Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Take Baker, Almost

One Take Baker, Almost
I have always been known in the industry as 'One Take Baker', mainly due to my penchant for getting the escape right the first time and not resorting to camera trickery. I have had heated discussions with producers and directors over the years who wanted to edit my escapes instead of presenting them on TV just as they appeared live. Usually directors in the entertainment community acknowledge my expertise in the area, not just in doing the escape but also how it should be shot for maximum visual impact.
With that in mind let me tell you about a trip to Japan. I was hired by the biggest television station in Japan to present a TV Special made up of several of my thrilling escapes. One of the escapes that I was hired to present was escaping from the tracks of an oncoming roller coaster. Both hands and both feet would be shackled and my job was to get free before the roller coaster ran me over.
Before I tell you the story of the stunt, let me back track somewhat. Previously I had escaped from an amusement park roller coaster for the TV show 'Games People Play'. The Japanese Television Executives heard about the escape and wanted to bring me to Japan to escape from the world famous Japanese Bullet Train. The negotiations for my trip to Japan took over a year and weren't totally finalized until about two weeks prior to our leaving for Japan.
Luckily I was able to procure the services of a lawyer who was familiar with Japanese law. I won't go into the details suffice to say the contract was ripped apart on both sides of the ocean several times before we came to an agreement. One of the stipulations in the contract that I included had to do with outdoor stunts and the weather. I told them I would not do any type of outdoor stunt if the temperature was below sixty degrees. There were certain conditions they put into the contract, one for example had to do with the proper packing of a certain item required for our performance. But that is another story for another time.
Once we arrived in Japan we learned the Japanese Government would not give permission for us to escape from their Bullet Train. Their reasons were sound. If a chain or a handcuff or anything were left on the track, due to the speed of the train it would derail. It would be a National disaster.
So instead we traveled to Kyoto Japan where the Japanese also had one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. When we arrived and my crew and I got out of our vehicles we noticed right off that something was wrong. It was snowing! And it was bitter cold. Remember, my condition about not doing outdoor stunts if the weather was below 60 degrees. I brought this fact up with the film crew and the producers. Because we had driven all the way out to Kyoto, I told them I might consider doing the stunt, but first I wanted to see the coaster and test the speeds.
We had traveled half way around the world, and it really would have been a shame not to do the stunt, so I decided to go ahead and consider it. The first thing we did was run the coaster through its course several times. I knew that as the coaster went over the tracks, the tracks would gradually heat up and the speed at which the coaster would reach me would increase. In other words, the warmer the tracks were, the less time I would have to free myself.
The first test run of the roller coaster was a minute and a half. The second run was the same. On the third run the time was one minute and twenty seconds. Eventually the time was one minute 12 seconds and this seemed to be the point in time that the coaster speed remained. Knowing this crucial bit of information, we broke for lunch.
We were treated to a wonderful feast of western food. The Japanese went all out to make us feel at home with pizza, hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Where they found KFC in Japan is beyond me. Let's just say there was all sorts of food including rolls, butter, you name it. It was a feast. We enjoyed it and even snagged some of the butter patties and other food for later.
While still inside, I decided to test out the chains and shackles I would be using. Due to the cold the metal bit into my skin and wouldn't move. It was if the chain became part of my wrists and this would not do. My crew and I realized that this could possibly slow down my escape if not make it impossible. I had to come up with a solution to give myself more freedom of movement. Thankfully, though it was bitter cold, my brain was still warm enough to figure out a solution, we dubbed it the 'Montekia solution'.
It was time. Lunch was over and we headed back out to the coaster. I asked that the roller coaster run through the course several times so as to heat up the tracks again. While this happened a huge foam matt was placed below the area that I would be chained, this would be my landing pad if everything went smoothly.
The Japanese film crew was in position. My safety team were all in position, everything was ready to go. The restraints went around each wrist and there were chains for each leg. Laying against the hard cold steel tracks was extremely uncomfortable, but I had agreed to do this so there was no turning back now.
The signal was given to start the coaster. I began the countdown in my head. Besides being known as 'One Take Baker' I also had another moniker, I was called 'Split Second Baker'. I was going to take this stunt down to the very last moment of safety. That ratcheted up the fear factor pretty high, and made things more dangerous, but my training as a stuntman gave me the experience to pull off this kind of thing.
My liberation began, first I freed one wrist and then the second. I continued the countdown in my head as the time ticked away. Next I started to release my right ankle from the shackles. I took a split second to look up to see the location of the coaster. Tic toc tic toc. As I looked up the track I attempted to release my left ankle but oddly, saw no coaster, so I decided to take my time. It was important to my timing that I see where the coaster was. At one minute eleven seconds in my head, I released my left ankle, stood up to make my run for the rail, looked up the track, still no coaster. I reached the rail and came to a dead stop. I put both my hands on my hips, with a look of utter disgust on my face, because still there was no coaster. Next I did a fence vault over the rail and landed with a thud. I should mention it was a flat full body fall towards the matt. In case you don't know this, foam matts and cold weather don't go together too well. I might as well have fallen 18 feet onto the pavement, that's how hard the matt felt.
As, I recovered from my momentary daze, I heard the sound of the approaching coaster. Seconds later the roller coaster roared over my head, long past the time it should have arrived. What on earth happened?
I was very upset, er, no I was livid!. Immediatly I called a meeting with the producers to find out what went wrong. They assured me that it was fine, they would fix it in the post production editing room. "NO WAY! NO ONE EDITS MR.ESCAPE!" I forcefully declared to them. We argued back and forth. Eventualy, I convinced them to shoot it again. I would repeat the escape. In the meantime though we still had to find out why the timing calculations were all wrong.
Here is what happened. When we were eating lunch and working with the chain, the fellow who operates the roller coaster overheard us saying that the chain was going to slow down the escape. He feared that I would be killed during the stunt, so he purposely slowed down the speed of the train to be sure I had enough time to escape. The producers made the man apologize, I accepted his apology, no harm done.
We prepared the escape for a second time. I jokingly said to my crew, "anyone know how I escaped the first time?" and they all laughed and said loudly, "Montekia!". Indeed the 'montikia solution' was intregal in assisting me.
For a second time I was chained to the tracks. The signal was given to start the coaster. Cameras were rolling. I began my escape. This time, 'Split Second Baker' pulled off the stunt the way it was supposed to appear! Everyone was ecstatic! And for a second time I fell flat onto the rock hard matt to break my fall, ouch! The entire group was thrilled at how the escape played out.
And I once again I asked my crew, "Anyone know how I did that?" This time however the Japanese crew as well as my safety team, all cheered "Montekia!" The Japanese thought it was some sort of chant or good luck cheer that my crew and I said. In truth, montekia is Spanish for butter!

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