Firestarter Went As Practical As Possible For Its Explosive Special Effects

Stephen King's work is once again blazing through theaters, this time in director Keith Thomas's remake of the author's classic story, "Firestarter." This film depicts a girl with pyrokinetic abilities as she is forced to protect herself and her family from a government agency that seeks to control her powers. Now in theaters and streaming on Peacock, this iteration of the story stars Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Sydney Lemmon, and Kurtwood Smith.

Naturally, making this movie requires a lot of flames, and the director decided to make the film's fiery effects as real as possible. In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, Thomas explained that he chose to use more practical effects to create a film that stands out in the age of superhero cinema. "In some ways, 'Firestarter' is like a superhero origin story," he told the outlet, "but for me, it was trying to make that as grounded and real as possible."

Thomas also discussed how he and his team pulled off the film's pyrotechnic stunts, saying:

"All the fire is real. Some of it gets a little enhanced with VFX to clean up things that we couldn't take care of, but the final act features a 40-foot flamethrower, and those people are really being hit by it. We had built that set specifically to do that stunt. They've got oxygen tanks under there, and that fire is hitting them. That room's a thousand degrees. Flames are coming up out of the roof. Everyone has to clear the set. It's a major undertaking to do that. But to me, it resonates in a way that CGI can't. It has to be a handshake between special effects and practical and CG, and they have to work together. Otherwise, one is just sitting on top of the other, and it doesn't work."

A simple favor

The director relied on his actors to help make those fire sequences look as real as possible, like a scene in which Charlie's mom, Vicky (played by Sydney Lemmon), has her arms doused in flames. When breaking down this scene, Thomas said:

"When Vicky's arms go on fire, that's really Sydney with her arms lit on fire. I had to convince Sydney to do it. When I first brought it up, she had read it in the script, and she was like, 'Keith, what are you doing with this scene?' I was like, 'Honestly, Sydney, if you could be on fire, that would be amazing. I don't want to have to put your face on somebody else.' And she was like, 'I don't know. I don't know.'

Though Lemmon was understandably hesitant about setting herself on fire, the director explained that she overcame her fear and pushed herself to the limit in this scene:

"[Lemmon] met with our stunt coordinator. He got her comfortable and showed her how it worked, and she did it. In some test rehearsals, she put her arms on fire. She was thrilled. So, then when the day came, she was a real trooper. We did that take. We did probably four or five takes of that, and she's like, 'Let it go longer.' It's burning on her arms, and it burns for five seconds. She would like, 'Go eight seconds. Let's just keep going.'"

It's a testament to Lemmon's commitment as an actor that she chose to go as long as possible with her burning arms on camera. And with Zac Efron coming in to put the fire out with a blanket, this scene involved a lot of careful coordination and safety precautions to ensure it was done right. "Thankfully, it all went without a hitch," said Thomas. "There's a certain element of danger to it that you feel on set that I hope translates."

And Thomas is right about that "element of danger" to live fire — audiences can tell. As impressive as modern visual effects have become, certain elements are still difficult to pull off, and viewers can spot digital phoniness from a mile away. Water remains famously difficult to render in a realistic fashion and CGI fire often stands out like a sore thumb. As long as real flames can be utilized safely, they feel like the right dramatic choice ... especially for a movie like this, where fire might as well be the main character.

"Firestarter" currently has a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 44% audience score, but if absolutely nothing else, it's nice to hear a story about this type of respectful collaboration on set which resulted in a cool practical effect.