September 01, 2005

Adam Savage Interview - Part 2

The following is Part Two of my interview with MythBusters co-host: Adam Savage. (If you missed Part One you can find it here.)

In this section Adam and I discuss harsh fan criticism, how long he could survive in a fight with Jamie, the greatest toy ever invented and much more...

While taping the show, when have you most feared for your life?

That would be standing the deck of the Mythtanic, waiting for it to sink.

We were testing the myth of "Will you get sucked down by a boat if it sinks?" And the biggest boat we could get a hold of was this steel hulled tugboat, that weighed about 30,000 pounds. And we welded it up, and put in a valve in the base of it that would let water in, and started letting it fill up. And I stood on the deck with no protective gear, but a wet suit and I had a weight belt on to make sure to account for my positive buoyancy. And we didn't know what was going to happen... we were in San Francisco Bay, it was like 55 degree water, it was 75 feet deep where we were, and Jamie is pretty much right next to me- he's a master diver, and we also had a secondary master diver who's a paramedic and a salvage specialist and we had no idea what was going to happen.

But when you're standing on something that big, and it starts to move in a way you've never felt something like that move, I.E. it starts to roll, your body really knows that something is dreadfully wrong. We had to do it twice because the first time I jumped right off. I was like, "Screw this!" I don't think I really participated in that decision, my body was just like "TIME TO GO!"

And the 2nd time we did it, I felt a little more confident, but still I didn't know if I was going to be dragged down 60 feet or something like that. It was terrifying.

So I still have to say that was just about the highest on the "Brown Pants Index." That's our index that we call it at MythBusters.

Have there been any myths you've just bailed on in the middle?

There have been a couple of myths we've bailed on. And I wouldn't say that anything is totally dead in the water. It's just sometimes, certain things turn out to be so difficult to achieve, that we shelve them for the time being.

We're doing one right now with the B team on Train Suction. "Can a train going by actually pull you into it." And, they've done all the preliminary work up to and including building a beautiful scale wind tunnel, and doing all this stuff, and apparently it's been devilsighly difficult to get the permits to do this on an actual train platform. Even though it's highly unlikely that it's true, in fact, I believe we've proven that while there is a little bit of suction from the train, there's a lot more force pushing you away.

But it's so difficult to find a location to shoot in that was reasonable for us to get to, so that one has been put on the back shelf for the time being.

Now that the show is more popular, is it easier to get things like permits and materials?

Absolutely. Without a doubt it's a lot easier.

When we were first starting out, we would call up a scientist for help on some myth, and he would say, "Why would I want to help you with that? It's stupid!" And we would say, "Well, we know it's stupid, and you know it's stupid, but a lot of people think this is true. So help us prove it." And they'd be like "Buzz off!"

Now that the show is popular, the opportunities and materials really come out of the woodwork. A lot of people bend over backwards to help us out. We managed to get the FBI Bomb Squad to help us do a couple of myths. And they're an amazing crew.

A few weeks ago we ran out of ballistics gel, and we did not have a source for getting it by the next morning. And one of the researchers called up a forensics laboratory about an hour from here, and their response was "The MythBusters need ballistics gel?? We'll bring it right over!"

To be honest, one of the best parts of doing the show is you work with these experts, and scientists, and rocket scientists, and expert mechanics and people who build race cars and airplanes, and because they've seen the show and they've seen the work ethic and the problem solving that Jamie and I bring to the table-- when we meet these guys they treat us like peers.

And there's all this kind of social convention, that feeling someone out, that goes right out the window because they trust our judgment. And they trust our intuition about stuff. And we get to work with these guys on a level that is completely beyond my scope of ever thinking was possible. Like when we were building the jet pack, we were on the phone every couple of days with John Roncz who designed the air foils for Burt Rutan's X-Plane! And John is one of the best aero-dynamic guys in the world, and we're like getting him up from the dinner table to look at an email we just sent him so we could get advice on how to proceed. And that's really amazing.

I know you also get a lot of feedback from your fans on the message boards. Is that a blessing or a curse?

(LAUGHING) It's both. It's both. The amount of fevered intensity on the message boards is really gratifying- I think that the MythBusters message boards are one of the highest trafficked , if not sometimes the highest, on all of Discovery websites. And there's a really great core group of very dedicated fans who follow the show religiously and stick up for us when people say we're idiots. That being said, it's hard to go and read sometimes, when people are calling you a fucking idiot.

There's just something about the anonymity of the web that can make people extra nasty sometimes.

Well, I equate the web to like being in rush hour traffic. Everyone is really bold inside their box and they're just giving the finger out the window.

