Remember a sitcom where Burt Reynolds was a high school football coach? No, not Coach with Craig T. Nelson, that was college ball. Anyway, there was this show called Evening Shade and it was supposed to take place in a small Arkansas town because it was produced by an Arkansan who also did Designing Women, and they were hoping this show would piggyback on its southern style success.
In order to add some authenticity to the program, the creators decided to shoot the exterior establishing shots in actual Arkansas towns. You guessed it, one of those towns was mine.
One afternoon a film crew showed up and gave a talk and a Q&A to our entire high school. Since DVD commentaries didn't exist yet, it was pretty enlightening for me, and I remember learning some production techniques, like filming during the golden hour and such. They ended the presentation by handing out their shooting schedule and asking us to be extras.
The first shot took place that night and was meant to depict a Sadie Hawkins dance, which was said to be a popular Arkansan tradition, yet none of us had heard of one. So people showed up at the old gymnasium wearing prom leftovers, and the film crew captured this fake dance with much gusto. I had no formal clothes so I just went to watch. This seemed to work in my favor because they asked a few of us casuals to be in an unrelated shot where we acted like a group of football fans cheering our players after a game. However, I don't think that was ever used.
We were invited to come to school the next morning, more than an hour early (yes, during the golden hour) for the final shot. For this crucial scene we were asked to mill around in front of the nearby junior high as if it were a school morning in the fall. Well, it really was a school morning in the fall so we did an excellent job. I guess I'm a method actor.
Our days of filming were practically a forgotten memory by the time the shows actually aired. I missed the original airings, and at the time my family still didn't have a VCR, so it was decades before I finally saw my work for the first time via Netflix. I took some screen grabs that I would like to share with you now. Ladies and gentlemen, here I am on TV!...
Right over there!
How can I be sure it's me? First off, that's obviously my jean jacket. Also, I intentionally chose a spot where I wouldn't be standing in a blob of anonymous kids, and from that window there was a perfect line of vision between me and the camera. My plan was a major success! The girl in white pants was a friend of mine so as we waited we actually developed a brief back story for our characters, and decided that mine made a habit of hitting on hers before school, but she was reluctant. More method acting for me.
What I most remember about the filming sessions is that the camera and lights seemed less substantial than I imagined. I expected lots of high tech equipment, but these guys had a lean, almost chintzy looking setup. I also thought the whole thing seemed pretty run-and-gun. I know they must have done some prep work, but the shots were done very quickly, and that's two whole takes. I remember wondering if the entire event was some sort of ruse. Like after the shoot they might ask us to pay our actors guild fees before skipping town. I was halfway shocked when I heard that we really appeared on the show. I don't mean to disparage those guys, it's just a memorable "expectation versus reality" moment for me. In truth, that's a lot of work to go through to get shots that could have easily been grabbed near the studio, and I doubt the authenticity was even noticed by the audience. When I started watching more episodes I was surprised to find quite a few other shots they had picked up around town, so it's sort of neat that the place is immortalized on the program and will eventually reside in the Burt Reynolds wing of the Smithsonian.
So please watch my show. Remember, it's called Evening Shade and it airs Friday nights at 8 PM in 1990.