Introduction • The bad boys of summer • Bullshitty: A contrarian view • My life as a Bull
In a classic scene in Bull Durham, the Bulls’ rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh doesn’t want to take his socks off while rounding the basesso to speakwith Annie Savoy because “it’s cold in here.” Now, any North Carolinian worth his jock strap knows that a summer in Durham has more heat than any mid-90s fastball, but back in the fall of 1987, those socks were necessary.
“It was freezing!” remembers Laura Boyes, the current film curator at the North Carolina Museum of Art, an Indy contributor and an extra in the movie. “We were shooting in November but the movie was set in summer so we would huddle in our coats until the assistant director told us to take them off for a shot.” Boyes was one of hundreds of locals who answered a general call for a chance at 15 seconds (or more like 1.5 seconds) of screen-time fame. But after a whole day of watching Kevin Costner catch fly balls, Boyes didn’t make the cut. “My husband and I pored over the film, but I never saw myself. But my friend, who is now an assistant editor at Vogue magazine, was the last person off a bus in a scene and you see her for a fraction of a second,” she recalls. “I’m not sure how high on her résumé her Bull Durham cameo is, though.”
Other people involved on the set went on to bigger things, toobesides, say, all three main leads going on to win Oscars for other films. One of the most notable was an aspiring young filmmaker named Peyton Reed, who went on to direct the clever Kirsten Dunst cheerleading comedy Bring It On, and is currently in post-production on his latest, a Jim Carrey comedy called Yes Man. But in 1987, Reed was fresh from his time at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he got an early taste of the movies working with the film’s transportation department.
Durham audio engineer York Phelps was also involved with transportation during his four months working on pre-production and as a grip during shooting. Besides being responsible for tracking down just the right blue Volvo in Burlington for the Annie Savoy character, Phelps was sent to the Raleigh-Durham airport to meet 30-year-old Tim Robbins.
“When I picked him up, I told him that the car, a Firebird, was for him to use and I could drive or he could drive, it didn’t matter. He had me drive at first, but stopped me about halfway back to Durham and said, ‘Let me drive,’” Phelps says. “He wanted to go by the ballpark where we’d be shooting so I took him there, and we spun a few doughnuts in the parking lot.” The Durham set may not have had the glitter of Hollywood, but it did have the goods when it came to cars, as Phelps remembers Robbins saying, “I never get stuff like this!”
But besides joyriding with Robbins, Phelps was kept busy with the lighting department for the movie. “It was a hard shoot,” he says. “It was cold, we had long days and little overhead, but it was fun.” Because many extras had a chilly experience similar to Boyes’, it became harder to keep them coming back for day after day of shooting; one of Phelps’ jobs was to put cardboard cutouts in the stands to make them look more full.
Phelps got some friends jobs as extras as waitresses at Mitch’s Tavern in Raleigh, which was used for the movie’s bar scenes. Owner Mitch Hazouri was hesitant at first to use his place for the film.
“We had been open every day for 13 years, and I was lukewarm about closing the place for five days,” he says. But looking for an authentic tavern look, the location managers ignored the bar’s lack of parking and difficult stairs and secured the place for the film. “It was a whirlwind,” Hazouri remembers. “There were 85 production people and 85 extras crammed into the space. They would start setting up at 6 or 7 p.m. and shoot until dawn.” Hazouri remembers seeing Susan Sarandon getting lunch from the craft services area he helped secure at the church across the street, and assisting the production crew in setting up an account at the local hardware store. “Neither place got paid,” he is quick to point out.
As for the film itself? “I didn’t think it was going to be a hit, but I was stunned how good things looked in the movie,” he says. “It will be in people’s libraries forever. I was just in Amsterdam the other week and it was on TV!”
People still come by the place wanting to see the bar used in Bull Durham, though it is missing a few things. “When the production crew cleaned up after the shoot, they took some of the artifacts off my wall,” Hazouri remembers. “I saw my vintage Coca-Coca clock at an antique store in Cameron Village a few weeks later selling for $225.” Most likely it was first bought at one of the auctions of memorabilia from the film held after the wrap of the movie.
As for those tavern extras? Phelps remembers that after 16 hours of work, one friend was released from her extra duties as the sun came up only to find that her car had been towed. On top of it all, she was only a flash of blue T-shirt in the movie.
She did, however, get more screen time than other friends who were extras in a whorehouse scene shot around Little Five Points in Durham. “There were real prostitutes around there who were not too happy that we were interrupting their business,” Phelps says with a laugh. In the end, the scene was deemed too risqué and was cut from the film. They left the garter belt wearing to Nuke LaLooshhope it wasn’t too cold for him.