With only 10 days left until the Oscars, “Selma” stands proudly as one of the most successful (and impactful) films of the year.
Paul Garnes, an Atlanta-based Executive Producer of the film and long-time collaborator with director Ava DuVernay, was kind enough to take a few minutes to discuss the filmmaking process—and how “Selma” was (partially) Made in Alabama.
We’ve discussed the Alabama locations, but there are numerous actors from Alabama who played extras the film too. Do you think this added further credibility/authenticity to the story?
Well, on top of shooting in Selma for a movie about Selma, it allowed for certain things, the biggest of which is probably the participation of the town. We used hundreds of extras while we were there. It obviously brings a whole different feeling when so many people were either actually there and participated in the march or they had family members that participated in the march, so it just had such a real meaning to everyone who participated. You could really feel that. Even for our crew and people who were coming from out of town, it was really infectious and it gave us such a creative energy to really pull off some tough scenes, in some tough Alabama heat. But everybody’s heart was in it. You can’t buy that.
So many people were either actually there and participated in the march or they had family members that participated in the march. Everybody’s heart was in it. You can’t buy that.
You mention the large crowd scenes shot in Alabama. Were these some of the most intense days of shooting?
Probably the two most intense days were in Alabama: Bloody Sunday, which was a scene rife with chaos and violence, and dealing with extras, and everyone’s having to wear period clothing—which is not light—and wearing makeup and wigs to pull off the 60s period. And then the logistics of tear gas and horses and stunts; it obviously made for some challenging days. Like I mentioned earlier, Alabama is not the coolest place in July. So we had challenges just in dealing with heat and keeping everyone cool. When you have 600 or 700 people on set, plus 200 or 300 crew members, it becomes an exercise of logistics at that point. Then moving to the State Capitol, we had equally large crowds—people weren’t running like they were in the bridge scenes, but we had people marching up to the State Capitol, recreating the final march and the big speech that King makes to the onlookers. It was one of the more iconic moments for David [Oyelowo], who was playing King, to deliver this really empowered speech. Both of those, though challenging, were very rewarding, and I think probably two very iconic moments in the film.
You mentioned some economic incentives that came from filming here. Alabama’s film industry is rather young, but it’s growing. How was the “Selma” crew received by the Alabama Film Office?
The Alabama Film Office was great. They were with us every step of the way, making sure they handled any of the issues that arise from that interaction of production with everyday people. We clearly felt at home shooting there. Some of the better moments for the crew were in the Alabama section where they really got kind of accepted by this town. Selma is a small town, you know, and we basically took over the bridge for a week, in the middle of a work week. Everyone really kind of rallied behind us, and we were able to interact with many of the businesses. Obviously we were using many of the hotels and restaurants. It was, I think, a very good partnership between us and the different state jurisdictions and the police departments and the fire departments. It all worked really well. I don’t think we had any issues that someone didn’t have a great idea of how to solve.