Other than Deliverance, the only time I’ve had a real close shave on set was while making The Car with James Brolin back in 1977. It was directed by Elliot Silverstein.
At the end of the film, we are scrambling to escape as the car plunges over a cliff as it’s trying to run us down. The script called for a huge explosion when the car hits the ground. The FX crew had put a gazillion gallons of gas down in that canyon to guarantee a spectacular cinematic fireball. We actors where a good 40 or 50 feet back from the edge of the cliff and we were essentially just being foreground extras witnessing our spectacular final triumph over the Car.
None of us thought that it was going to be a dangerous shot. Sure, there was gasoline down in the canyon, but that was a couple of hundred feet down THERE and we were up HERE. On paper the explosion was just supposed to be a big fireball that we deputies who had been terrorized by The Car, finally got to exult in the damn thing meeting it’s doom. But… somehow when they detonated the explosives and gasoline – instead of a ball of flames shooting high over our heads, they folded over the edge of the cliff, only six or eight feet off the ground and soared straight towards us.
The heat was incredible as we scrambled away from the edge and dove to take cover behind the fake movie rocks, the film crew had strategically placed. Once we were behind the rocks, I looked back toward the camera crew and saw that they were leaving the equipment and running for their lives too.
There were about six or eight of us actors in the rocks and we all got blistered during the scene. Nothing serious, but we had to be treated by the medic on the set. Looking back, we may well have dodged a bullet on that one, if those flames had come down another foot or two. A few actors – including yours truly – could’ve ended up being fried.