Why every actor should own combat boots

by Ed

Very important bit of advice for actors out there: Buy a pair of combat boots.

At some point in your professional career you will get hired to play a soldier, cop, security guard, EMT, or other character that will wear some form of black service boot. Now this role will probably be just two lines – if you’re lucky – but it could just be featured extra work.

(I know you’re better than that, but you shouldn’t be above it. You’re a professional actor, an emotion jockey. You whore your tricks out to whatever production has the cash… The only time you should be picky is when you have a better offer for the same day)

Regardless of whether you get to speak or just stand there looking pretty, the part will be small enough that wardrobe is not going to buy a pair of boots just for you to wear. Nope, you’re gonna get whatever comes out of the big cardboard box in the corner of the wardrobe trailer. Here are some facts about these boots:

1. They will probably not be real service boots, but whatever black boots happened to be on sale. I’ve seen Harley-Davidson brand boots with the Harley-Davidson logo greeked out*. They don’t really go with your camouflage, and it doesn’t really help you feel the part.

(*”to greek out” is Hollywood lingo for covering up a logo. I’m sure you’ve seen this before. Common techniques are to cover it with tape, scribble over it with a Sharpie, or slap a generic sticker over where the Apple logo should be.)

2. The boots they give you will be pretty gross. Yes, the wardrobe department will attempt clean them since the last person wore them… but having to clean 75 pairs in a row means it gets a bit slap dash at times, and then they get to go moldy in the big box o’ boots until it’s your turn to wear them.

3. They absolutely, positively, will not fit. Not even close. The conversation with wardrobe will go something like this:

“What size shoe do you wear?”

Size 9.

“Here’s an 11.”

Uh, do you have anything smaller?

“We have a size 6 if you want…”

All of Don Martin's characters got their shoes from the same wardrobe trailer that you will.

And it’s not like they ran out of your size because you got there too late. All those other guys standing around in their perfectly sized boots, comfortable all day long? Nope. No one is wearing the right size (except for maybe that size 6 guy, but he needs a win every now and then).

Also, keep in mind that someone called you the day before and asked for your sizes. They KNEW that a size 9 was coming in. Makes you wonder why the bothered to ask for sizes in the first place.

So now you get stand around all day in a pair of moldy, oversized boots that don’t really go with what you’re wearing, trying to move and act like a professional… Made somewhat the more difficult because you keep tripping over your massive clown toes. Great.

This last thing is a pretty big inconvenience, especially when you break a toe because of it.

Allow me to set the way back machine to distant past of 2001. I had been hired as an extra on the movie “Megiddo: The Omega Code 2”. It’s an action disaster film funded by The Trinity Broadcasting Network, which you would know as that channel with the scary pink haired televangelist woman. The movie starred R. Lee Ermy as the President of the United States; Michael Biehn as the VP; and Michael York as his brother, the president of the European Union (who is also secretly Satan).

Doesn’t really matter. The job payed $158 for eight hours, and because of overtime and other pay bumps, we were walking out of there with $400+ a day… And the job was super cool*. We were playing The New World Order Army (run by Satan), and were dressed in blue military jackets and red pants. We looked like god damn Cobra soldiers from G.I. Joe, and ran around with machine guns all day. It’s like those civil war reenactment things, only WAY more awesome. And we got paid $400 a day.

Not the best camouflage. Only the most awesome.

(*The job was also super cold. We were out in the Antelope Valley just north of LA, where it was below freezing on those long overnight shoots. Day shoots meanwhile were well over 100 degrees.)

I also made it a point to get shot and killed in every take. Which apparently was a rarity. A lot of the other extras were real military types, and all of them refused to die on camera. Guess they didn’t want to jinx themselves or something.

(Pretty sure that three out of every four bad guys getting killed is me.)

The first day of filming for me was the above climactic battle scene. There was one take where they would have a bunch of pyrotechnic stunts, assorted fireballs and a jeep flipping over.

Except the boots I had were way too big. I was wearing two pairs of socks and had stuffed a third sock into the toe of each boot, and while this did take up some of the slack, it did not make the boots fit like a proper shoe should. It was a bit more akin to wearing snowshoes… Attached to you yes, but not exactly the most efficient way of getting around from a kinesthetic standpoint.

This all added up to making it very difficult to run at anything faster than an athletic hobble. However, when there are tanks tearing through the set and machine gun fire going off all around you, you motivate to run a touch faster. 14 hours of that, and when I got home I was limping. Apparently jamming my toe all day long in ill-fitting boots caused a fracture of my small toe.

Have you ever broken a toe before? It takes forever to heal, because you always use your toes when walking… Which means you are going to re-break it half a dozen times over the next six weeks.

I count myself lucky having gotten off with only a broken toe though. Some other extra made a wrong turn and had a pyrotechnic charge go off near his face, which immediately shut everything down for about an hour. A very EXPENSIVE hour.

(The extra was fine by the way, he scraped his cheek when he hit the ground and he was a touch singed, but he finished out the day. I would later hear him say “I was tempted to walk off set and call a lawyer, but I have a devotion to the majesty of film”)

By the way, I consider my toe to be a self-inflicted wound. See, I already had my very own set of combat boots, I just didn’t bring them to set. NEVER provide your own clothes if you can help it, because odds are that they are going to get ruined over the course of the day and the company will pay you a measly $50 to replace it if it happens. I own a Hugo Boss Tuxedo. I got married in it, and I look awesome in it. I damned well better, because it cost a fortune. I will never wear it to set.

I'm dashing as hell here. And by "dashing", I mean "simultaneously drunk and sleazy"

I still recommend that one should never bring their own clothes unless they are willing to have them ruined, but I now make an exception for combat boots.

The next day I dug my old combat boots out of storage, taped up my littlest piggy, and went back to set. Even with the crack in my bone, it was far more comfortable than running around in the wrong boots the day prior.

Man, I sure have been talking about my toe a lot. Toe toe toe.

Anyway, you don’t need to splash out on a pair of fancy boots, a surplus shop or discount sporting goods store like Big 5 Sports should have a suitable pair of black service boots for about $30. I recommend buying a pair of Dr. Scholl’s insoles and bringing them with you. Combat boots are not known for being the most comfortable of footwear and you will be standing around in them all day long. Best to make them as cushy as possible.

Also, save the receipts, as it’s all tax deductible.

Oh, and in case you were thinking that it was just a one time bad experience on my part, and that I might have got the right sized boots on another shoot? At some point when we were cleaning house my combat boots wound up in the “donate to Goodwill pile”. I have been combat boot-less now for the last year, and in said twelve months I have played a soldier three times and a cop once… Each time, with really grubby ill-fitting boots from the box of mutant shoes in the wardrobe trailer. So today I’m popping down to the surplus store to grab a new pair of sh*tkickers.

See you there?