When Things Go Wrong Take 2

Here’s the second of the three scary incidents that occurred during the shooting of Terminal City Ricochet. During a prison break to liberate our heroes, a huge guard in riot gear jumps up and orders them to halt. A second guard, in true trigger happy Terminal City Ricochet fashion, appears on a catwalk some distance above and behind the first guard and, supposedly aiming at our escaping heroes, shoots him in the back.

The squib in the down filled vest didn’t give me the spectacular image I was hoping for. But I wouldn’t have pushed that button. Twice.

The special FX contingent of the crew came to me with the idea. If the first guard could be dressed in a down filled vest, the front of which was packed with explosive squibs, we could backlight the performer and have a beautiful shot of feathers and shrapnel and rain hanging in the air. I was assured that this would be a spectacular image.

Since I’d be covering the scene in a wide shot, the guard with the exploding vest would have to push his own button to trigger the charge.

It happened that the night we shot this scene was blessed with a heavy Vancouver rain. That made everybody miserable, but with the water on the ground and in the air, glistening in the lights, the look was beautiful. We did one rehearsal with no exploding vest, then re-set for the real deal. The first guard stepped into the shot. “Halt.”
Cue the second guard appearing behind him. We see the muzzle flash of his shotgun as he fires the blank. We hear a muffled thump as the squibs in the vest are triggered and the down filled vest bulges out a bit. But no flurry of feathers. No shrapnel and feathers and rain gloriously backlit by film lights powerful enough to give us all headaches. Our first guard falls down and our heroes rush out of the shot. Ho hum.


So what happened? My first thought was that the squibs had been placed in the vest to blow inward instead of out into the lights. That would mean my actor took a full shot of explosives right over his heart. My god, we’ve killed the guy.

Fortunately that isn’t what had happened. Close, but not quite.

What had happened was that the rain had soaked the down filled vest, so that the filling became a solid mass instead of a nice fluffy bunch of feathers. The exploding squib had hit this mass of solidified feathers and bounced back onto the chest of the actor. He described it as being akin to the famous Bruce Lee three inch hard punch to his chest. Such a punch well might have killed our actor, but fortunately he was a sturdy gentleman with a good padding of flesh over his ribs. So it didn’t kill him. It just hurt the way you might expect a very hard punch to the chest to hurt.

It never ceases to amaze me, the courage and dedication of aspiring actors, especially the stunt performers in SBE (Special Business Extra) categories. For that matter, it never ceases to amaze me, the shear gall of my own a commitment as a director. I seem to turn into a psychopath. “Are you ready to give me take two?” He was, and he did, of course after we reset with a dry vest and made sure he wouldn’t get punched again. Now that was a guy with cajones. It still must have taken something to push that button.

Once again, I would welcome a comment. You can make one by clicking on the link that is the last in the categories list at the bottom of this page, or on the link to comments in the shape of a statement bubble at the top right.
And if you happen to be the brave soul who gave me take two, please check in and say hello to your fans. I’m definitely one of them.

A Benefit of Exposure

I often ask myself what the point is of putting out this blog. Why expose myself to the incredible range of humanity? Why risk attracting a nutter who, for whatever reason, gets a hate on for me and decides to take me down a peg or two? Back when I did a brief stint as a public service advisor for MCI, we were explicitly forbidden from disclosing any personal information or our location. “If you think there isn’t somebody out there crazy enough to travel thousands of miles to bomb this location and kill you over some imaginary affront done to them by you or by this company, let me tell you that you are wrong. When the masses learn who you are and where you work, there will be somebody among them who is crazy enough to decide to travel thousands of miles just to kill you.,” was his speech during our training session. I disagreed with him, though I had to admit he swung a compelling argument. Just consider the case of John Lennon’s murder to see his point.

Still, I disagreed with him then, and do now. It’s my belief that humanity is full of incredible individuals, people who would like nothing more than to be your friend and make a connection to you. Exposing yourself, your religious beliefs, and your location on this planet is worth the risk. Though maybe not if you make a hobby out of denigrating religious fanatics or work for a huge corporation that has “Screw the customers,” as part of its mission statement.

This long preamble is just to introduce the topic of this post. Back when this blog was being written in China under the name www.themaninchina.com, I wrote a post about my bull whip making. That sparked a brief exchange with a fellow named Matt Galizia who shares my interest in that craft. After those friendly messages, I more or less forgot about him. Apparently that isn’t what happened on his end of the exchange. After I completed my last whip, and was very disappointed with the end result, I left that hobby behind, though I did make sure I left China with a kangaroo hide, in case I ever felt like taking it up again. But my last whip took weeks of effort to make. I just haven’t been inspired to try again. Apparently that’s not what happened with Matt.

