SANDPOINT — Talk about a hometown boy making good. Brian Reynolds, who grew up in east Bonner County and made a name for himself as a four-year starter in Wampus Cats football, has gone on to become one of the go-to guys in the movie world.
For the past dozen years or so, he has worked as a stunt helicopter pilot and, most recently, been given some lines in films. Just last month, the action movie “Only the Brave” came out, with scenes of Reynolds acting as both a pilot who drops firefighters into hot spots, as well as a state trooper who flies a rescue helicopter.
Building up to this movie career, he spent part of the 1990s setting world records as he raced his hydroplane, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” on the professional circuit.
Now living in Olympia, Wash., with his wife and two children, Reynolds balances several aspects of his busy life: Running his internationally known business, Northwest Helicopters; serving as founder and president of the Olympic Flight Museum; bringing the family home to North Idaho in the summers, where he hits the water at high speed in a cigarette boat and, in his spare time; developing a new reputation as an up-and-coming Formula 3 race car driver.
And then there are all those movies. With more than 12 titles to his credit, Reynolds has flown in multiple television shows, commercials and action flicks, including “King Kong,” “War Dogs” and a new television shoot that began just last week about the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6.
For the stunt scenes in “Only the Brave” — starring Josh Brolin and Miles Teller — he called on his personal experience flying Bell UH-1H “Huey” helicopters as a firefighting pilot in the Pacific Northwest. Stating that he has done just about every job you can think of in a copter, he said, “Film flying is the most demanding flying there is — period.”
Part of that comes with the long days, where a 12-hour-plus shooting schedule is not uncommon. Add to that the need to shoot the same scenes over and over with absolute precision and you start to see what he means. Every take requires knowing where the camera is set up so that the fly-by’s match from scene to scene and even the landings happen within inches of all previous shots.
Reynolds took time for a conversation as he was packing to head out for filming on the Navy SEAL project.
Q: Are you filming the Navy Seal team show next? And is it packed with helicopter action scenes?
A: Yes, I leave in the morning for Vancouver, Canada, to work on a TV show called ‘Six.’ I actually have no idea how much they use the footage of helicopters until the film comes out. I am pretty far down the food chain in the film biz.
Q: How realistic were the flying scenes in ‘Only the Brave?’
A: I think they are 100 percent realistic. I have flown all those operations in real life and we did them the same in the film.
Q: You’ve actually done firefighting — was anything dramatized as far as a pilot’s role?
A: It was pretty much accurate. It all felt real. Except for the fire, of course. We didn’t have a real fire; that was all looped in later. They asked if I could get them on to a real fire to film and I said, ‘No.’ Real fires are dangerous business, as we all know, and there is no time to have a Hollywood production crew in the middle of it.
Q: How dangerous is stunt helicopter work?
A: It can be very dangerous. We spend a lot of time in site reviews, planning and practice. Safety is Number 1 for us. However, there are accidents. One of my mentors and the lead pilot in the industry, Alan Purwin, was killed two years ago in the making of the latest Tom Cruise movie, ‘American Made.’ It can happen to the best, so you must be careful.
Q: When there are multiple helicopters in the air, have the pilots had a chance to choreograph the scenes before filming?
A: Yes, we discuss the plan and rehearse it many times before we film. All of us film pilots have flown together previously in other films and work together well. A lot of trust goes with the work.
Q: Any scarily close calls during your time in Hollywood film work?
A: No, I have not had any — and I plan on keeping it that way.
Q: Have you ever turned down a stunt due to it being too risky?
A: We manage the risk as a team. We have the lead guy called the Aerial Coordinator, an air-to-ground safety guy and a pilot. We talk through the request together and if we feel it’s too risky, we offer the director an alternative. However, it’s pretty rare that we are not able to perform a request.
Q: You’re also into fast boats and, now, car racing. Have you got a ‘need for speed?’
A: I don’t think so. I think it’s referred to as being ‘an adrenaline junky.’ Maybe I’m addicted to excitement; I don’t know. Never really thought about it, but maybe I should.
Q: Would you entertain the idea of stunt work in boats or cars?
A: No, that is a whole different group of professionals. I have no interest in that. I am only interested in flying.
Q: I understand you can see your face in a stunt scene from ‘King Kong.’ Any other films where you can be identified?
A: You can see me in several films on screen, including ‘Only the Brave.’ Some of the scenes are short and you have to know when to look. I had to see the film a couple of times to see myself.
Q: Sounds like you’re now getting some lines in movies. Any strong desire to move more in the acting direction?
A: Not really. I have no ambitions of being an actor. That is really tough work. I will do it when asked and I don’t mind doing it. I enjoy the challenge of having to memorize all those lines, but, to me, it’s much easier to fly the helicopter and make that look good. Acting is hard!
Q: How much competition is there in the helicopter stunt pilot field?
A: I would not say there is a lot of competition, but there are very few in the field and not that many jobs. It’s very specialized.
Q: What’s your earliest memory of wanting to pilot a helicopter?
A: My earliest memory of wanting to be a helicopter pilot was when I was a junior at Clark Fork High School. I was in a Careers class and had no idea what I wanted to do. The teacher was going desk-by-desk, asking each of us what we wanted to do and at the second it was my turn, a helicopter flew over town and I just blurted out: ‘Helicopter pilot.’
Then, after class, I started doing research on it and decided I was hooked and never looked back. I have never done anything else in my adult life.
Q: What’s your earliest recollection of being drawn to stunt work?
A: I actually was never drawn to stunt work; it found me. I was very lucky. It’s called standing in the right place at the right time. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy doing it until I got in the door and got accepted. I have done everything you can do with helicopters and I can say without a doubt that film stunt flying is the most difficult and challenging work you can do with a helicopter.