Over the years, there have been several firefighter movies released, including Backdraft, The Towering Inferno, Ladder 49, and Fire With Fire. The latest entry in this subgenre is Only the Brave, which takes a lot of the spectacle out of fighting fires itself and provides the audience with a more grounded viewpoint. That is largely due to it being based on the real life Granite Mountain Hotshots, who were the first responders to wildland fires.
More than a handful of actors took the responsibility of portraying these fallen heroes with dignity and dedication. Screen Rant recently sat down with Thad Luckinbill (producer of La La Land, and Only the Brave), Geoff Stults (Unforgettable), and Alex Russell (S.W.A.T) where we discussed the convincing chemistry between 20 men, training with Josh Brolin, and working with pyrotechnics.
SR: You all have such great chemistry in the film. I really felt like you guys were friends and you had this camaraderie. Did Joseph take you on a team building event or was that grown organically?
Geoff Stults: First thing he did was make us all sleep in one big bed. Yes, we started out sleeping together.
Alex Russell: You’d think it’d be a King but….
Geoff Stults: Who would have thought? No, we did more of a boot camp. We didn’t have to sleep with one another.
Alex Russell: Didn’t have to --
Geoff Stults: Everytime.
Alex Russell: In pre-production we did a week of ‘Hotshot Camp’, we would call it, with our technical advisor Pat McCarty, just putting us through it, throwing on the gear, hiking up mountains with chainsaws, all the tools that they have. I don’t think any specific effort had to go into creating chemistry between us because between that and the three month shoot in Santa Fe we had plenty in common.
SR: Miles said he would never do a film again with 20 guys.
Geoff Stults: Really?
SR: He said it was great but was it a frat type of atmosphere?
Thad Luckinbill: You know it was twenty guys [laughs]
Alex Russell: It was definitely twenty guys.
Geoff Stults: It was twenty guys. Everywhere we went…..it was twenty guys.
SR: Tell me a little bit about the physical preparation because it looked grueling. That scene when Miles is hiking and puking that would have been me. I’m not great with the cardio.
Geoff Stults: That brought some flashbacks to me cause that was our very first day of filming so what you guys saw was two minutes of that. That was all day running, running. Brolin like being overzealous, and trying to prove to us that he was in good shape, like come on guy.
Alex Russell: We had to stick with his pace.
Thad Luckinbill: Yeah, and he wasn’t carrying anything.
Geoff Stults: That’s right. Ugh, the worst. So we got after it physically, did a lot of working out together, off set too cause it was from day minus two week before we started to the end of it, three months later. It was always physical for us. I mean it made it fun and entertaining at times and it made it awful and annoying. We knew if we were going to do the things that these guys did, and portray the thing that these guys did we had to physically be able to bring it a little bit. We had to.
Alex Russell: And in all honesty gave us a small glimpse of what real hotshots go through. We were exhausted, we were tired, we were dirty, our eyes stinging with sweat, and all that stuff. I said to someone before, six o'clock rolls around or whatever it is, we go home to our hotel, those guys don’t. They’re still sleeping out there. They’re still in it.
SR: How much pyrotechnics were involved? Did you guys have to train to get used to the heat?
Thad Luckinbill: We had all practical fire sets. As much as we could do and still be safe we had a lot of fire on set, especially when you get into the closeup shots. So you felt the heat, you felt the fire. It’s definitely there, but it wasn’t anything compared to what they do in their real lives.
Geoff Stults: But as far as getting used to it? It’s just hot. No matter how many times you go shoot that. I personally was blown away at, if you look at that fire it’s only four or five feet tall right? It’s not this towering---the heat that comes off of those things when we’re shooting, and you have your back to the flame and you’re like trying to look great for the camera, you feel like your ears are melting. I was so blown away by the amount of energy coming off of these flames even though we were playing firemen that had real firemen to put things out for us. It’s impressive what they do working in that kind of environment every day. It’s crazy to me.
Alex Russell: It’s interesting. I don’t know what the equation is, but it seems to be that how big a fire is if you sit around a campfire, we all know about how hot that is. I feel like as a fire grows the heat grows exponentially. It doesn’t grow as you think it would.
Geoff Stults: Then if the wind changes all of a sudden then that four foot fire is not eight feet. It’s blowing over the top of you. There were a few moments. There was one scene in particular in the finale there where we all ran out. It was time to... the winds changed---
Alex Russell: They were like ‘Get out’, ‘Get out’, ‘Get out’.
Geoff Stults: Let’s go. Yeah.
- Only the Brave (2017) release date: Oct 20, 2017