American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 16

Quick Tip
"One of the nice things about
basic white smoke is that I can use it to
create some color contrast in the scene,"
says Crothers. "With all the warm fire
around, if I backlight the smoke with a
daylight-based source, I can make it a bit
bluer and have that as contrast against the
warm fire."

Top: Actors work on the show's Burn Stage. Above: Crothers lines up a shot.

as many edits as we can within a single
setup, but they never run very long. We
might be able to run a one- or two-minute
take with just five or six fire elements in the
scene, but if we have 15 or 20 fire elements
going on, after 20 or 30 seconds the heat is
far too intense and we have to stop. Most
of our takes on the Burn Stage are between
20 and 30 seconds - a character runs
down a hallway, kicks open a door and
that's it. Then it takes another 45 minutes to
an hour to reset for the next setup.
"Very rarely will we do a take-two,
as even that can take 15 minutes or more to
reset," Crothers adds. "If an actor misses a
line, we just keep going; if someone makes
a mistake, we just keep going. If anything
ever goes truly wrong, though, anyone on
the set can yell 'fire out' at any time, and
everything is instantly extinguished, no
questions asked. In the five years I've been
on the show, that's only happened once,
and it was during the setting of fire levels,
16

July 2018

not an actual take. For obvious reasons, we
take safety extremely seriously."
Before the start of each new setup,
the crew clears the set and turns it over to
special-effects coordinator John Milinac and
his team, who check every fire pipe, hose
and connection to ensure there are no leaks
and everything is safe. Depending on the
number of fire pipes used in the shot, it can
take 30 minutes to an hour to check the
entire set. "For example, the hallway on the
second floor of our multilevel set is about 6
feet wide by 40 feet long," Crothers notes.
"Each fire pipe is about 4 feet long, and
they are rigged along the set at specific
intervals. For a big burn, we might have 30
feet of fuel pipes on each side of the hallway, placed in gaps designed into the set's
baseboard."
All crewmembers who need to be in
the Burn Set wear protective suits - either
full firefighter turnout gear for the larger
fires, or lighter suits that allow for more
American Cinematographer

mobility for smaller burns. Therefore, with
the exception of the actors portraying the
victims trapped in the fire, the cast and crew
are all dressed like firefighters. "Victims are
always played by stunt performers,"
explains Crothers. "They'll get coated in
'burn jelly' [a protective fire-retardant gel],
but they're still the most vulnerable and
susceptible to heat damage, and they're the
ones we really have to watch out for. When
the fire is turned on, the temperature can
rise more than 100 degrees in seconds. We
make sure that no open flame is ever too
near a stunt performer."
Crothers starts a day on the Burn
Stage with a walk-through alongside
Milinac. The cinematographer shares, "I'll
get a diagram at the beginning of the day
showing me where the fire pipes will be
and what number each one is labeled, and
we go one pipe at a time, setting levels -
more fire here, less there. When we set the
levels, we set them individually, turning on
one pipe, eyeballing its level, and then turning it off and moving on to the next one.
We discuss the action around each pipe
very carefully. Where will the actors be?
Where will the crew be? Where will stunts
be? We discuss any flame that might be
close to windows, as too much heat can
cause glass to crack and shatter.
"Then we need to test [all of the fire
pipes] at once, and a lot of complicated
physics take place," he continues. "If you
have several pipes in close proximity to each
other, they all wind up competing for the
same oxygen, and each one can end up
being significantly smaller than if it were the
only pipe that was burning. Also, if one
propane tank is branched off to several
pipes, the pipes can all be low because the
gas is being divided between them.
"There's also ceiling fire, which we
affectionately call 'brain fire,'" Crothers
adds. "It's fueled by propane that is pooled



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2018

Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 1
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American Cinematographer - July 2018 - Contents
American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 4
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