I got something in the mail last week. Something so gob stoppingly impressive and beautiful that I’m still in recovery. Matt had created a personalized collector’s item whip, just for me. And while I let my whip making hobby slip into my past, Matt has followed his to become a professional level whip maker.

My personalized bullwhip. Check out the smooth curve of the handle into the fall. the smooth transition from one section to the next.

The whip arrived packaged with some spare falls, crackers, and information about the technical construction of the whip (The order of the bellies is 4,6,8,12 and finally the 16 strands that make up the outside of the whip), photographs, and information about making a Scobie hitch. That package alone must have taken a full day to put together.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to crack this whip. It is like a collector’s edition pistol, which loses much of its value if it is ever fired. I’ll have to mount it for display. I don’t have any doubt that it would swing accurately and demonstrate perfect balance. The curve as the handle flows into the thong and the perfectly smooth transitions of the bellies tells me that much. I don’t want to risk scuffing it or causing damage.

It is simply beautiful, and the more I inspect it, the more I appreciate it. I try to be critical, and perhaps you can see flaws that I don’t recognize. But from the handle to the keeper I can see nothing that is short of perfection.

So maybe this is why I take the trouble to reveal myself on the Internet. Without my effort to reach out, I never would have learned about Matt Galizia’s existence. Nor would I have this gorgeous whip as one of my prized possessions. This kind of response from a reader makes it all worth while.

Speaking of which, please take a minute to drop a comment on this, or any other, of my posts. You can find the link to add a comment at the top right hand corner of this page, or as the last item in the list of categories. I’d love to hear from you.


My first impulse was to leave this wonderful whip hanging on gulu gege (“brother skeleton”, a permanent fixture in my office decor) and treat it like a collector’s item pistol, i.e. never firing it. That lasted until curiosity got the better of me and I decided to see how it behaves when I crack it. And that lead to more ambitious cracking.
When Tai Haller first showed me how to crack a whip, there was no source of instruction other than one on one personal tutoring. And that was limited by the fact that not many people in my life can crack a whip. But time passes and things change. Now there is a plethora of instruction on line and I’ve been seduced into expanding my whip cracking repertoire.

The only cracks I’ve learned were very basic – the cattleman’s crack, the overhead crack, and….well, that was pretty much it other than passing the whip to the other hand behind my back and cracking it on my right side. Now I’m learning more exotic cracks, like the fast figure eight and the volley. Check out this excellent tutorial:

He makes it look easy, and with instruction like this it actually is. Timing is everything. As always, your comments are welcome. You will find the link to comment at the bottom of this post.

When Things Go Wrong

We had a couple of incidents shooting Terminal City Ricochet. The first one I’ll tell you about was my fault, and I hope I learned my lesson from it.

I guess I’m proud of this movie, in retrospect. It was strangely prescient, and even more valid today.

The scene called for our heroes to run security in a big old pimpmobile of a car. A guard with a pistol grip shotgun was to stand in front of the vehicle and fire at the windshield, which, being bullet proof, would only sustain a skid mark as damage.

I’ve had a lot of experience with wax bullets from back in my days playing with my Ruger Super Blackhawk 44 magnum with the fast draw club. I would hand load the wax bullets. They were easy enough to make. All it took was loading in a primer and black powder, then pressing the shell casing into nearly molten sealing wax. The result was a non-lethal projectile that would let me see how accurate my shot had been. So here’s my bright idea: I’ll just make a few 12 gauge wax bullets that can be fired at the car windshield, leaving the desired skid mark without penetrating the glass.

Of course we tested this concept on the prop car, and I was really satisfied with the result.

To do the actual shooting I wanted somebody I could trust with a shotgun. So I enlisted my brother, Ed (Bear) Scott, to play the part of the guard. Ed’s day job was as a prison guard. He carried a pistol grip shotgun most days when he was working in the yard. I knew I could trust him to land a shot on the windshield and get out of the way before he got run over.

Comes the day. Everything is all set. The shot goes off perfectly. No problem, until Ed comes on the walky-talky. “You might want to call for an ambulance,” he says calmly. “That bullet went right through.”

Well, holy shit. That doesn’t sound good. We all race for the car, where we find the actors laughing and pointing at the very obvious hole in the windshield. They were splattered with shards of glass, but fortunately nobody was hurt. They certainly could have been. They weren’t even wearing eye protection.

