June 20, 2015 - 8:06 pm
In the trailer for the new “Terminator” movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger says “Ah’ll be back,” then launches himself from one helicopter into another like a human missile.
This explosive action sequence wouldn’t have been possible without a strong supporting performance by a little-known character actor from Las Vegas.
The helicopter that gets terminated in the scene was provided by Scroggins Aviation Mockup &Effects, a small, valley-based company making a big splash in Hollywood.
Scroggins Aviation supplies cockpits, passenger cabins and entire aircraft for movies and television productions. They also provide on-set technical assistance to change or repair any of their mock-ups.
Business has been so good lately that the 5-year-old operation recently traded its old 4,000-square-foot warehouse near the North Las Vegas Airport for triple the space at an office park near Decatur Boulevard and Russell Road.
That’s where you’ll find the heavily modified Eurocopter EC-130 featured in “Jurassic World.”
“When you see the wide shot of the helicopter flying and the mini-gun firing, that’s our helicopter,” said Doug Scroggins, the company’s founder and president. “And it never left the ground.”
The copter was placed on a moving platform and filmed against a green screen. Everything from spinning rotors to the marauding dinosaurs was added later by special effects wizards.
When the helicopter was returned to Scroggins, there were a few stray shell casings from the minigun rolling around in it.
The aircraft has since been immortalized in toy form as part of the omnipresent promotional tie-ins that go along with a summer blockbuster.
“We’re a Lego, funnily enough. They made a Lego out of it,” Scroggins said.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE RENTAL
He found the Eurocopter in a barn in Hawaii, after an accident that left one side of the machine mangled. When it comes to aviation, even a wreck can be expensive. Scroggins said you can easily spend $100,000 or more on “a pile of garbage” that used to be a helicopter.
None of his rentals are in flying condition — many of the machines are missing key parts such as engines, tails or rotors.
Film productions rent Scroggins’ mock-ups for up to 60 days at a time. But unlike a Ford Focus you might get from Hertz, this rental agreement allows for the vehicles to be painted, modified or even wrecked on purpose.
Prices vary based on the size of the production, how long the aircraft is needed and what level of damage it might see.
“As you can imagine, it can be in the thousands (of dollars) per week,” Scroggins said.
If that’s too rich for your blood, his company also rents out the guts of scrapped aircraft and other random junk — from cables to small electronic panels — for what’s known in the movie industry as “gak.” (You know all those wires and gadgets you see covering the walls of space ships in sci-fi movies? That’s gak.)
The mock-up and effects business represents something of a homecoming for Scroggins.
When he was a kid, the Las Vegas native found work dragging cables and loading trucks on film sets. He eventually worked his way up to camera operator, then director of photography and finally producer and director for a handful of cable network shows before leaving the industry to pursue full time his love of aviation.
Scroggins ran an aircraft salvage and recycling business for a decade before show business drew him back in.
His first job was a big one: Haul a Boeing 767 in pieces deep into the California desert and reassemble it for a crash scene in the short-lived NBC series “The Event.”
That led to feature film work on “Final Destination 5” and extensive contributions to ABC’s “Pan-Am.”
BUSINESS TAKES ‘FLIGHT’
The company’s biggest job to date was providing an entire MD-80 jetliner for the 2012 Denzel Washington movie “Flight.”
Scroggins said they had to cut up two aircraft, including one still in flying condition, to make wreckage.
“We chewed it up with excavators to give it that crunched look,” he said. “It was sad, but they were willing to pay a lot of money for it.”
The weirdest thing they’ve been asked to supply so far was a Russian Soyuz space capsule for a low-budget sci-fi thriller. With little to go on and not much time to work, they managed to piece together something out of wood that looked convincing, Scroggins said.
Some detail work is left to the movie studio’s art department, but the Scroggins team prints out decals or pieces together displays and control panels from spare parts. Some things, like knobs, are fabricated using a 3-D printer.
For authenticity, they work off of photographs or schematics of the aircraft, which they often have to buy directly from the manufacturer.
During the production of “Flight,” Scroggins and company not only supplied the crashed aircraft but most of the stuff inside it, including safety placards, barf bags and disposable coffee cups bearing the logo of the movie’s made-up SouthJet Airlines.
“When you’ve got a movie that’s over $100 million there’s a level of detail they want to get right. We’ll try to help them with that,” Scroggins said. “If you think about it, anything we do is for seconds. They pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for seconds on the screen. It’s mind-boggling.”
All the work is done by eight people — four in the shop, three in the office and Scroggins drifting between the two, often with a cellphone to his ear.
They have to be mechanically inclined and creative. They also have to be ready to solve problems and fill requests from fickle directors on the fly.
When they delivered their helicopter to the set of “Jurassic World,” for example, they found out the production needed the machine to have two sets of controls for a scene involving a flight instructor and his student.
Working from Las Vegas, they quickly cannibalized parts from another helicopter and fabricated the pieces they didn’t have. By 1 p.m. the next day, the copter on set had two control sticks and two sets of rudder pedals, even though it came from the factory with a single pilot’s seat, Scroggins said.
A HOLLYWOOD ENDING
In the shop right now are three Bell UH-1 Iroquois — better known as Hueys — the Eurocopter AS 350 from “Terminator Genisys,” and two Eurocopter EC-130s — the one from “Jurassic World” and another Scroggins bought after it crashed and sank in the Hudson River. No one was killed in the accident.
“We wouldn’t touch anything that has a fatality attached to it,” Scroggins said, though his Hueys all saw action during the Vietnam War and bear scars from bullet strikes.
The warehouse also contains the cockpits and fuselage sections from two Boeing 737s and two 767s. One of the 767s played a recurring role in the ABC series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” until the “character was killed off,” Scroggins said with a smile.
No matter. The cockpit soon landed a big-screen part in the upcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel.
The helicopter Scroggins provided for “Terminator Genisys” has already landed its next role in Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War.” (Spoiler alert: It plays a helicopter.)
The company also stores aircraft mockups, including three full-size jetliners, in Mojave, Calif., and Louisiana, not far from the growing film production hubs of New Orleans and Atlanta.
Each of Scroggins’ aircraft represents an investment of several hundred thousand dollars, first to purchase the scrapped flying machine and then to restore it as a convincing prop.
Scroggins said restoration can cost as little as $20,000 or as much as “a couple hundred grand” depending on the aircraft, its condition and how much of it is needed. On the parts market, a single damaged helicopter door can cost as much as $10,000.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said, but it’s also intoxicating.
“I love this business. I really do. It has a lot of ‘wow factor’ to it,” the 49-year-old said.
Scroggins Aviation will soon expand its services to include an array of miniature model aircraft with the help of a modeler who formerly worked for visual effects giant Industrial Light &Magic.
Scroggins said his business is based in Las Vegas because he is — he’s lived here all his life and has no plans to relocate.
And he’ll stay in Las Vegas even as he burrows deeper into the movie industry. He just launched a production company, Blue Gate Films, and he’s in the early stages of producing his first feature. He said the project already has a screenplay and working title, and he expects it to feature at least one name actor.
He doesn’t want to reveal too much about the story just yet, but it involves a plane crash.
Contact Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean