Charleston Daily Mail

used by permission

'It's the chance of a lifetime'

Matthew Thompson
Daily Mail staff

Tuesday April 11, 2006

HUNTINGTON -- Picture about 1,500 Marshall University students and Huntington residents gathered at Buskirk Field raising their fists while shouting the school's battle cry, "We Are Marshall."

The event happened this week, but the year was not 2006. This event was pure 1971.

Filming for the first of two crowd scenes for the Warner Brothers film, "We Are Marshall" began Monday at the field behind the school's James E. Morrow Library.

Roll call began at the Cam Henderson Center about 8 a.m. The extras piled into the gym to be debriefed on the day's activities before being shuffled off to the shooting location.

Individuals young and old showed up decked out in various plaid suits, go-go boots and other 1970's regalia, capturing the spirit of the film's time period.

"It's the chance of a lifetime -- not everybody gets to be in a motion picture," said Keith Spears, Marshall vice president of communications and marketing.

"What you are seeing is a group of students, born years later, getting connected with the past."

Marshall graduate student Grant Huff bought a polyester jacket from a thrift store for the film's shoot. Huff, a 24-year-old native of New Haven in Mason County, braved 30-degree temperatures when he arrived at the gym at 7:15 a.m.

Huff was elated that he has a small part in movie history.

"It's pretty cool. I'm glad I got involved," Huff said. "I mean this story is going out to an entire nation. That's pretty exciting."

The film will detail the events Huntington and Marshall faced in the months following the Nov. 14, 1970, crash that claimed the lives of 75 people, including 37 members of the football team

As for the details behind Monday's scene -- beware of plot spoilers ahead.

In the scene, Marshall player Nate Ruffin, played by actor Anthony Mackie, interrupts a university board meeting to convince the faculty to rebuild the school's football team. Ruffin then looks out of a window to see the mass of students supporting the effort while chanting "We Are Marshall."

Ruffin was the football team co-captain in 1970. Sidelined by an arm injury, Ruffin was among a handful of Thundering Herd players who did not make the fateful trip.

Once the extras were situated, camera cranes decorating the building's fašade swooped through the crowd. In the air and from the ground, crew members shouted demands to the audience as Panavision cameras captured each specific detail, from sideburns to saddle shoes.

During the process, extras were directed to chant with a thunderous roar. The crowd did so repeatedly, so the film crew could attain the essence of a community eager to move on from tragedy.

Melissa Newman, 20, came out to the Henderson Center at 7:30 a.m. seeking a spot in the film. Newman, a sophomore from Shepherdstown, came out with five friends, who helped her pass the time during the long shoot.

"We just chatted and joked about the people's dress around us," Newman said.

Newman came dressed in a brown jacket with hand-sewn flower patches decorating the front. The clothing came straight out of her closet, she said.

Huntington native Matt Wheeler remembers the day 36 years ago when the plane went down.

Wheeler, 48, came out at 6:30 a.m. to be in the film, he said, to honor the 75 people who died. Some, he said, were friends of his brother, Pat, who was a student at Marshall in 1970.

"It's been exciting," Wheeler said. "I really don't know how to express it."

Wheeler, who was 13 at the time, said his family first heard about the accident over a police scanner. Wheeler took the day off from his job as a certified nursing assistant Monday to be in the film.

"I felt I was trying to carry on a tradition," Wheeler said. "I feel if you were in Huntington around that time, you were affected."