About Everett Byrom III
Everett Byrom III has 20 years experience in the entertainment industry as a propmaker and special effects artist. He and his brother Craig own and operate EB3 Effects Fab, a full-service prop fabrication and special effects company based in Austin, TX. They can build (or destroy) just about anything, and their positive attitude and spotless safety record keep them in demand for productions all over the country.
Lunacy Productions: You had kind of a roundabout journey to show business. Tell us about it? How did you end up here?
Everett Byrom III: Well, I was living in Austin, going to Austin Community College, I was the front man in a band, and at that time I also worked for a guy down south of San Antonio, Tommy Satterfield, who was a jack-of-all-trades. He could do just about anything, from overhauling Caterpillar engines to Detroit diesels and rebuilding … anything mechanical. So I was picking up a lot of things there. But I was 27 years old and I was still kind of wondering what the heck I was gonna do with my life.
I had a cousin in Austin that was a radio DJ (Mike Driver who is at FMX in Lubbock now; the best DJ on the air!), so I was thinking maybe I’d get into radio or something, and I interned with him for a semester and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The TV that I was doing as part of my college program didn’t appeal to me either. So my professor (I had a great professor named Deborah Hill), she said there’s this 70s-themed movie shooting in town. Maybe you should go find a place for yourself as an extra or something.
I still had my long, shoulder-length hair from my rock n’ roll days, so I went and auditioned, and I got a part as background on this movie called Dazed and Confused. They put me in the emporium scene, which was a hoot. I would work during the day and then shoot nights with them.
That was it, the hook was set. I had no idea what all these yahoos were doing, but I knew it was the place for me.
After 25 years I still feel that way.
LU: So how did you make your way from a background actor in a beloved film classic, to what you do now?
EB3: Well, I was working construction on a western called, Frank and Jesse, a Bill Paxton show up in Arkansas. I met a gal named Lexxie on that show. She was from LA, and she really wanted to get out of LA. So she came down to Austin after we wrapped and hung out for a couple of weeks and found herself a roommate and was gonna move to Austin. I flew out to LA to help her move.
While I was there I met Michael Haase, who does props and special effects, and he said, “You need to come check out this digital effects house called Stargate Studios, which is Sam Nicholson’s place. At the time, I didn’t have any interest in that. I’d already shot one short film and I wanted to write and direct like everybody else, but he finally convinced me to go check this place out and it was really cool.
Robert Hutchins was working there and they called him over and said, “Hutch do you need a hand?” and he said, “Do you have your pyro effects cards?” and I said “No. But what do I got to do to get it?” and he said, “Right answer.” I ended up working for him for two and a half years.
I wasn’t planning to stay that long. I told Lexxie — she ended up becoming my wife and still is — I said, “Hey, let’s stay in LA for couple of months and see how the big boys do it and then we’ll go back to Texas.” But one job ended up parlaying into another and then Hutch and I traveled to Romania, Toronto, all over, and we went and did a lot of great things together. I ended up getting into the union and doing Dante’s Peak, The Grinch, Armageddon, Amistad … and the opportunities kept coming, so I ended up being out there for seven years before we finally sold our place in Sherman Oaks and moved back to Austin.
LU: So you got a career and a marriage out of it.
EB3: Oh yeah. Still going strong. Two kids and it turned out pretty good. The great thing is that she was in the industry and she understands how erratic this business is and the nature of the hours and all that.
LU: You mentioned needing to get your pyro card. I’m curious about what kind of technical training and what kind of certifications you need to do your job well and how you got those?
EB3: If you have some experience in electronics and you have some basic knowledge of pyrotechnics you can get your license. The training comes on the job really. There’s not a school necessarily that you can go to and learn how to do pyrotechnics as they apply to our industry. You might learn in the military how to do explosives. You might learn from working at a blasting company that does mining.
You can learn some elements about it that way, certainly, but our business is all about illusions. My goal is not necessarily to do the biggest and baddest explosion but it’s to do what makes sense from a budgetary standpoint for the production and then also visually to give the director, the script, and the producer what they need. Not just a show of bravado and machismo, but to do what makes sense for the folks that brought me there.
