The explosion of a real fire engine is the centerpiece of the season finale of Fox’s “9-1-1” (Monday, 8 p.m.). Make no mistake: CGI was not used to achieve this spectacular effect.
The scene was shot in downtown LA over the course of two nights, one for the explosion itself, the other for the acting required by stars such as Peter Krause before and after the blow-up. “You start to set up before the sun goes down and you shoot until the sun comes up,” says executive producer Tim Minear.
It was midnight before the scene was camera-ready. Although the first responders are seen manning the fire engine as it comes through a tunnel, a stunt driver was required to steer the truck into the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street.
“He’s a fit 70 year-old,” Minear says. “They strap him in, blow up the truck and pull him out. He collects his check and goes home.”
Members of the visual special effects team rigged the truck with explosives, which have been planted by a mail bomber in the story line, and everyone hoped for the best. “It’s a lot of gasoline,” says Minear. “We have a bazillion cameras getting it from all sides.”
Firefighter Evan “Buck” Buckley (Oliver Stark) is pinned under the fire engine.jack.zeman.photographer
Fortunately, Minear’s team was able to get the scene in one take. In addition to the explosion, which gravely injures fireman Evan “Buck” Buckley (Oliver Stark), the finale includes two other storylines, with comedic elements.
“People want to see the big, hilarious, what-did-I just-see rescues. Which are fun for us,” Minear says. “We found this groove of very funny, gross rescues that allow us to turn on a dime — or maybe a silver dollar — with something that’s more fraught, like the bomber story.”
In the first stunt, a race car driver (Steve Wilcox) working under the hood of his vehicle gets his Gregg Allman hairdo trapped in the engine. He’s scalped. As the first responders take apart the engine, the driver is hectored by his wife (Charisma Carpenter). “The whole top of his head was a prosthetic that peeled off in a horrifying manner,” Minear says.
The middle story is Minear’s favorite case, thus far, on the Fox series. Using her iPhone’s camera, a social media influencer instructs her followers on the perfect way to pop a pimple. As she squeezes, a green, gherkin-sized maggot slithers out of her cheek. Screaming, she falls to the floor. “My favorite line was when she says, ‘Siri, call 911,’ ” Minear says, laughing.
The face maggot was made of rubber and gelatin. “It moved pretty well, but we animated it slightly with CGI,” Minear says.