Fire, Crime and Time
Intensifying the human drama of Frequency are a series of exciting
moments that range from fighting an out-of-control blaze to chasing a serial
killer to having a ham radio conversation across the time barrier.
Hoblit utilized these moments to heighten the psychological thrills of Frequency,
using innovative methods to bring the audience closer to the action. For
example, Hoblit came up with an unusual method of shooting the dialogue scenes
between Frank and John Sullivan over a ham radio in the same room on the same
day separated by thirty years. Instead of shooting each actor individually and
cutting them together, Hoblit shot the ham radio scenes like a live,
multi-camera television show, complete with four different cameraman
communicating via headsets.
"It's not the way one would normally shoot a dialogue sequence but this
is not a normal father-son conversation," notes Hoblit. "We had both
guys sitting at their respective ham radios and we shot it with four cameras in
real time as if it were actually happening."
The results were exactly what Hoblit was looking for: electrified realism.
"The outcome was amazing," he says. "Dennis and Jim just started
to feed off each other as if in a stage play. All the anger, the sweet emotion
and the wonderment of what was happening to the characters just came pouring
forth. It was bigger and more exciting than anything I had ever
In addition to creating a sense of belief in the reality of parallel
universes, the production had more conventional earthly action sequences to
forge, including several blazing fire sequences. Just as scientist Brian Greene
was brought in to consult on the physics of time travel, crack firefighter
Thomas Ryan, who served in the high-rise fire unit of the Manhattan fire
department, was brought in to consult on the mechanics of raging fires and the
behavior of firefighters such as Frank Sullivan.
Ryan began his work by technically analyzing each of the film's fire
sequences, but he also found himself unexpectedly conducting historical
research. "Fighting fires in 1969 was a different affair than fighting them
in 1999," he explains. "We had to research the clothing, the
equipment, the mechanical apparatus and make them completely authentic, which
turned out to be a real challenge. What was really exciting for me was not only
engineering realistic fires for the film but having a chance to help the actors
understand the firefighter character and behavior -- the mentality of needing to
rescue the world."
It was Ryan's suggestion to use real firemen rather than extras to fight the
film's blazes, adding another layer of authentic realism to Frequency.
He also designed the blazes to show the whole gamut of firefighting techniques
including the use of aerial ladders, portable ladders, axes and forceful entry.
Ryan worked closely with special effects heads Martin Malivoire and Steve
Kirshoff to coordinate the infernos and choreograph the firefighting efforts.
"Tom Ryan was invaluable to us," summarizes Hoblit. "He helped
me to take fire and firefighters to a new level on film, with extraordinary
detail to the mechanics and realism of it all. We shot in a working Manhattan
firehouse and we built our own fires. Simply put, we got the real thing."
The filmmakers, under the aegis of Martin Malivoire and Steve Kirshoff, used
a 25,000 gallon propane tank and an extensive network of pipes to siphon in gas
and create height-variable fires that could be turned on and off at will.
"It looks like an out-of-control, exciting fire on film, but nothing is
left to chance," explains Malivoire. "ThereĀ“s no question where every
last flame is going to be."
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