Last Friday we spent the day on the set of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
We had been asked to donate our time and equipment to the project of turning a house into an erupting volcano during demolition.
While this was the first “volcano house” we have ever made, in the pyrotechnics world strange requests are nothing new.
With little more information than that, we loaded up the truck with anything we thought might be useful and made the 8 hour trek to Medford, Ore.
We brought along my brother-in-law Mike, an extremely clever and all-around good guy that you want on a project like this.
He seems to relish a challenge and figuring out how to safely provide what the producers wanted with little time and no advanced plan was indeed a challenge.
Also along for the ride was my 10-year-old daughter, Kate. I have never allowed her to miss school for a pyro job but I decided to make an exception since it is for a charitable cause and a unique chance for her to see what we do from behind
I bring the children along to many of our shows and projects but we always watch it from afar, as a member of the audience.
When it is a “paying gig,” professionalism is paramount and dragging the family around backstage is a no-no in our book.
As is gaping at celebrities, asking for autographs, and taking photos (unless it’s of the actual pyrotechnics for our business use.)
But this was an entirely different experience and we were warmly welcomed by the producers, directors, crew, and stars of the show.
The entertainment industry is an incredibly jaded business.
It’s all about money, schedules, and status. Surly road crews, stressed out managers, and performers with serious diva attitudes are the norm.
But there was no evidence of that here. Everyone seemed to be aware of the higher purpose they were serving.
Reminders of the family they were helping were everywhere and that goal was always in the forefront of everything going on.
We arrived on the scene around 3pm and the entire neighborhood was a warren of activity.
There were vehicles, equipment, tents, and trailers everywhere.
And people. Thousands of volunteers in blue shirts and white hardhats swarmed around the construction site.
In a unique situation, there was room for them to start the new house before the old house was demolished.
We were shocked that the foundation for the new house had just been poured the previous morning.
In the 7 hours that we were there, it went from an incomplete stick frame to a fully enclosed and almost completely roofed structure.
The hourly progress was astounding. They really do build it in 106 hours.
But our project was over at the old house.
Rick and Mike worked inside the sweltering house along with Kai, an expert in television and movie special effects.
Together, they rigged a platform inside the house that would shoot 30ft high flames and spew smoke and simulated ash and pumice out of a hole they cut in the roof.
At dusk, Rick and Mike hunkered down inside the 120 degree house, filled with explosives and blinding smoke to fire off the effects.
Kate and I gathered in front of the house with the cast and a small group of volunteers to film the ensuing mayhem.
Most of the day, Kate was pretty bored even with the carte blanche we were given to explore the vast off-screen production site.
She got a pretty good taste of how dull and repetitious filming anything can be.
But this finale was exciting and fun. She and I were standing up front with the cast during the taping, in between carpenter Paige Hemmis and special guest, “Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition” host Chris Powell.
Since everyone else around us, except the cast, is wearing blue volunteer shirts, we will probably stand out when the episode airs.
A prospect that thrills Kate but not so much for me. I’m much happier behind the scenes.
The effects went off spectacularly and everyone was pleased with the final product.
We were exhausted but elated on our long 8 hour journey home.
You see, we had to get home by daybreak Saturday to take much needed showers before heading up to Everett, less Mike and Kate, to oversee the pyrotechnics at the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Three shows on Saturday and two on Sunday. Such is the life of a pyrotechnician.
The episode we were involved in will probably air sometime in October.
It’s their 200th episode. If you happen to see it, just remember:
the camera adds 10 (or is it 20?) pounds! LOL