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New firm has extra special role

June 30, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

On one hand, you have dozens of re-enactors who want to be part of historical films and documentaries.

On the other, you have Hollywood producers who need to muster re-enactors for film shoots, sometimes on short notice.

Enter Russ Richards of Cascade, who is trying to make a living bringing those two diverse groups together.

His niche company, called Historical Extras, may be the first spinoff business from last year's filming of the Civil War movie "Gods and Generals" in Washington County.

"It's completely different from anything out there," he said.

Richards, 36, has been working full-time at the business since May, when problems forced him to leave his warehouse job at Tristate Electrical & Electronics Supply in Hagerstown.

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Without knowing it, Richards has been planting the seeds for his endeavor since he got interested in the hobby of re-enacting about 12 years ago.

Over the years, he's made friends with people in the movie business as well as the re-enacting community.

About five years ago, he worked on a documentary about Antietam that was filmed near the Sharpsburg battlefield.

Last fall, Richards joined an elite group of about 100 re-enactors who were paid $100 a day for their work on the "Gods and Generals." Hundreds more re-enactors volunteered their time on the set.

Re-enacting for the camera is much different than participating in a living history re-enactment, largely because of the stunts and special effects involved, he said.

Some re-enactors do it because they like seeing themselves on television or in the movies. Others are in it to ensure the historical accuracy of what appears on film.

Richards has hand picked re-enactors who own quality military and civilian clothing kits.

Some specialize in cavalry or artillery. They do impressions from World War I, World War II, the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War in addition to the Civil War.

His database includes about 60 re-enactors, who have paid him $25 each for the listing.

When Richards gets jobs for them, he also gets 10 percent of their first paycheck. Sometimes, the movie companies reimburse him for his phone bill and other expenses.

"It's exciting. Every day I can do what I love to do," he said.

For now, the business is paying the bills, although he admits that eventually he might have to get a part-time job. His wife, Tammy, works in the human resources department at Phoenix Color in Hagerstown.

Bob Wise, a producer with Termite Art Productions in Los Angeles, recently used Historical Extras in the making of the "Civil War Combat Series" for The History Channel.

"It's a great resource for people like me. It's kind of one-stop shopping," said Wise, who also makes documentaries for Discovery Channel.

The first four parts of the series are scheduled to air on The History Channel at 9 p.m. on July 2-5.

Richards has an office in the basement of his home. Most of his work is done over the computer or on the phone.

Right now, he's sending pictures of his re-enactors to the makers of the movie "Mountain," which will star Nicole Kidman.

Pictures of him posing with "Gods and Generals" actors Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels and Stephen Lang grace his walls. There's also a photo of him when he was younger.

He pointed out a historical inaccuracy that few would notice. The brim of his hat is "ballcapped," or curved, instead of straight.

He has a wardrobe full of uniforms from various wars. He pulled out a pair of brown leather boots that look like they were molded to the feet of their original owners. Richards said they are uncomfortable to wear.

Richards hopes his project will bring more historical filming to the Tri-State area.

He envisions one day a "Hollywood East," a chunk of pristine land that could be used exclusively for films as well as training of re-enactors.

"We're in a perfect area, between Antietam and Gettysburg," he said.

For more information, go to the Web site www.historicalextras.com.

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