Fundraiser panel sheds light on the making of ‘Only the Brave’
Movie producer Mike Menchel remembers getting off a flight at LAX on July 2, 2013, and being bombarded with the horrific news: 19 elite young firefighters had died on June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Arriving from London, Menchel said he had not yet heard the news when he got to the airport. There, he encountered six TV monitors – all broadcasting accounts of what had happened in Arizona just days before.
Menchel would go on to produce “Only the Brave” – the 2017 movie that tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. On that day in July 2013, he said the news hit him hard. When he reached the car where his wife was waiting, he remembers her asking, “What’s wrong? You’ve been crying.”
He told her that even though he had just arrived home, he needed to head out again – this time to Prescott, Arizona.
“I came to Prescott for the Fourth of July and sat down on the square,” Menchel said. “I soaked up all of the sorrow of this town.”
Menchel was one of five panelists Wednesday night at a fundraiser for the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew (GMIHC) Learning and Tribute Center, which honors the fallen 19.
Each of the other panelists — surviving hotshot Brendan McDonough; John Marsh, GMIHC board chair and father of the crew superintendent Eric Marsh; film advisor and Hotshot alum Pat McCarty; and former Hotshot crew chief Duane Steinbrink — was intimately involved with the Hotshot story.
They answered a host of questions about the tragedy, and about “Only the Brave,” which had been shown earlier that evening at the Elks Theatre.
Right from the beginning, Menchel said he knew he wanted to tell the Hotshots’ stories.
Early on, he said, “I started to meet people, and I said, ‘Let me tell you what I want to do. I want to bring a spotlight to wildland firefighting, and I want the world to know about (the 19 fallen Hotshots).’ They’re my guys — I want people to know that.”
Menchel said he ultimately met many of the Hotshot family members, and he cared what they and other firefighters would think about the movie.
“I wanted to make sure that no firefighter would sit in this audience and say, ‘We don’t do that,’” he said.
To help ensure that, Menchel said he made repeated efforts to get Pat McCarty, a Prescott Fire captain and former Hotshot, on board as an adviser for the movie.
McCarty told the crowd that he turned Menchel down several times before finally agreeing to sign on after reading the first version of the script.
“It definitely was extremely difficult to agree to be part of this,” McCarty said. In the end, he agreed in order to lend authenticity to the movie.
To prepare the actors who were playing the Hotshots in the movie, for instance, McCarty said he took them to the Yarnell deployment site where the Hotshots died, as well as to the giant juniper tree that the crew saved just days before the start of the Yarnell Fire.
Later, McCarty said he spent days teaching the actors how to work like Hotshots.
“It is hard to convince a bunch of guys who had maybe never held a tool before to learn how to work,” McCarty said. “For a week, we trained just like Hotshots. They put 100% effort and 100% heart into it.”
Overall, McCarty said, “On one hand, it was a horrible situation to be in, but on the other hand, who wouldn’t want to tell the story of their friends?”
NEW MEXICO FILMING
One of the questions from the audience zeroed in on a point that many in the community had asked: “Why wasn’t more of the filming done in Arizona and in Prescott?”
Menchel responded: “You’ll have to talk to your government about that. Arizona is not a film-friendly state, and here’s New Mexico, and they’re a film-friendly state (with incentives for moviemaking).”
Prior to the start of filming, Menchel said he “begged (Arizona officials) to make an exception” for the filming of “Only the Brave”.
“This was a Prescott, an Arizona film,” he said. “But we got no help. It didn’t happen.”
Except for a single day of shooting on Whiskey Row, he said, the movie was shot almost exclusively in New Mexico. “They were wonderful, but I would rather have shot every second in Prescott.”
The Wednesday event was conducted to raise money for a future permanent location for the GMIHC Learning and Tribute Center, which currently operates at the Prescott Gateway Mall.
“Someday in the future, we would like to have a larger facility, where we can display bigger items (such as the Hotshot transport buggy),” Marsh said. “That is our goal.”
He estimates that the goal is likely still three to four years in the future.
The fundraiser ended up selling about 75 tickets at $219 each.