Region's go-to casting director shares tips from the trenches

Extras casting director Elizabeth Gabel was born and raised in New Mexico, where she has produced a number of docs and ad campaigns. As one of many locals who assisted on DreamWorks’ “Cowboys & Aliens,” she offers her perspective on her home state:

Over the past decade, New Mexico’s seen a lot of big productions. Apart from “Cowboys & Aliens,” I did “True Grit,” “Paul,” “No Country for Old Men,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Book of Eli” and “Terminator: Salvation,” so work has been very steady, though it slowed up a bit earlier this year

Now it’s picked up again with TV and some features. We’ve been a great film destination since the very start of movies, and the state offers so much — from tax incentives to the amazing light here, fantastic locations that vary from forests to deserts, and really skilled crews, some of whom have relocated here from L.A. and New York.

“Cowboys & Aliens” was a challenge as it’s a period western. I have more than 18,000 extras on my database, and I know the faces they need: lots of facial hair and very long hair. You’re always looking for smaller, skinny people because a lot of period wardrobe is actually from that period, and people were a lot shorter and smaller than they are now. So we don’t want women over a size 6 or men over a 34-inch waist.

I ended up casting about 250 extras total, and they all worked multiple days. About 95% were local, though I did bring in some from other parts of the country who had the necessary horse-riding skills, as we also needed between 50 and 60 highly skilled horse riders. I was also able to cast a lot of Native Americans — about 100 total — and about 30 of them were full-blooded Apaches who played warriors.

We started shooting in May till mid-August, but then they came back for some pick-up shots in October. We ran two units day and night, so it was pretty much a 24/7 job, the same as other big shows like “Terminator,” and while a lot of the department heads came in from L.A., a lot of the crew were locals as well — especially second unit, which was very active on this production.

— as told to Iain Blair

New Mexico tightens belt | State stocked with authentic ‘Cowboys’ | Facility focus

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