Fracturing ribs is bad advertising

As a teenager, I began developing my interest in special effects and offered my services to the local TV station. It was incredible that they let me loose as a teenage “consultant” (driving a moped to work as I did not have a driver’s license!) The first show was “True and Stuff” and a very popular educational show.

While rigging my smoke puffs, breakaways and mechanical clocks, I was frequently retold the story of when Bengt Andersson – (image right) was to be filming a humorous clip with a cowboy theme at a western town. The producer’s had contracted the best pyrotechnician (G.O.) in the country that had decades of experience. Apart from pyrotechnics, he had a knack for making dozens of automated dioramas, all featuring a rubber gorilla! He was a fantastic man and was a walking pyrotechnic encyclopedia.

The film clip was to end with Bengt, the hero, being hit by the bad guy, so Bengt was rigged with a “bullet hit” by the master pyrotechnician. A wire was trailing out of the actor’s pant leg, connected to the firing box and cameras were rolling when the button was pushed. I was not there myself, so I do not know what failed, but the concussion from the explosive squib was horribly loud and was so powerful that Bengt, fractured his rib and took him months to heal. Filming was postponed for a long time after the accident.

I heard this some 40 years ago, but it feels like yesterday. If the best pyrotechnician in the country would unintentionally fracture an actor’s rib, there HAD to be a better way of simulating bullet hits in actor’s. I have often thought about this story and how to make safety the primary concern while developing the air squib.