Here's a departure from our format that was inspired by an article from our friend Daniel Coston. With the passing of Andy Griffith recently, Daniel wrote about his experience photographing the NC icon here.
Like millions of us, I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. The world of Mayberry circa the mid 1960s was not that different from my childhood home town of Stanfield, NC in the 1970s and 80s, just far more entertaining. Like Andy Griffith, I attended college at UNC-Chapel Hill, during the time that he starred in another TV hit, Matlock.
Fast forward to the summer of 1993, when I was living near Wilmington, NC. The city, often referred to as the "Hollywood of the East" or "Wilmywood", was home to a thriving motion picture industry. Seeing TV and movie stars on location and in public was a regular phenomenon; I remember standing next to Dennis Hopper once at a Ben Folds Five show in a downtown club he owned (no one dared approach him, including myself).
It was a rite of passage for many residents to work in some capacity for the movie studios, and was easy to become an extra on a show like Matlock. One day in the summer of 1993, I travelled to Wrightsville Beach for my one and only day of work on the set. The filming was on the beach that day, and although I don't recall what episode it was (probably season 8), there was a murder scene where you can see my twenty-four-year-old self gathered in a crowd, watching the body being pulled on shore.
Being an extra was a full-time endeavor for many young folks, and I became friends with several people that day. It did not pay much but included catering, and although it was hard to count on (filming could be delayed or postponed for any number of reasons), it was a great way to tread water for twenty-somethings looking to delay the inevitable "real job". A great day for many extras was to have filming go on just long enough to be paid for a full day's work and get lunch before filming would be called off for the rest of the afternoon. Extras made up a kind of slacker culture niche, always striving to stay in the good graces of the studio so that they could keep getting called back. I found out the hard way that it was a faux pas to call the studio to ask for more work, thus my one day stint.
The scene had it's own set of politics and posturings, and while I only got a glimpse of it all, I smile when thinking of that day milling about the beach, sweltering in the lifeguard stand, and hearing Andy Griffith direct the director. "Let's shoot that again," the director said after one take. "No, that was good enough," Andy replied.