This was the beginning of my aversion to having a real gun on a movie set. It’s not necessary, as I demonstrated quite well using nothing but Final Cut Pro when shooting “Passion”. It’s now a trivial matter to add CGI flame and smoke to the muzzle of a gun that can only go click, completely incapable of sending out a projectile. The result is one hundred percent believable. Actually even better than what you might get with a real gun because you can adjust the look and level of the flash and smoke. But Terminal City Ricochet was shot in the pre-digital days, when adding CGI would have been completely beyond our squeaky tight budget. No longer, and no more. Never again.

That was one of three incidents I can think of where we had a safety issue on Terminal City Ricochet. At one point, my safety officer wrote a letter to his union complaining that I was ignoring safety concerns. That gave me no choice but to fire the man. This was about the time that a helicopter crash killed performers on the set of Twilight Zone the Movie, resulting in criminal charges against the director, John Landis. It was obvious that I, the director, would be in line to take any blame, and with a letter like the one from my safety officer on file, I would have no defense at all. Thinking back on this now, firing the safety officer did nothing to mitigate my legal exposure, but I think firing him for egregious stupidity was certainly justified.
I replaced that safety officer with the head of the stunt man’s union, telling him that he had complete control of the set and that nothing would happen without his approval. He was to sign off on any scene involving a firearm, explosion, or anything else that could be dangerous. None of this would have protected me in the event of another incident, but at least it would give me an argument to make if something else went wrong.

Please stay tuned for two more safety issues on Terminal City Ricochet. It was a scary shoot.

And please, put your thoughts and comments into a comments thread for this post. You can find the link to post a comment at the top right of this page, or at the bottom as the last item on the category list. Comments really help to motivate me to continue writing this kind of material, and ease the feeling that I am screaming into the void. So please, do comment.

Dominance Theory of Directing

I once paid quite a bit of money to attend a workshop on how to be a successful director. I don’t remember what credentials the presenter held, but he managed to turn me off within five minutes of starting his presentation. His first piece of advice was that a director needs to establish dominance by firing somebody. It didn’t matter whom or why, just pick somebody more or less at random and fire them.

No, it wasn’t a program put on by this film school. But similar, I think. A friend convinced me that I needed to attend.

This is the dominance theory of film directing and it’s not for me. I’m ashamed to say I tried it out once on a CBC production in Toronto. I like a quiet, focused set. My hope was that, while the crew would not shape up to make me happy, they would shape up to keep the first AD safe from criticism. So I growled loudly at my first AD: “If you can’t get me quiet on this set, I’m going to get somebody in here who can.” Doing my best to sound angry and nasty.

And then I felt so bad about myself that I never tried being dominant again,

All I can say about this theory of directing is: Don’t be this guy, eh.

I walked out of that expensive workshop after a mere five minutes of listening to the jerk strut and preen his way around the stage. I demanded my money back with the excuse that my back was giving me trouble and I couldn’t stand to remain in the seat. I suppose I could have just told the organizers the truth, but there would have been consequences for that friend of mine who talked me into buying the ticket. Truth can be a dangerous thing to use indiscriminately.

I got my brother, Ed “Bear” Scott, to work with me on Terminal City Ricochet, despite my feelings about nepotism. Mostly I wanted him on set because his day job was as a prison guard. He handled a pistol grip shotgun every working day, and knew how to do so safely. Ed knows me. He knows that I’m a pussycat by nature. And this is what he told me about the crew: “They are terrified of you, you know.” Shaking his head in disbelief.
“You’re kidding,” I told him.
“No I’m not. They are totally terrified of you.”
“What have I ever done to make them afraid of me,” I asked him.
“That’s what I can’t figure out,” he said. “But they are.”
“Must be just the title,” I said.

We had a lot of real guns on that set. Ed told me about a conversation he had with the props master. “You’re going to have an accidental discharge if you do that,” he told the guy.
The response he got roughly translates as “Fuck off. I know what I’m doing.”
And then five minutes later, KABOOOM. One of the pistol grip shotguns went off, to everybody’s surprise, especially the surprise of the props master who was holding it, fortunately pointed straight up in the air.
Ed gave him a look, but didn’t say anything. He’d been in that position himself.

Terminal City Ricochet had a couple of incidents on set that resulted in me having to fire the safety officer, out of self defense, and replace him with the head of the stunt man’s association. More on that in my next post.