It’s knowing how to place the certain pyrotechnic elements; how several different types of explosions will work together to give a certain effect. Not just taking some black powder and gasoline and making a fireball. You know?
LU: And as you said, you learn about all that on the job?
EB3: Yeah, well I’m still learning, and I hope to be learning until my last show. Every time I work with somebody and every time I have a scenario I learn something from that experience. I learned things from Rust Creek. I learn whenever I work on Transformers and get to work with some of the guys like Richie Helmer, who’s 72 years old and has been doing this for a long time. It’s just a great opportunity to sit there and wrap lifters with him and hear war stories and different tricks of the trade.
All pyro technicians have their little tricks. Things that they’ve learned. Methods that they like to apply to get certain effects. And so, training-wise, on the job is the best thing to do from a learning standpoint. Hopefully, you never stop learning, because once you do … I don’t know. It may be dangerous.
The EB3 team discusses a pyrotechnic effect with the Mt. Washington, KY Fire Marshall during the filming of Rust Creek.
LU: Let me just follow it up with something real quick. When we were shooting Rust Creek you provided certain credentials to the local fire department. What’s in your ‘wallet’ that legitimize you in the eyes of local authorities or the industry in general?
EB3: Well, there’s state licenses for Texas, both pyrotechnics, a special effects operators license, and an open flame license. And then federally an ATF license. Those show them that you’re the real deal, but they should be equally concerned about the resume to back it up. Just about anybody with a clean record can get those licenses. They should want to see a resume so that they know that you’ve been around and, hell, if they took it a step further they’d check references to see if you’re safe. I don’t think that enough people do that.
LU: That provides a segue into the importance of safety and how that weighs in on your reputation.
EB3: Yeah. I mean, safety is really everything. You know? From a personal standpoint, how my peers feel about me whenever they see my name on the call sheet … It’s not everything to me but it’s damn close to it. Whenever I step onto the set and people say, “I was so glad to see your name on the call sheet,” to me that says keep doing what you’ve been doing.
Everybody has different tolerances to danger. You want to get a feel for what the comfort level is of certain people. Even though we might know that a situation is completely safe, camera people, talent, stunts are always asking us, “How far away do I have to be? How close can I be?”
Some people want to push that envelope. You’ll tell the camera crew they need to be 30 feet away, and they’ll set up 15 feet away and it’s like, that’s not what we talked about. “Yeah, but I really need to be here.” Not as bad as I need you to be further away. We don’t need a trip to the hospital.
And to take it a step further, the only thing that they’re going to remember us by is if somebody gets hurt.
People tell you horror stories about the person from the last job that they worked on. My reaction is immediately, what else did the guy do? Maybe he did some other fantastic work, but the only thing that you can tell me is that one time that there was a fireball that was just way to close and way to hot and we never should have been that close. So we certainly don’t want to hurt anybody and we want to protect our reputation and how people remember us.
LU: That reminds me of a couple of specific instances from Rust Creek: one was the gag of throwing that Jeep over the cliff, which quickly became part of your jurisdiction because I think you had far more experience doing that kind of thing; and the other was whether or not we were going to put performers in the water when we’re dealing with single digit temperatures.
EB3: We’ve done a fair amount of water work and so we understand hypothermia and we understand that even though it may be okay for the first 15 minutes … you know, you may be able to fake it long enough to get through a take or so, but the reality is that we need to make it through the whole day.
We care about the actor’s wellbeing. We don’t want them getting sick. And we also understand that after the first 15 minutes their lips are going to turn blue and they’re not going to be able to act. They’re not going to be able to do their best work.
So, whenever we’re planning these kinds of things we need to be realistic about what we’re going to be able to get past the first couple of takes.
As far as the Jeep is concerned I think once again it’s just understanding physics and geometry and having done some of that kind of work before. What kind of speed we need to get to in order for the Jeep to just clear the rock ledge, much less get some air. You can do seven miles an hour with a good shove, let’s say. Well as soon as that front wheel clears the edge, that Jeep is going to fall onto the frame and stop and then sit there teetering precariously with us all looking at one another.
I mean, there’s a certain amount of math that you can do to figure some of that out but boy howdy the experience never hurts.
