A Tornado of Coincidences: How I Wound Up In The Movie “Twister”
"Hey Bryce, you better come here and take a look at this!"
And scene. Cut! Thanks Paul, for what may be the most impactful line in the 1996 hit movie "Twister". Uh, maybe not. How I wound up on the set, with a line in the weather-cult-classic thriller about crazy tornado chasers, is a curious blur. To be honest, it happened because I was bored to death with the TV weather graphics I was using at KARE-11 in the early 90s.
The TV graphics I was using weren't bad, it's just that every other TV meteorologist in the market was using the same maps. We all looked the same! I wanted something different, and after seeing a concept of "3-D Weather" at an American Meteorological Society conference, I came back to Minnesota determined to bring a third dimension to "boring" TV weather shows.
The third developer I approached was able to figure it out, creating proprietary software that ran on Silicon Graphics workstations. These were the heavy-duty computers that came up with digital tornadoes in "Twister". None of those tornadoes were real - they wanted to keep the actors and film crew alive!
Back up a little: I debuted these new 3-D "EarthWatch" weather graphics back in 1991, and then a year or so later we got a call from Amblin Entertainment. "We represent Steven Spielberg. He is making a little movie about dinosaurs and would like to use your software. Are you interested?" Uh, sure. We created special effects for "Jurassic Park" and then a year later they called back again and said "Steve would like to use your graphics in another movie about tornadoes. Are you interested?" Uh, sure.
I was in charge of some of the control room special effects. Meteorologists were guiding Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton toward the tornadoes, and they needed cutting-edge graphics, more eye-candy! I walk into a barn outside Ames, Iowa retrofitted to look like a high-tech weather center, expecting to only help out with graphics and someone walks up and asks "Hey Paul, do you want a line in the movie?" Uh, sure!
As God is my witness, it took 9 takes before the director finally threw up his hands and said "OK. It's good enough". My line pops up in a control room scene about two-third's of the way through the movie, just as the big F-5 tornado, the Grand Finale, begins to spin up. If you blink or sneeze you'll miss my big line.
Click on the play button below to hear what you probably missed the first few times you watched "Twister". My own family thought my one and only line had been cut! My college meteorology professors must be so proud:
I still get residual checks from "Twister" a few times a year. This is one of my favorites, which I framed - it's hanging in my weather office. This is basically God tapping you on the shoulder, saying "you really aren't a big deal".
A sequel to "Twister" is set to be released in July of 2024. And no, I have not been contacted to help out with visuals, but I'm anxiously waiting by the phone for another shot. I doubt lightning will strike twice.
By the way, my sister still calls or texts every time "Twister" is on TV. Which is pretty much all the time. Because there's a little cray-cray tornado chaser in all of us.