Hitting the Small Time

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007

Overcome by the irony of having nothing to read in the world's biggest library, I stare at the ceiling and take mental notes on the absurdity of my existence.

Throat dry.

Is lying here actually journalism?

Stupid to sacrifice weekend to dumb Nicolas Cage movie.

I am flat on my back in one of the oak-paneled rooms in the Library of Congress, where the sequel to 2004's "National Treasure" is filming. The crew is setting up a shot in the grand reading room, and we extras (or "background actors," if you will) are consigned to this smaller holding area. Cattle in a pen. Twelve-thirty to 3:30 a.m., there on the floor. Heaps of tired meat.

This is the "wait" part of "hurry up and wait."

The fun part of being an extra, though, is truly fun, especially if you love movies. Fast forward to my second night of shooting. Two nimble, attractive people sprint down the center aisle of the reading room. They zoom behind me, duck into the librarian's console and slip down a stairwell as I continue, puzzled, toward the stacks to reshelve a book.

That's when the SWAT team hustles in. A flood of D.C. police and FBI agents follows. Guns are drawn. I freeze mid-walk, ready to drop my book.


The tension in the cavernous room evaporates. The law enforcement officials let their paunches back out. They waddle wearily out of the reading room for another go. I rewind myself back around the console to my desk.

The room's big gold clock says 1:45 a.m. It's hour 17 of the 20 hours I and two dozen other extras spent on the library set earlier this month.

The result? Maybe30 seconds of film.

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