And it was thanks to someone who thought they had missed their bus.
One of the most well-remembered practical effects from Jan de Bont’s Speed is the moment Dennis Hopper’s character, Howard Payne, destroys a Venice Beach bus just to get the attention of Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves).
It’s a spectacular scene, with the bus exploding behind Traven as he is about to get back into his car, after which the character runs down the street after the now on-fire vehicle.
But it’s also a scene that, while being filmed on Main Street in Venice, California, nearly resulted in an unintended disaster following the unexpected intervention of a member of the public who stumbled onto the shooting location. Speed special effects supervisor John Frazier recounts exactly what happened to befores & afters.
John Frazier (special effects supervisor, Speed): We were right across the street from the Firehouse coffee shop that used to be a fire station in Venice Beach, and Jan says, ‘I want to do the blow up without a cut. I want to do a Texas Switch.’ And he said, ‘The real bus is going to make a left-hand turn right here, and the phoney bus, the bus loaded with the bombs is just going to go straight. And when it gets across the intersection, you’re going to blow it up.’ It was a tow shot, which means there was another car actually towing the bus with a cable.
Cameras are rolling, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere – nowhere – this lady is running down the hill, down to the bus. This lady had no idea we were shooting a movie. She jumps on the bus. She had no idea, she thought she’d missed her bus. And she blew by the PAs and jumped on that bus. And what she’s looking at is a dummy in the driver’s seat and a whole lot of bombs and mortars.
‘This lady had no idea we were shooting a movie. She jumps on the bus. She had no idea, she thought she’d missed her bus.’
She was seconds away from going up in smoke. I don’t know how we dodged that bullet, but it was just unbelievable. I saw her running down the street. Actually, I was standing right next to the fire inspector, and I saw this lady and I’m yelling out, ‘Abort, abort, abort, abort!’ And I’m yelling at her, ‘Stop, stop!’ She just kept running, jumped in that bus, and oh my god it was like…she probably re-lives that every night.
My foreman, Rocky Gehr, had the fire button in his hand. And I would have said to him, ‘When the bus gets to that mark, you hit the button.’ And she was right there.
But they did see her. They didn’t really know what they were looking at. They saw something get on the bus, and Rocky took his hand away from the button. And plus there was all this noise, all this commotion – ‘Stop, stop! Abort, abort, abort, abort!’ Rocky said, ‘I saw something jump in the bus, I don’t know if it was a dog. I don’t know what it was. But I took my finger right off the button.’
But he was ready. He was armed and ready to push the button. So, that was an exciting morning. That started the movie off. The first shot of the movie, blowing up that bus in Venice.
Explore our in-depth ‘Speed’ 25th anniversary coverage during #speedvfxweek, including more with John Frazier about the multiple buses, even bigger explosions and that freeway bus jump.Get bonus VFX material by becoming a befores & afters Patreon member