Republished from LiveJournal. Originally posted 23 March 2011.

A neat story about something that happened to me.
By Marisa Lenhardt, aged 30-cough.

Many moons ago, before some of you were born and before many of you started drinking, I was in high school with a sweet, slightly nuts, talented guy.
After a year or so, he stopped going to my high school, and that was that.

Fast forward a decade or so, add the creation of facebook, stir.

Out of the blue in October I get an email from this guy with whom I went to High School, needing extras for a Francis Ford Coppola film on which he was working. I happily complied, thinking that, at worst, it would be an excellent opportunity for some camping asshattery with some good friends. I put out feelers and got some replies from various folks in my friend and extended circle. A truly lovely mix of people who responded even without knowing who was involved with the production.

We had our initial interview/photos and, a few days later, were called for a screen test.

I followed the woman who did our screen test deep, deep into the recesses behind the public areas of the Rubicon Estate in Napa. I saw my friend from high school, John-Paul and, in a fit of surreality, noted that we looked like the same, but adult, versions of ourselves. It was fantastic to see him, and I was at ease. We slowly gathered and, after a while, were taken in separate vehicles up even further into the wilds to a house. We headed up the stairs and there, seated at a large dinner table, was Mr. Coppola. As we came up, he said “Have a seat. I want to introduce you to my friend Val”. We tried not to stare at the IceMan and took our seats around the dinner table. The 5 of us who’d come up in the initial car filled in the space around the table, acting as casual as possible.  I had had a pretty good idea that Francis (I can call him that, I think) would be there, but hadn’t been prepared for, you know… Doc Hollywood. Francis immediately put us at ease with a volley of intense, intelligent questions, a skill clearly developed with years of human observation. All of the women did readings with Val, during which he made us laugh with fantastic ad libs, and most of us were quite relaxed by the end of our readings. Francis regaled us with tales of filming ‘Apocalypse Now’ (“did you see that?” he asked.).

As we prepared to leave, the assistant director leaned and whispered something into Francis’ ear. Francis then looked at me and said “You’re an opera singer.  What will you sing for me?  Manon Lescaut? La Rondine? No… Gianni Schicchi.” I agreed that Gianni Schicchi certainly provided the best a cappella, and before I knew it, I was standing fewer than 5 feet from the man, as he filmed me singing ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ on his iPhone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Val film it with his iPhone, as well. When I finished, Val said “Well, that was unexpected,” and Francis said “Very nice.” We all left soon after, and I was giddy for hours.

I did not get a speaking role, but I was asked to participate as an extra. I was, of course, disappointed, but was still excited at the prospect of the aforementioned potential camping asshattery.

Fastforward to November.
A group of us were asked, during the coldest few days of the month, to meet for a few days. We arrived at the gorgeous location and began (with help! How strange) to set up camp. We were told that, that evening, Francis would be camping with us.

I am firmly in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” faction of human thinking, and so I went about the day, and by evening time we were sitting around the fire, eating food that had been prepared for us (how strange!), sharing a drink or two. The hours ticked by, a few people went to sleep, and after a while, a gentleman came down to the campfire, casually, with a couple of younger men, who carried a chair for him. People slowly quieted as they realized who’d arrived, and there was a brief, awkward moment of “ok, now what?”  I did the thing that comes naturally and offered a drink. Francis says “You’re the opera singer. I can tell by the profile.” “Yes,” I replied, “But that doesn’t answer the question. Would you like a drink?” He asked what I had, which was Scotch. He wasn’t interested in that, but agreed to a home-made liqueur provided by a friend. The next few hours were spent sipping drinks, including an absinthe made for Mr. Coppola, trading stories and, for brief and ecstatic moment, Francis getting me to sing “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” and getting him to sing Rudolfo’s “Si”. My dear friend David bore witness to that, and I caught his grin from across the fire.

Soon enough, it was late and cold and we had a long day the next day. We said our goodnights, and a few of us stayed up a bit longer before turning in.

First full day of filming –
I awoke to a craving for fresh fruit and headed up to the communal snack/kitchen area. I brought my company iPad in an attempt to check my email. I was met by Francis, who engaged me in a discussion about the meeting he had with “Steve”, and about Adobe and Apple’s ongoing battle. After showing me a nifty wireless keyboard and syncing it with the iPad, it was time to get ready dressed and meet the costumer.

John Paul finally made it down to say hello to us in camp and, as I painted his nails, he told me that Francis planned to add a scene for me to sing. I couldn’t even register this as possibly being true, so I went about my day as normally as possible, camping in the middle of the week with a film crew. There were giggles, takes, retakes, and everything you ever hear from anyone who’s done extra work – it’s a lot of stand around and wait. But the novelty of it didn’t wear off through the weekend, and there we were, walking the same path over and over again.

At dinner, I set my plate down across from an unattended plate which happened to be Mr. Coppola’s. Sweet Lulu sat next to me, and the two of them talked about burlesque (“My kids got me Dita Von Teese for my birthday.” “That’s a great book!” “I think he means… they actually got him … Dita Von Teese.”) Filming went into the evening, and temperatures dropped below freezing. We huddled around cold propane fires, and Francis asked what I’d sing for him if I were to sing a scene. It began to seem more real. That evening, filming wrapped up and we gathered around the real fire for a bit before heading to sleep.

The next day dawned a bit warmer, and all of us got up in the exact same costumes as the previous day.

It wasn’t too long into filming that Francis said “We’re filming your scene today…what will you sing? Public domain, of course…” It was at this point that I thought it might actually happen. My nervous energy built throughout the day, until I was actually wrapped into a body mic…and then it was real. The costumer was sweet, and supportive, and listened to my nervous ramblings. And then, immediately after a scene during which I had to physically exert myself and without even a chance to get water, I was on. As I prepared, I realized I had no water handy. I turned to David and said “I would kill for a bottle of water right now”. It took a moment to realize that the three people that began running were running to get ME water. I’d forgotten about the mic. Possibly the most surreal moment of the entire shoot. The sun was setting, and Francis sat about 30 feet away…directing. ME. I can’t say what I sang, or what the setting was, or what I wore…but I can tell you that, during the course of the first song, the line of people behind the camera watching went from about 8 to pretty much everyone on-set. And that, when I finished my first song, Francis had to wait until the applause stopped to remind people that we were “still rolling”. He gave very little direction and I felt very comfortable, not nervous at all, as I was simply giving a performance to a few people as the sun went down, echoing  across the lake.

At the end of the third song, Francis said “you can applaud now”, and people did. Then he said “print it”, and that was it…we broke for dinner and I had a small moment of glowing glory as people who are much more accustomed to the short takes of the film industry paid me beautiful compliments… and I glowed, and glowed, through the rest of the filming that went to 2am. I got the chance to ask Val for a copy of the video he had of me and he said that, if I gave him my card and Francis approved it, no problem. Turns out that, because I was in costume, Francis didn’t approve it, but I did get a very nice email from Val’s assistant explaining that. It shows a surprising amount of follow-through.

Giddy from the whole day, I drank with a few of the crew until the sun came up. At one point someone turned to me and said “Hey, you’re the only talent still out drinking!” And I giggled. talent! heh.

The next day dawned harsh and cruel, as DK, Jocelyn and I slowly and steadily packed up, far fewer people to help with this process than with the setup. The ride home was slowly waking from a dream, and Luke sweetly unpacked the truck for me as my left knee had completely given out.

Today, I go with a few of these folks to watch the first screening of the film. My scene is still in it. I hope it stays.