Sunday, November 12, 2006

Open With A Bang

Deja Vu
John Frazier, a long-time Hollywood 'powder guy', is the pyrotechnics specialist that is responsible for the above ball of flame from "Deja Vu" which punctuates the opening sequence of the film. Frazier shared an Oscar for best visual effects in "Spiderman 2" and worked on "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor". He was asked by the producer and director (Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott) to create a spectacular and horrifying explosion to represent a terrorist bombing in order to lock the audience into the story.

As for the anatomy of the explosion, Frazier says:

"Each gasoline bomb we rigged would burn off in three seconds if it went off by itself," he explained. "But when you set off 50 gasoline bombs like we did within five seconds, there's a cumulative heat effect that feeds on itself, and which just sucks this huge fireball into the hot air that keeps rising above the ferry. We added a little diesel fuel to give the fireball a red color, and a lot of black dirt, which gives the fireball its dark entrails."

Okay, I know what you're thinking -- nice, but so what? With a little practice I could blow stuff up for the movies, too. But, herein lies the rub -- this ferry, the Alvin T. Stumpf, was returned to service four days after the explosion was shot. Could you do that? Hats off Mr. Frazier. Here's more:

At the end of the "Deja Vu" ferry explosion, 1,000 gallons of the gasoline-diesel fuel mixture burned long enough for the movie pros to simulate what only looks to be a catastrophe. Mr. Frazier and his special effects crew were inside the ferry with fire hoses and extinguishers as the special effects were detonated. New Orleans firefighters stood by but remained out of action.

"The code of a powder guy is that we put out our own fires," Mr. Frazier said. (Another of Mr. Frazier's credos is: Don't hire military veterans trained in explosives -- "All they want to do is rip and tear," he said -- or anyone who claims he loved blowing things up as a child. "They're a little too spooky.")

About the story element, screenwriter Bill Marsilii was brought to tears when he saw the explosion -- but he has good reason:

"I saw these incredible flames, and I just burst into tears," said Bill Marsilii, one of the film's writers, who was standing 300 yards away when the explosion took place last April. "My first thought was 'My God, what have I done?' "

As an aspiring screenwriter in September 2001, Mr. Marsilii stood on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street, near his Greenwich Village apartment, and watched in horror as the World Trade Center towers fell.

And: "One of the unique virtues of a time-travel story like 'Deja Vu' is that it allows you to have your disaster and stop it too," he said.

But he acknowledged that five years after he witnessed the events of Sept. 11, he was treading on dangerous ground by giving today's attention-deficit film audiences such a bang in the first few minutes.

"If anyone sees that explosion and applauds," he said, "then we've totally failed as filmmakers."

Complete story at NYT

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