Full Body Burn
I definitely took this stunt way too lightly
when I heard about it for the first time. The original plan was for a "back
burn", which didn't seem like a very big deal to me. I knew that Hollywood
stunt guys had been doing these for years and the suits were totally
flameproof. But that was all I knew. And it ended up being a problem.
The day of the stunt I showed up completely clueless. I
actually had my mind on other upcoming stunts that concerned me more. And the
burn was only half of the day's work. Marisa and I were also going through
"ratchet" training that day in preparation for the upcoming train
stunt. We did the ratchet stuff first and were done with that by noon.
The fire stunt was set for around 5:00, so I had a lot of waiting around to do.
I still knew nothing about it, and so I still wasn't worried. I should
have been asking the stunt coordinator some questions. But no. Instead I
was on the phone all afternoon trying to work out some problems I was
having with the DMV.
Around 3:30 the stunt coordinator approached me to start
my training. It was at that point that he asked me if I would be doing a back
burn or a full-body burn. I was surprised by the question because I had been
informed days earlier that we were set to do the back burn. I told him this and
he said that it was completely up to me. I asked him what he thought and he told
me that a full-body burn was definitely more dangerous, but he felt that I could
pull it off. That is usually all I ever need to hear, so I opted for the full
burn. I assumed that everybody involved knew of my decision and would plan
accordingly. Well, we all know what happens when you assume anything.
The training that I went through was actually quite
simple. The first thing I had to do was demonstrate my lung capacity. The stunt
coordinator explained that being on fire would naturally put my body in panic
mode and my heart rate would be rapidly accelerated. To simulate this situation,
I had to run sprints and then stop and hold my breath as long as possible. I did
around 40 seconds which was apparently acceptable. The burn would last about 15
seconds, during which I would not be able to breathe. Since I also would
not be able to open my eyes during the burn, I had to do practice "fire
walks" toward a small kiddy pool with my eyes closed. That stupid pool was
another part of the big problem. I know that normally stunt guys go for full
size pools or just get put out by a bunch of fire extinguishers. But no. Not me.
I had to blindly hit that tiny pool starting from about 30 feet away. The stunt
coordinator finished up my training with a few final words. He explained to me
that I would be burning at 800 degrees F, and that if I were to panic, I would
definitely get hurt or killed. I was beginning to take this stunt more
About 15 minutes prior to the stunt, the problems started.
The director wanted the shot to happen in a very small time window around
sunset. We couldn't really start preparing early because they needed to coat me
with fire gel that would only last for about 5 minutes. So we were forced to
cram at the last minute. And with only one chance at this shot, it was very
stressful for everybody involved. Then the most major problem of all surfaced. A
small breeze started to pick up. And it was coming from my back, which is the
worst possible situation since it would cause the fire to wrap around the front
of my body and hit my face. Nobody had planned for any wind because it had been
calm all day. But the temperature change at this time of the day is what caused
the sudden breeze. All of the cameras were set at this point and we really only
had two choices - go or no go. It was up to me and I guess I really didn't
understand the critical nature of the situation, because I didn't hesitate to
give the thumbs up. I have learned to call this "Kodak courage".
Everybody started taking their positions and I was
quickly covered in fire gel. This nasty stuff was used to protect my exposed
skin from the extreme heat. My entire head was lathered in it, even in my ears
and nose. My eyes had to stay shut from this point on, so I needed to rely on
the mental picture I had painted from my training. They lined me up with the
kiddy pool and pulled a hood over my face. Everybody was in such a hurry that
nobody noticed the hood was not covering my nose. I didn't know any better so I
didn't say anything. I could hear everything happening and I was starting
to get nervous. When I smelled the torch being lit I had to force myself to stay
calm. But my heart was pounding. I got the command to hold my breath and then
felt the torch touch my ankle. I quickly felt the warmth running up my leg. I
waited anxiously for the command to start walking. It seemed to take forever.
The flames were starting to get loud. When I finally got the command, I took my
first two steps slowly, as I was supposed to. But then somebody panicked and
started yelling,"Uh oh, uh oh!" At the exact same instant, I
felt my face start burning. I freaked out and ran straight ahead. Luckily I hit
the pool and fell in. I popped my head up out of the water and could still feel
it burning, so I went back under, still holding my breath. When I came up the
second time, I had to grab a breath of air. They ripped my hood off and threw a
blanket over me. For a second I felt like the fire was out. But then my crotch
started burning. I freaked out again and they poured a bucket of ice water down
my pants. The funny thing was that everybody expected me to jump from this
freezing cold water. But it felt great! I was very happy to be
I ended up with second degree burns all over my face. I
was ugly for about a month with huge scabs on my nose and eyelids. On the
following shoots, my face had to be coated with makeup to look normal. I
was sort of bummed about this outcome, but looking back at the footage actually
made it worth it. Watching the tapes revealed everything that went wrong.
The major problem was that the wind had picked up and the fire wrapped around my
face. The stunt coordinator was standing behind me and could not see this, so
his command to start walking came late. That was why the person panicked. And my
hood was definitely on wrong. Oh well. You learn I guess. I have taken my fair
share of crap from stunt professionals who saw that stunt on TV. Yeah, it
was done wrong, I'll admit. I had no business doing a full burn.
Aerial Photography Los Angeles