But the best thing is, often times someone will post up and say, "These guys aren't scientists, and what they're doing isn't science, it's idiotic." And almost always, whenever anyone posts something like that, some will post after them and say "Actually, I'm a working scientist for the past 30 years. And while it would be nice if they had more data sets, which I suspect they would if they had more time-- And while it would be nice if their methods were a little more rigorous, which I guess they would be if they had more time-- what they do is exactly science. It's messy, it's confusing, they're willing to make mistakes, and that's every bit of what science is." And that's really gratifying.

I know you've done a lot of special effects in the past. What was the most famous movie or television scene that you had a hand in?

Oh, well, geez... that would be the Star Wars movies. When I got to Industrial Light & Magic in 1998 they were just finishing up Episode 1. So I spent about 3 months on that. And there's this one shot where those villains land in a shuttle, and I got to work with this wonderful guy from ILM, Larry Tan, and he had built the shell of the ship, and I got to detail the landing bay and the loading dock and ramp. And then I got to paint it and light it. And that was a crazy amount of fun. I also did a ton of work on Episode 2.

But probably of all the special effects, the one I'm most proud of was doing the space shuttle from "Space Cowboys." We built probably the single most accurate model of the space shuttle that's ever been built. It had all 10,000 tiles actually scribed into the body. We put decals on all those tiles. And my specific main job was doing the loading bay. And I got to spend about 5 months just nailing every nut and bolt in that thing from massive banks and photographs that NASA provided us. And the production was very inexpensive, and they didn't build a set of the cargo bay for the shots when Clint Eastwood was out there. So in the movie, when you see him leave the airlock, into the cargo bay-- that's actually a digital Clint Eastwood, against my model filling the screen, and my model was only 12 inches across. So that was incredibly satisfying.

You got some pretty cool props for the Shark Week episode, didn't you?

Oh god, yes. I got those through my prop geek buddies. This guy Chris from New York sent us out the barrels from Jaws, the actual barrels used for shooting. And the scuba tank, and the actual harpoon gun. He has an amazing collection, and all he wanted in return was my destroyed shark cage, because I had built that super-accurate shark cage for the myth.

When he saw what you guys did with his props on TV was he okay with it?

He was absolutely okay. In fact, the production was really nervous. They were like "Is there fucking value on these?! I don't think we should put these in the water." And I said no no no, I talked to him, I said we were going to put them in the water, I said we were going to tie ropes to them, I asked him if it was okay, and it was totally okay with him.

Were you surprised he was okay with it?

Well, they're pretty beat up. (LAUGHING) Actually, I was surprised that he was so okay with it. They're definitely irreplaceable items. There aren't any more in the world, and they're totally original. But, I also knew that we're just basically going to put them in water and drag them under the water. With any of the stuff he lent us, we didn't actually bang anything into it.

Realistically, how long could you survive in a fight with Jamie?

(LAUGHING) Wow! I've never been asked that. I once got asked who would win, us or the American Chopper guys and I said I thought Jamie could give Paul Tuttle a run for his money.

Hmm... how long could I survive in a fight with Jamie... That's a tough one. He's unusually strong... but I'm not unwilling to fight dirty. And I think I'm a little quicker than he is. So, maybe between my biting and scratching, I think it might be a pretty even fight.

So you are saying there's a chance you can win, despite his strength.

I think there is a chance that I could win. I don't have any doubt, however, that Jamie could deliver a killing blow where I'm really not sure I could.

You were involved in the toy industry for some time?


What do you think is the single greatest toy ever invented?

Wow... you know what? My mentor in the toy industry was the guy who started the company that I worked for-- and it was for a building a toy called Zoob. And Zoob is a terrific toy, it's a building toy based on ball and socket joints with which you can build all this incredible 3-dimensional stuff, and Zoob is pretty great, but I have to say the second thing I ever wanted to do for a living was to work for Industrial Light & Magic on Star Wars, but the very first thing I ever wanted to do for a living was be a designer for Lego.

So I'd have to say, hands down, the best toy ever has to go Lego. I mean, Lego fueled my desire to build things from age 5 to... age 17, I think.

Do your kids have lots of Legos now?

Oh yeah, they got a crapload. In fact, I was just looking on eBay the other day for more bunches of Legos, because every now and then on eBay, someone will be selling Legos by the pound. It'll be like "14 POUNDS OF LEGOS for $30!"

I figure every kid should just have an obscene amount of Legos. And as far as I'm concerned, I don't see any reason to buy them another type of toy until they really ask. I mean, I'm not going to buy them video games, I don't want to listen to that.

So I figure, it's Legos until they're old enough for a cell phone.

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