So it is quite possible that The Green Inferno will be my favorite movie of all time. Why, might you ask? Is it such an action-packed story that you can’t help but be sucked in within the first seconds? Is it filled with so many incredibly skilled actors that you want to move to Hollywood and people-watch all day? Oh, no, both of these are definitely not the case. In fact, if I am being honest, this movie looks like it has potential to be a total bust. But that is beyond the point. Because I AM IN IT! So obviously I am pumped to see it! Maybe I will even go see it on the big screen… if it makes it that far, at least.
So, you might have guessed it: I liked being a movie extra so much that I went back for more! At about midnight the night before another day of filming, one of my American friends called me and asked if I wanted to come with her to the filming because the producer was desperately trying to find more college-age students to be extras. Especially blonde-haired ones (it is still Chile, after all). So, having nothing going on the next day, and being totally ok with making an extra $60, I agreed. It seems that a work visa really isn’t that important to anyone in Chile. If you want to have an official job, you need to have it, but there are a ton of random jobs (being a movie extra, teaching private English lessons, working in a hostel) where it is just assumed you do not have a work visa, and that is 100% acceptable. Somehow I don’t think that would fly in the United States…
So I already gave the background on the movie, but on this day, they were shooting the university scenes with the two main female actresses. We were shooting at ‘Columbia University’ in New York, aka la Universidad los Andes, which is probably the nicest university in all of Chile. It is located really far away from the center of Santiago, so unlike most of the crunched Chilean universities that consist of only one or two buildings, this one has a beautiful sprawling campus and actually feels somewhat like a university in the United States. Does it look like Columbia University? Well, I have never actually seen it, but judging from the fact that la Universidad Los Andes has huge mountains in the background, I am guessing it is not quite the same. But hey, close enough!
The first scene we filmed was a student protest at Columbia, where the students were supposedly upset about the capture of a fellow student. Basically what happened was a student was yelling up and down on the grass with a guitar yelling ‘Free Samara!’, and then a big group of students sitting down on the grass (including me) yelled ‘Let her go!’. Here I am with Sara in my ‘protesting’ shirt… which unfortunately I did not get to keep (I was planning on wearing it to the movie premiere!)
Note to self: never ever try to direct a movie in a foreign country where I don’t know the language. Like I said, Eli Roth was the director of this film, and he knows a maximum of 10 words of Spanish, I am pretty sure. The problem was, although the producers had tried to recruit a lot of people from the United States for the scenes, the vast majority of the extras were still Chilean. Aka other than my friend Sara and I, barely any of the extras understood English. So pretty much when the whole group was chanting, instead of sounding like ‘Let her go’, it sounded more like ‘Leergoo’.
Watching Eli try to communicate all of his ideas and direct the extras was probably one of the most entertaining experiences of my life. Pretty much what happened is that Eli gives a direction (everyone look to the left), Sara and I follow the direction (we look left), everyone else cannot understand and doesn’t do anything (keep looking straight ahead), Eli yells for someone to translate (one of the producers translates), and the message finally gets communicated (2 minutes later). And repeat this process. The fact that I was one of the few people who could understand everything that was going on was really a perk. Not only was I constantly entertained with the nonstop translating, but I was also in very high demand as a translator! The other extras would keep asking me what was going on, or why a certain line that the actresses were saying was funny, or what they were supposed to be doing. The crazy thing is, even Eli Roth used me as his translator for a while! When he found out Sara and I speak English and are actually from the United States, he got really excited and started talking to us for a while about where we were from, what we were doing in Santiago, etc. Then, a few Chilean extras really wanted to talk to him, but Eli couldn’t understand them so he asked us if we could translate. Which ended up being kind of awkward because one girl REALLY wanted us to ask him if he would give her a part in his next movie even though she didn’t speak English (pretty sure the answer was no). But still. It made me feel pretty accomplished. Not only was I able to understand the strange mixture of Spanish/ English being spoken around me, but I was also one of the few people good enough at both languages to help everyone else communicate! Success. Or, as they say in Chile: ¡´Exito!
The longer I am in Chile, the easier it is for me to see just how far my Spanish skills have come in the past five months. It has been quite the journey, that is for sure. The low point would have to be my very first day with my host family. My host brother and sister had picked me up, and we had gone home and talked for an hour or so before my host mom came home (she had been working). She started hugging me and talking to me super fast, and quite honestly I didn’t understand anything she was saying to me. My confusion was super obvious, because she then turned to Felipe and asked her ‘Does she even speak Spanish?’ Naturally, that was the only sentence I understood. Classic Heather-just-arrived-in-Chile moment.
But hey, things have only been getting better since then…. But of course, not without having my fair amount (actually more than my fair amount) of awkward moments. Why yes, I did ask my host mom if she could put an extra carpet on my bed because I was cold. And yes, I did end up sitting silently in the corner at a family reunion where everyone was speaking super fast about people I had never heard of. And I am pretty sure that at one point, I accidentally told my tennis partner we were a good couple instead of saying we were good partners. Embarassing.
But, on the bright side, even though I have had a lot of embarrassing moments, I have also had a lot of great moments, little victories that remind me just how much I have improved during my time abroad. I have come so far since that first moment in the Santiago airport when the security man confronted me about the apple scent coming from my backpack and I could not understand a single word he was saying. See for yourself:
-A taxi stopped me when I was walking on the side of the road the other day and asked me how to get to UniMarc. Not only did I understand him, but I was actually able to have a conversation with the man and give him directions to where he needed to go.
-Joaquin and I went to see Tinkerbell in the movie theather (his choice, not mine) and I understood almost every single sentence! My only wish is that we would have chosen a better movie to go see….
-I survived (and even did somewhat well) on my improv final for my public speaking class. Yes, you heard me right. IMPROV. I was in a group with 3 Chilean girls, we were given a topic and a style, and we were required to immediately act out a 5 minute skit. My group was given the topic ‘your dad is a dog’ and we were supposed to act it out in Disney style. I am pretty sure that after doing this, no crazy task in Spanish will ever seem quite as bad…
-I was standing at the microwave at my university a few weeks ago with some Chileans who were also waiting for their food to heat up when I casually struck up a conversation with them. We just stood there chatting for 5 minutes, joking and laughing about how the microwaves never work and how there is really no point in even waiting in line. An encounter that would be completely normal back in Madison, but something that would have been impossible for me to do when I first got to Chile.
All in all, being here has made me realized that learning Spanish isn’t so much about having perfect grammar or conjugating every verb perfectly in every sentence. I could live in Chile for my entire life and people would still know I was not a native speaker. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. In my mind what really matters is the fact that I am now comfortable and confident enough that I know I can have a conversation in Spanish about anything with someone from anywhere in the world. This is a skill that I doubt I ever would have gained without ever leaving the United States. And for me, even if it were just for this one reason, coming to Chile has hands-down been the best decision of my life.