Magazine article The New Yorker

Blow-Up

Magazine article The New Yorker

Blow-Up

Article excerpt

One Saturday afternoon, Gail Boykewich was in a small shed in the woods behind her parents' house, in Oakland, New Jersey, inflating a blow-up doll with a very loud machine. When she was done, she placed the doll, which had no facial features, next to a cluster of others that had already been dressed and made up with wigs and masks.

"If you overinflate, you can create leaks," Boykewich said. She is twenty-nine, and she heads up East Coast operations for Inflatable Crowd, a Santa Monica-based company that offers movie directors a cheaper alternative to hiring real-life extras. "I've never seen a doll explode," she said, "but if you don't close the valves correctly they will probably stay inflated for a few hours, and then, after you dress them and bring them to the set, you'll have a whole stadium of deflated dolls."

Boykewich, who has short black hair and a matter-of-fact air, walked from the studio into her parents' house and switched on a laptop. She played a clip from "Gridiron Gang," a 2006 movie that stars Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson and is exactly the kind of film that Inflatable Crowd is made for. "That one looks a little funny," Boykewich said, pointing to an inflatable in the stadium whose face looked as if it were about to blow off. (Wind is a big problem on set with inflatables.) As Boykewich talked, her dog, a shepherd mix named Remy, wandered in. (Her mother said the dog was "terrified" of the inflatables at first.)

Inflatables--five hundred of them-- play a role in a pivotal scene in "Salt," the Angelina Jolie thriller that opens Friday (the scene is set in St. Bartholomew's Church, on Park Avenue). They made their debut in "Seabiscuit," in 2003. During filming, an assistant named Joe Biggins was given the task of creating a crowd for the racetrack scenes. Before then, cardboard cutouts had been the most popular way to save on extras. But a racetrack is not a stadium. The crowd, instead of wrapping around a field, sits on one side of the track; so, as the camera followed the horses around the track, the spectators would be revealed as a bunch of flat cutouts. "I saw some serious issues with the 2-D solution," Biggins said, "so I came up with the idea for an inflatable. …

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