Monday, July 20, 2009

'Frenchy' Chevalier

The movie "The Fighter", starring Mark Wahlberg as former Welterweight champion Micky Ward, has moved on to shoot scenes from Ward's early days when he trained at Arthur Ramalho's West End Gym on Lawrence Street in Lowell, Massachusetts - which is still operating (though the old mill building it is located in is in rough shape). Standing on Lawrence Street you can see some of the sophisticated technical equipment required to produce even a realistic fight film: massive, mobile air exchange systems circulating the air around the old mill's crumbling timbers, racks of powerful outdoor lights, filters, and reflectors to provide ample 'natural' light, and dozens of support people in constant motion as they try to provide the crew and cast with everything -and anything they might require (including the best 'porto-potties' money can buy). For the training scenes at the West End Gym a full complement of extras was required to create the illusion of a crowded training facility: boxers young and old, trainers, hangers-on, and the cops who knew Micky and his brother all too well in those early days. There is still a lively boxing scene in Lowell, so the producers didn't have to look too far to find skilled pugilists: in fact many roles went to trainers and boxers who knew Ward intimately, or who are fixtures in the Lowell boxing scene today. One such individual is the well-known Master class boxer, Frankie 'Frenchy' Chevalier, (pictured above) who has trained at West End for many years. Of course the question then arises: is it better to have authentic characters with no acting skills or interest, or to use trained actors for these small but important roles? Frenchy readily admits he's doing it for the excitement of being in a movie - and doesn't care that he's passing up a potentially lucrative few days of extra pay. While all around him are people making a living from what they do on the set: camera operators, makeup artists, production assistants, food service workers, van drivers, truck drivers, electricians, mechanics, security guards and others. A film set is an unusual mixture of well-paid blue-collar craftsmen, highly paid actors, barely paid extras, and 'camp followers'. It is likely that many of the electricians and 'gaffers' on the set were, at one time, drawn to the work by their interest in the movies. But clearly, the demands of the work don't leave much time for gawking at the 'stars'. It is unlikely that any of the 'camp followers' will find themselves with a role to play - but then they seem content with their lot. And then there are the rest, dancing on the edge of respectability, looking to leverage an appearance as background into a walk-on with a few lines, into...

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