Explosions are a huge part of action films, and the bigger the better. But as our adrenaline peaks, we rarely think of the mechanics behind the what we’re seeing. Science and Action work hand in hand.
Having worked in the film industry for over 30 years, Steve Wolf’s career is spectacular, including work on The Firm, Hustle & Flow, and my personal favorite The Last Boy Scout. His impressive film work isn’t the only interesting job he’s held. He’s also a trained Medic and Rescue Diver and most heroically has even been a pre-school teacher. It’s easy to see a common thread throughout Wolf’s interests: a love of education and adventure.
It seems baffling, but Wolf didn’t originally set out to work in the film industry. His first love was science. “By the time I was 5, I was doing experiments with electricity and rigging, building cable cars and trying out circuits,” Wolf said.
“I’m often more interested in the science used to tell a story on screen than I am in the story itself,” Wolf says. “The challenges of bringing tales to the screen can be fascinating, and no matter how unreal a storyline might be, the science used to tell the story is always real.”
“I love using science as a conduit between minds, to create a bridge between imagination and reality,” Wolf explains. “I love that a writer imagined an idea and wrote it down, and then I get to figure out how to turn that vision into a physical reality at which a camera can be pointed. Then, that vision can be experienced in the mind of another person.”
Many scripts have elements of demolition, and Wolf has a unique way of going about filming them. “First I think about what it will look like when it’s edited. Since most action sequences are really a compilation of very short shots strung together, it’s often unnecessary to actually do a dangerous stunt. I define stunt work as ‘safely using science to create the illusion of danger,’” Wolf explains.
As a Special Effects Coordinator, Wolf dives into storytelling as a scientist, compiling a series of small steps worked in sequence, with safety always as top priority.
“I use film’s ability to compress time to portray something in seconds that may have been crafted over weeks or months,” Wolf adds. “I also consider the role of lens selection, camera placement, pacing, reaction shots and other less transparent ways to shape an audience’s experience.”
The enthusiasm he feels for the role of science in this realm is infectious, and one finds oneself eager to participate as he describes his endeavors. Luckily, Wolf has created an amazing facility, Stunt Ranch, where all your explosive special effects and science dreams come true.
“I created Stunt Ranch as a place where people can build their courage, experience science in their own bodies, enhance their confidence, and learn to appreciate the role of science in both everyday life and in movies,” Wolf says.
Stunt Ranch isn’t just an excuse to mimic an action film start, but to experience it like a real life hero. It offers a chance to blend learning and fun.
“Science is the principal tool used to solve problems, and, as we are faced with more and more problems of increasing complexity and importance (health, climate, energy), it seems that it would be irresponsible not to use every possible opportunity to better equip people in problem-solving,” Wolf explains. “The least we can do is arm the next generation with the knowledge to address these problems, the optimism to believe they can make a difference, and the confidence to believe they will be successful.”
In his heart, Steve Wolf will always be a teacher. He still works on film projects, but spends most of his times on educational ventures, including creating science based content for TV shows, and the experiences he creates for students at Stunt Ranch. From hosting company retreats to film screenings (like the 10th anniversary screening of Iron Man), Wolf is constantly creating chances for people to fall in love with science.
“If nothing else, I hope that visitors to Stunt Ranch take away the notion that you can have a crazy idea, and even if you alone believe in it, and you have sufficient optimism and willingness to fuel your idea, you can be successful,” Wolf says. “I hope that people leave Stunt Ranch eager to embark on their own exciting projects.”
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Steve Wolf