At No Film School, we love practical effects and stunts. They can be fairly inexpensive, and create a sense of realism in the film while letting filmmakers flex their creative muscles to create excellent moments of cinema that leave the audience wondering, “How did they do that?”
And we are not the only ones who love practical effects. Many of our favorite filmmakers like Robert Eggers, Steven Spielberg, and Christopher Nolan love to use practical effects and stunts to make their worlds feel and look as realistic as possible. While practical effects can be some of the most entertaining aspects of filmmaking, there can be some negative aspects.
Actor Kevin Bacon recently recalled a disgusting moment while filming Ron Howard’sApollo 13. Howard chose not to use special effects and wires to simulate zero gravity for the film’s space sequences. Instead, the crew modified a KC-135 reduced-gravity Stratotanker, a plane dubbed the “Vomit Comet,” to achieve the effect of weightlessness through free fall.
Howard’s choice to film Apollo 13 in actual zero-gravity was a bold move. The decision ended up subjecting the cast and crew to a whole slew of problems that are not common on set, leading to a very interesting production.
Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert in 'Apollo 13'Credit: Universal Pictures
With a set built inside the aircraft, the cast, which included Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Bacon, acted out their scenes while weightless for a maximum of 25 seconds as the plane dipped through the air. Being weightless for any amount of time can do a number on the human body.
In an interview with EW,Bacon recalled taking anti-nausea pills to stop any stomach issues that could occur during his multiple trips up and down through the atmosphere on the Vomit Comet. Unfortunately, the pills didn’t help everyone, and a cameraman puked on Bacon during a weightless scene.
“What’s interesting about being thrown up one when it’s zero-G is that it hovers there for a while,” said Bacon. “It’s floating, and there’s nothing you can really do, expect to go, ‘Here it comes,’ and when they hit the G forces, it’s coming down on you.”
The culprit that messed up the camera operator’s stomach was the spicy catering that was brought for lunch.
“We would do about 40 parabolas in the morning, come down and have lunch, and do about 40 parabolas in the afternoon,” said Bacon. “But it was a giant Mexican fest with burritos and chili con carne, and all this really spicy food… I was afraid I was going to be wearing it that afternoon.”
Bacon and his costars knew that all-day trips on an aircraft that was nicknamed after regurgitation promised some motion-sickness issues and diligently measured to ensure that no such thing would happen. Unfortunately, the camera op’s stomach couldn’t handle the spice and the lack of gravity.
While nothing seems as bad as watching vomit float in the air for a few seconds before it hits you, Bacon’s story reminds me of Miles Teller revealing on Late Night with Seth Meyers that he ended up with jet fuel in his blood during the shoot of Top Gun: Maverick.
Miles Teller as LT Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in 'Top Gun: Maverick'Credit: Paramount Pictures
The cast performed many of their own stunts for the film, delivering their lines from the cockpits of F/A-18 Super Hornets that were in flight. After falling ill and discovering hives all over his body, Teller's blood analysis revealed that he had wild things like flame retardant and jet fuel in his bloodstream.
“I got to set the next day and Tom’s like, ‘How did it go, Miles? What did they find?’ I was like, 'Well, Tom, it turns out I have jet fuel in my blood,'" he said on Seth Meyers.
Teller said Cruise's reply was, “Yeah, I was born with it, kid.”
After hearing about the many trials and tribulations that the cast and crew of these films faced during production, I wonder if these practical effects and stunts are worth it. While I would love for the answer to always be “yes,” you should always pick the option that not only works for your project and budget but keeps your cast and crew safe.
Or maybe in Apollo 13’s case, don’t order spicy food for lunch if you are going to do a big stunt afterward.
Do you have any stories surrounding a practical stunt or an effect? Share them with us in the comments below, and let's debate which is better!