Blowin' stuff up on the set of 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'

Carbomb_starshollow_240On Tuesday (Sept. 9) at shortly after noon, gunshots rang out through Stars Hollow, Connecticut and observers reported seeing a burnt out shell of a car smoldering next to the town's famous gazebo.

Thankfully, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore have long since departed the simulation of a quiet New England town that rests on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California. The frequently used bucolic street has most recently been the residence of one John Connor, a young man whose future potential exceeds Rory Gilmore's, if that's at all possible.

On the second season premiere of FOX's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the Connor residence became conspicuously uninhabitable after a brawl featuring both humans and at least one rogue robot left the home a wreck and racked up a high body count.

The Sarah Connor effects team, led by series special effects supervisor Steve Galich, returned to the scene of the tragedy this week with a team of online journalists -- We kept being called "bloggers," a designation that might offend me if I weren't, um, blogging this -- to showcase the show's feature-level pyrotechnics.

"One of the things that's most important on our show are practical effects," producer James Middleton said. "As much CGI as there is, our show absolutely depends on Steve."

Galich, whose credits stretch back to Blade Runner and include a gig on Dante's Peak that resulted in a large swath of scar tissue down one calf, talked the reporters through the munitions process, tossing out buzz-words like "nitrogen cannon," "clunker box," "propane poppers" and "debris zone." We learned the logistics of squib hits, including the source of the red mist from body shots (powdered red chalk, essentially) and that folded up cardboard is "the best shock absorber in the world."

Then, we were invited to participate in the mayhem.

Those who know me, my background and my political leanings wouldn't be surprised to discover that I've never fired a gun before.

Dan_gun_240Wait. I take that back. In my high school production of To Kill a Mockingbird, playing Atticus Finch with frosted temples to add the maturity my braces probably negated, I had to take out a rabid dog. It wasn't a real rabid dog, just a sound effect on a tape played off-stage. And it wasn't a real gun, just a rifle loaded with blanks. But it was loud and produced the requisite kickback and sulfurous smell.

That's my preamble to admitting that the minute Galich put the modified Tippmann 98 Custom paintball gun, loaded with pellets designed to burst and spark upon impact, in my hand and my finger touched the trigger, it shot off two rounds, which whistled off harmlessly in the direction of an unassuming dumpster. Trigger finger properly tempered, I was able to open fire first on the dumpster and then on the nearby car, which was rigged so that another writer was able to push a button and set off a series of explosive detonator caps along the car's side. If I ignored my somewhat faulty aim and, well, reality, I could almost convince myself that I'd riddled the side of the car with bullets.

Subsequent displays did far worse damage to the poor car, dislodging its hood, bursting its trunk and sending fire belching from both its front and back ends. The most amazing part, for me at least, was the way Galich was getting high-tech effects from make-shift contraptions that looked like they were rigged up in a dark cabin somewhere.

Dan_bullet_240We were protected by WB safety officers, uniformed firemen (with hoses) and a sheaf of previously signed legal waivers, documents with threatening names like the "Inherently Dangerous Activity Release." Fortunately, other than the occasionally ringing eardrum and the smell of gasoline that lingered in the nostrils for hours afterwards, no causalities were sustained.

Middleton insisted that the fireworks weren't exclusively for the benefit of the assembled journalists.

"It's a bit for your benefit," he admitted, before adding, "But we also need to test the stuff."

The absurd idea, though, that this sort of testing is routine was made clear by the enthusiastic presence of Brian Austin Green for the entire demo.

After a three-tiered auto detonation that showered debris -- mostly little bits of grit, but the occasional larger chunk -- on all observers, Green was bouncing around with glee.

"We don't blow s*** up like that on the f***ing show," gushed the actor, who has dealt with his fair share of rat-a-tat-tat as John Connor's uncle/guardian-from-the-future Derek Reese. "The first one went off and I was like, 'They're coming! It's Judgment Day!'"

Fortunately, the machines did not, in fact, rise. As the smoke cleared, the bloggers returned to their own, hopefully not-sentient, machines.

And Stars Hollow was quiet again.