Everett and his brother Craig going over their plans for an explosion sequence on the set of Rust Creek.
LU: Talk a little bit more about the Jeep crash, because I know you were concerned that you wouldn’t be able to, with the runway we had, really get it to fly. And we were running out of daylight as well!
EB3: Yes, yes. And it was so cold! There was so much to it. We wanted to get a good, clean, straight runway, because even though we tied down the steering wheel to get it to track straight, it’s an older vehicle and so there’s play in the steering components and the suspension. So it wants to pull left, right, and do all kinds of funky unpredictable things.
So, we not only needed to grade that runway area, but to put the plywood down. It was awfully cold in the days leading up to it, and we were out there in the field rigging the suspension and the steering on the Jeep, and then we did a multitude of pull tests with it, just to see what it feels like at 15 miles an hour, over, and over, and over again. Just to see how it was gonna track, to see what our over and under was.
Then, on the day, we set out big boom forklift behind the Jeep, with a cable on it as a “dead man,” which essentially is a safety, in the event that there is an emergency while we’re setting up, doing our practice runs, leading up to the actual shot.
It would hit that dead end, let’s say that was 60 feet, whatever it was, and it would come to a stop. That’s all there is to it. We could slowly let it out to its end mark to kind of see how it was tracking. Let her down easy, bring her back easy, and let her down, and then bring her back.
Then, once you go, it’s fingers crossed. Let’s plan the work and work the plan, and let her rip! It was worth all of that effort. Ultimately, to have a target, and to be able to hit the dang thing under those conditions is a great thing. And you guys gave us the resources to be able to do that.
That’s a key thing between the producers and the technicians is to give them what they need to win. That’s all we want, really. We don’t always have those things, but that’s what we want: to just be expected to do our damn job, not perform any miracles. And to have the resources to win makes all the difference, and you gave us that.
LU: I appreciate the shout out about giving you the resources, but I know most of the time, when you’re working on these bigger shows, you get a second time at bat. On Rust Creek in the case of the explosion, and the Jeep, you got just one shot.
EB3: You know, even on big budget shows, there’s several scenarios where you only have one shot at it. It may be that time dictates that, and it may be that it’s just so dang expensive, that even on a large show, it’s not worth doing again. You could either sacrifice the special effects aspect of it and just give it over to visual effects, or they touch it up. More often than not, we work hand in hand with visual effects, to make things safe, and also to just make them everything that they can be.
But when you only have one shot, you parlay that experience that you have, and in preparation you make a very detailed list, man. I had my team, Craig and Monty, and together, we’d talk all this stuff over. You rely on your brothers to have your back. All three of us go over each other’s work, no pride involved. And then you make a big list, that has everything on it, all the different components, the propane mortar, the black powder lifters, and gasoline, the sparks, who’s gonna be on what button, what the timing is, the cadence to the whole scene, rehearsals with the talent, and/or stunt people, and stunt coordinator. You rehearse all of that together, rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal, and then you go straight into shooting.
You don’t dick around with anything else, you go straight into shooting while it’s fresh on everybody’s mind, and you have a keen understanding of what the rhythm of the whole thing is going to be. You see it in your mind’s eye. You live it in your head, so that when you call action, it’s just as you rehearsed it.
More often than not, it works flawlessly. I have one little piece that really pissed me off on the explosion: There was a big ass shotgun mortar that was supposed to punch part of that wall out, and it didn’t. It flipped over. I didn’t anchor it well enough to the floor, and it flipped over backwards. It shot off, and it punched the wall, but it didn’t blow right through it, which is what I wanted, and that bummed me out.
The good thing was, that there were redundant elements there. There was the propane mortars that were chasing the stunt folks out the door. There was the ones that were blowing out the window, and all that stuff, so there was a little cover up. Then, you have visual effects that can touch up whatever we didn’t do. Now, from a budgetary standpoint, and as a point of pride, we don’t want that to happen, but sometimes, it needs to.
Keep checking the Lunacy Blog for Part II of our interview with Everett Byrom III, where he talks about collaborating with other departments, working with family, and the most complex shot he ever orchestrated.