Tom Irion has long been an advocate of movies being filmed in the Socorro area.
He feels the area has a lot to offer when it comes to film locations from the Quebradas to the east to the snow capped mountains to the west.
Irion admits to constantly being in contact with the New Mexico Film Office about bringing productions here.
“But I don’t take any credit,” Irion said with a laugh about bringing the filming of “12 Strong: The Story of the Horse Soldiers” to Socorro a year ago.
He was, however, one of about 50 local residents involved in the filming of the movie here. The movie opened on Jan. 19 nationwide. It will open this Friday night at the New Loma Theater.
“I wouldn’t call us extras,” Socorro resident Ernie Lopez said. “They called us background. We were lower than the extras.”
Lopez, Irion and Gary Jaramillo were among local residents who answered ads to a casting call in the fall of 2016.
“I really thought it would be interesting to experience it from the inside,” Irion said of his interest of being involved in the filming.
“It's exciting to be involved in anything that will bring our hometown into the national limelight,” Jaramillo said.
Irion sent in his photo, but wasn’t sure of getting a call back. The casting call was for Hispanics, Native Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent.
They got back in touch with him.
“It was an amazing transformation,” Irion said of his look after the makeup was put on.
Lopez took part in a casting call at a local hotel the previous November. He received his call as filming was about to begin last January.
One of the biggest thrills for Irion was getting to see
a part of M Mountain most people do not get to see.
“They had us on the south side of the mountain,” Irion said. “There are incredible canyons back there. … Ernie Lopez had worked out there. He told me what to expect.”
Military personnel have used areas around M Mountain for training for missions in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. It was for that reason Socorro was chosen for the filming of 12 Strong, according to Don Gray, the contract locations coordinator with the New Mexico Film Office.
Gray told The Chieftain last year areas around Socorro and other parts of New Mexico were selected because “it looked like Afghanistan.”
“It’s a lot safer to film here than in the Middle East,” Gray said.
Lopez, who worked at EMRTC for 24 years, said knowledge of the terrain didn’t always prove to be an advantage.
Much of the work included running up and down hills in battle scenes, and there was an occasion where they had to chase horses.
Lopez admitted to getting winded and had to be picked up by a four-wheeler.
“And there was this older Indian gentleman who must have been in his 70s who kept going and walked right on by while I was standing on the side of the road,” Lopez said with a laugh.
“In one scene Ernie and I were running in full costume with rifles in a battle scene and I turned my ankle a little bit,” Jaramillo added. “You have to pay attention to your surroundings when in action on set. I recovered nicely though.”
“There was a lot of waiting around,” Irion said. “Then there was probably a couple of hours of intense running down hill.”
Irion said he was impressed with all of the “logistics, coordination and money” that goes into a film production.
Micheal Singer, unit publicist for the film, said filming in the Socorro area took place during the span of more than eight days, many of those days were 12-hour days for cast and crew.
“One of the things I’ll remember the most is how they fed us out in the boonies,” Lopez said. “They sure did have a big spread of steaks and shrimp. In the mornings, you could have omelets or cereal. It was enough to keep you going for the rest of the day.”
Irion also said he remembered the “carnies” who followed the production from place to place from locations such as Alamogordo.
“The whole experience was excellent,” Irion said. “They treated us well.”
“It's fun but it can be exhausting physically, and the repetition doing scenes and waiting for the word ‘Action’ takes plenty of time on most days,” Jaramillo said. “Everyone loves dressing up and getting away for a bit from the everyday lives they lead.”
Irion and Lopez said they didn’t get a chance to work with the main stars of the film Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña and Trevante Rhodes.
“We mostly worked with the second unit,” Irion said. “We worked in some of the scenes with their stunt doubles.”
Hemsworth was spotted at Socorro Springs, where he posed in selfies with area residents. The actor also posted on his Facebook page a video of a basketball shot he made at a court at New Mexico Tech’s gym.
The City of Socorro provided stables for the horses during the production.
“Most of the benefits were not the city proper as far as government is concerned,” Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker said. “The vendors of course and the hotels never had a bigger month.”
“12 Strong” is based on a book by Doug Stanton, with a screenplay by Ted Tally and Peter Craig, and tells a powerful true story of events which occurred in the aftermath of 9/11.
The story centers on a U.S. Special Forces team and their untested captain who are sent to a rugged, mountainous region of Afghanistan, where they join forces with a Northern Alliance warlord to fight against overwhelming odds to drive out the Taliban.
Local participants will be honored with a red carpet event beginning at 5:30 p.m. Residents will get to have their picture taken with a cutout of Hemsworth. Mini movie posters will be given away. Rob Lopez will perform the National Anthem and there will be a presentation of the flag.
There will also be a slide presentation of local residents participating in the filming.
Ernie Lopez has seen the movie. He calls it a good action movie.
But he did not notice himself in any of the scenes. He plans on viewing the movie again to see if he can spot himself in the action.
Irion believes he saw himself in the trailer in one of the battle scenes.