was raining, there were two tents nearby. Kris Kristopherson and Tom Skeritt were in one. I stayed in there a while with them. Kris was pretty nice, down home. Tom was arrogant and aloof. I went in to the little tent of the big director. He never said anything to me. He was working a crossword puzzle and getting no where with it. It was an easy puzzle out of some local paper, not like the impossible puzzles in the New York Times. I had to stay to the edge of the tent cause the director filled most of the available space in the tent by himself. This tent was the master control and the heart of the movie and I was fascinated by the video and audio equipment.

The last week, during the peak of the hand-to-hand action, they parked an ambulance on the set and had a crew of medical technicians to help the nurse. The movie was behind schedule by this time and when someone got hurt they quickly moved the injured off the set and the cameras kept rolling till it was too dark to see. Some people were carted off to the hospital for x-rays for broken bones, but if anyone needed stitches, that was done on the spot. They have a special band aid that doesn't show on the skin, and makeup follows right behind the medic and touches up the spot. The whole process of sewing up a laceration and putting the man back in action was done in minutes.

The next day I was on the breastworks sunning myself between shots. It was noon time and a beautiful day, folks were milling around leisurely or camped out in their favorite hiding place. I wasn't paying attention to anything and low and behold the big director comes walking by me, he has no intention of stopping, but he gets a call on his cell phone. This is a call he has to answer. It is the producer of the movie. Not Ted Turner but someone under him, and definitely over Big Director. The big director sits next to me. It is obvious that the big director sits a lot of the time. I think about getting up to give him some privacy, but nah, I listen in. The producer is jumping up and down about the cost overrun of $90,000. The director explains that it was due to the rain last week. The producer says that he doesn't have it, he can get it but he has to go out on a limb to get the money. The phone call was not about money, but about laying blame on Big Director so the producer would be off the hook with Ted. I had read in the paper that this movie had a budget of $9 to $11 million. So after this phone call I figured the movie cost $11 million and 90 thousand dollars. I added up the cost of the hands like me and that came out to $40,000 per day. Hollywood doesn't own or buy anything. They rent everything for the movie -- the cameras, props, trailers, wardrobe, catering, everything. When the movie is done, the powers-that-be go home. They don't keep a warehouse full of stuff left over after the movie. I roughly figured that rental of everything was about $50,000 per day but that could be a little on the low side. The cameras must be expensive to rent. When the movie was finished on Friday at 7pm, at 7:05 those cameras were boxed and headed to the Austin airport with a special courier.

At the end of the battle, the Mexicans were all dead. After all, that was the original purpose. We were told to play dead in a large field to show carnage. I was in the middle of the pack somewhere. This field was pretty clean, no fire ants or stickers. I flopped down dead and put my arm behind my back and twisted my wrist around in an unusual angle and I did the same with my feet. The director came by and liked the twisted up pose I was doing, and after the shot he said to come with him. He led me to the already blown up ammo wagon and asked if I minded playing dead next to the wagon. I said I could handle that. As he walked away he said that the wagon would be on fire but that there was a stunt guy who would take care of me. But that was only half of the plan; he didn't mention the horse.

The stunt guy had an iron pipe with holes in the top connected to a propane bottle and he was hiding behind a small piece of plywood painted black next to the ammo wagon. I laid down with my face toward the wagon but the fire was too hot to take for more than a few seconds. I moved back a few feet and I found that I could stand the heat for 20 seconds at a time. The shot was to take 15 seconds. The professional stunt man had control of the gas and I felt okay with this. But this alone did not make for an interesting movie, there had to be some horse running toward me, jump the breastworks and take a few steps, turn left 45 degrees while a mortar blows up next to the horse. The quarter horse would not jump the breastwork the first time so they lowered it to a foot and a half high. The horse was about 8 feet from me when he jumped and turned off at an angle but close enough that I felt the concussion of his feet in the ground near my head. I thought about the horse stepping on that other fella, and I was not pleased to have my head flat on the ground next to a stupid horse spooked by a nearby mortor. We did three practice takes. My face was turned away from the horse and I could not see the action. After the first take I was concerned for my safety. It felt like the horse was stomping around right next to me. I whispered to the stunt guy and asked him how close that horse came to me (he could see that I was anxious about this) and he said "oh, a couple of inches or so". It was really about 8 feet but I didn't know that at the time. Two more takes were practiced, and on the last take, the mortor blew; the horse did not shy, and I was happy to get up in one piece.

It was starting to get late on the last day of the movie. I had hoped we would get to go home early but the big director had plans to keep rolling film as long as there was an ounce of light left in the sky. They wanted to get a traveling pan shot (the camera is pushed on rails) of dead bodies piled over the breastworks. They called all the Mexicans to the breastworks and the little director said "you and you lay over there" etc. He ran out of people to place and I was still following behind him and I said where do you want me. He turned around and said that he had a special place for me and to follow him. He told me to lay face up on the breastworks directly in front of the camera. This was my cameo pose, the last shot on the last day, and this was my ticket to Hollywood stardom. Makeup came over and brushed blood (Karo syrup with red food coloring) on my face and cloths. I placed my pike over my chest, closed my eyes, stopped breathing, and the movie was finished.

Two for Texas shows Sunday the 18th at 8PM Eastern on channel TNT

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