Commentary: Extra on 'The Blind Side' movie had eye on spotlight

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their adopted son, Ole Miss lineman Michael Oher, are the focus of the movie 'The Blind Side,' starring Sandra Bullock.

Family photo

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their adopted son, Ole Miss lineman Michael Oher, are the focus of the movie "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock.

Have you seen 'The Blind Side' movie about Michael Oher's life?

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Much of Memphis knows the story of Michael Oher, the African-American teen who grew up in an unstable one-parent home but was taken in by the white, well-to-do Tuohy family. He became a football star at Briarcrest Christian School and Ole Miss, then was drafted in April by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.

Now, thanks to "The Blind Side," the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis, Oher's story will become familiar to the general public. The movie, which stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw as Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy, opens around Thanksgiving.

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their adopted son, Ole Miss lineman Michael Oher, are the focus of the movie 'The Blind Side,' starring Sandra Bullock.

Family photo

Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and their adopted son, Ole Miss lineman Michael Oher, are the focus of the movie "The Blind Side," starring Sandra Bullock.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw

Other cast members include Memphis native Kathy Bates, as Oher's tutor, Miss Sue; Quinton Aaron, who plays the 6-foot-5, well-north-of-300-pounds offensive lineman; beautiful young actress Lily Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins), as Sean and Leigh Ann's daughter, Collins Tuohy; and Jae Head (of "Hancock") as their son, Sean Jr.

Former Tennessee football coach Philip Fulmer portrays himself in some recruiting scenes in the movie, which has been filming in locations around metro Atlanta. Georgia has seen an increase in the number of movies and TV shows because of tax incentives for production companies.

My wife, 16-year-old son and I have each worked as extras on "The Blind Side." Extras are referred to in the movie industry as "background," an accurate term that reflects where we are in a scene (if we make it at all).

Extras aren't allowed to bring cameras, ask for autographs or even talk to the actors. We're expected to act professionally. For this movie we were paid $100 a day for shifts that could stretch to 12 hours. The great majority of the time is spent waiting.

Movie fans may think the stars have glamorous jobs and lives, but spending time on a movie set shows that during shooting they work long, tedious hours, repeating the same dialogue over and over.

My wife and I first worked in different scenes at an upscale restaurant. One of the assistant directors had me walk, with my arm around a woman I had just met, past a table where Bullock and several other women were seated, supposedly eating lunch. Then I nodded off in Extras Holding, the place where we wait to be called to the set. It's the equivalent of a baseball bullpen.

My next working day was spent at Agnes Scott College, a women's school that was standing in for Ole Miss in scenes where the Tuohys take Oher to college. I saw Bullock stand next to a car and have Aaron wrap his huge arms around her about a dozen times. The real Tuohys happened to be on the set that day.

A lot of scenes were shot at The Westminster Schools, standing in for Briarcrest. In the movie, the school is called Wingate. At Westminster I was a member of the press in a 15-second scene where Oher (Aaron), surrounded by his family, announces he's going to Ole Miss by silently picking up a Rebels' hat from among a group of college hats on a table. I was in a prime position for face time in the scene when the assistant director suddenly called out, "Guy in the glasses, didn't you come down the stairs in the restaurant?"

I was dumbfounded he recognized me -- movies can use hundreds of extras every week -- but I answered yes and he said that because I was so visible in the restaurant scene, I had to be moved in this one. I started to argue that journalists DO eat at high-class restaurants, but as a career newspaper guy in real life, I realized that wouldn't have been accurate.

My son, however, got in a school library scene with Aaron and Lily Collins. He and my wife also got in some scenes at a volleyball game; my wife stood in front of Bullock in a concession stand line.

We declined an opportunity to be part of the crowd in football game scenes, which sounds like fun until you learn they were shot overnight on several consecutive nights, roughly from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

After reading Lewis' book, I became even more eager to see the movie. My wife, who's not a football fan, also loved the book and started visualizing how the scenes would look on screen.

The timing of the November release coincides with Oher's rookie NFL season. Expect him to be lined up on offense at left tackle, protecting his quarterback's blind side.

Kevin Braun is a lifelong newspaperman who spent 19 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before taking a buyout last fall. He's now a freelance writer.

© 2009 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 1

alleshiaw#234700 writes:

There is another Memphis native in the movie "Blind Side". Adriane Lenox plays Michael's mother.

Adriane has a long history of success including her Tony award winning performance in "Doubt" as well as television. She most recently played the COO in "Royal Pains". She is currently being seen on Advair commercials.

Does Adriane not deserve mention in this movie as a Memphis native?

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