From the Stars and Stripes archives

Extra reason to get a haircut

By JIM ARWINE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 5, 1978

"ONE OF THE MAIN choices a person has to make right away, if he wants to be an extra, is to get a haircut or not," said Paul Schnieder, 17-year-old high school senior who is working as a movie extra on the film Breakthrough.

The American-German production is set in 1944 and pits 2nd Armd Div forces against a defending Nazi unit. At the end of World War II, many of the men in German military units were very young, so teen-age faces such as Schnieder's were needed.

Schnieder and about 200 American dependents, soldiers and airmen have been getting "GI whitewall" haircuts as part of their makeup preparation for their roles as American and Nazi soldiers in the film. The film is a sequel to Cross of Iron.

"Our parents really like these haircuts," said Schnieder, taking off his Nazi helmet to show his shortened locks. The other teen actors standing around in the break area voiced agreement.

The 100 marks-per-day pay (about $49) and the opportunity to be seen in the movies is enough motivation to get a haircut, another teen said.

They also brush shoulders with movie notables such as Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger, who star in the film.

Burton made a brief appearance on the movie set. He promised to pose for pictures with the American extras at a later date, but refused to allow photos to be taken of him on the set.

A spokesman for the actor said he would not cooperate with the press because a British television news crew recently had sold for commercial gain "news" shots taken at the site.

An Air Force communications officer, Capt. Frank Sopato, regularly takes leave from his official duties to appear in films produced in Berlin. He is the coordinator of the extras on this film.

"There are no auditions for parts as extras," he said. "We mainly contact actors from previous productions."

American military men, he added, make good actors because they take directions well, they are always on time, speak English and are accustomed to waiting.

"Being a movie extra means doing a lot of sitting around," said Senior Airman Dave Wasson, who has worked previously in films. "But sitting around, waiting for a scene call, can be hard work."

Wasson and about 10 others had just finished a scene in a tunnel at the Citadel, near Spandau. "It was crowded in there. The prop people sprayed plastic cobwebs which hung from the ceilings. We had to look worried in the scene."

Working as film extras has become a common thing for soldiers and students in Berlin, Sopato said. Several films are shot each year in Berlin, which Sopato feels is the Hollywood of Europe.

Most of the extras work for only three or four days at a time, then it's back to military duties, or in the case of the high school actors, it's back to football practice.

Being associated with the movies does have its negative aspects, said Wasson. "Now when I see movies I look at the backgrounds to see what the extras are doing. It kind of spoils the film for me."

U.S. Air Force Capt. Frank Sopato, working as an extra, gets dirt smeared on his World War II German uniform during the shooting of ''Breakthrough'' at Berlin's Spandau Citadel in 1978.

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