Saturday, January 29, 2011

It happened one night…

March 30, 1993 started out like a normal day. Brandon woke up late afternoon, he called his fiancée Eliza, and she advised him that her wedding ring had finally arrived from the jewelers (it has been custom designed and built).

Brandon arrived on set at a little before 8pm. Earlier that afternoon he had been happily chatting about his wedding with the staff at the local gym he trained at most days. After a light dinner, he called his mother from the set.

They chatted casually about his wedding, which was only less than three weeks away. He told his mother of his relief that this was the last night of all the action scenes. The rest of the week was to be flashback scenes – relatively easy work.

The scene Brandon was shooting was his character’s death scene. A few weeks before the scene began shooting it had been decided that Eric Draven – Brandon’s character would be stabbed by the killers, and then thrown out the window. Only hours before the shoot Director Alex Proyas had decided that Draven would be shot as well.

Once it was decided how his character was to be killed, they worked out that he should be carrying an object. A ‘Squib’, which is a small explosive charge used with a small bag of blood, was placed instead a bag his character would be carrying.

When the squib is detonated, it bleeds fake blood to make it look like the subject had been actually shot. The squib was placed in a brown grocery bag not on Brandon, as one would expect of such a production.

Brandon had worn a bullet- proof safety vest on one previous scene. In it, he was shot close to 90 times, but on this night, the stunt team determined that a vest would not be warranted.

It was not expected that the gun would be directed aimed at his body, which was against safety regulation laws on film sets. There were more then forty squibs in the bag that Brandon was carrying.

The gun was not to be pointed at the bag, just vaguely in the direction.

It was felt that Brandon was a safe distance from the gun, and vests were only used when characters were shot at point blank.

The gun expert, who had oversaw the previous gun fights had finished his time on The Crow.

Much speculation has been made about the production crew wanting to save a few bucks, but there is significant evidence that points to the fact that originally Brandon's character was not to be shot, only stabbed and thrown out a window.

 Later after all the action film was winding down, Proyas decided that Brandon's character should be shot also.

Unknown to Proyas, but the prop team (who were put in charge of maintaining and cleaning the weapon) had not been doing their job, and had in fact made dummy bullets themselves, to save money.

The prop team failed to follow through with standard gun safety routine of cleaning of the weapon after the 2nd unit crew had done dummy film shots.

Brandon was blissfully unaware that the fire arms expert had been left go 10 days before. During rehearsal, Brandon had a thought, he felt that his character should be wearing a walkman. His feelings were that his character would not just walk into his apartment knowing that someone was attacking his girlfriend, saying that if he was in Eric’s position he would never walk straight into his house if he heard such noises, stating the only way he would do that is if he couldn’t hear what was going on.

 So, it was decided that Brandon would now wearing a walkman and carrying a grocery bag. Alex Proyas had decided that evening that Brandon’s character would be shot.

Actor Michael Massee, who was playing one of the villains, had been randomly chosen to shoot Brandon’s character, as the other actors playing the villains each had a weapon specialty.

At a little past midnight on March 31st, Brandon walked through his character’s wooden door, wearing a walkman and bopping to the music completely unaware of what was about to happen.

Imada gave some basic directions to Massee of where he should aim the gun (away from Brandon’s left shoulder, towards the top of the wall), but in the confusion, it all went wrong.

Brandon entered the room, when Michael Massee’s character Funboy said a line and then pointed the prop gun at Brandon and fired. Brandon fell, but not forward as  they previously planned and practised.

At this time, no one had suspected anything was wrong. Some of the crew members thought Lee was joking around, as he had previously done in other scenes by not moving.

Imada knew instinctively that something was wrong, as not only did Brandon hand differently and very hard on his back, but his movement was all wrong. Imada walked over to Lee hoping he was playing a joke, but Brandon was not joking, in fact he was barely conscious and was losing blood FAST.

On-set medic Clyde Baisey came over to Brandon, who it appeared to be staring out into space, but was in fact unconscious, and was fast slipping into a coma.

At first, it was thought that because he fell backwards near the doorway, that he had somehow hit his head, or hurt his spine in some way.

Because the wound was not a standard shape of either a .44 caliber bullet or a blank, it was assumed that someone else might of hit him, possibly even the spuib.

After tearing away some clothing, Baisey noticed as he was taking his vitals how alarming low they were.  Brandon was now unconscious, although his eyes were open. Within a few minutes Brandon did not seem to have a pulse.

It was difficult to determine where his injury was coming from since the squibs had exploded fake blood all over his stomach, together with the mess of what came out of the grocery bag, it was a confusing scene all around.

Baisey could not find any evidence of a wound – the actual wound was no bigger then a quarter coin it was later determined.

Baisey fearing the worst shouted for 911 to be called. At this time, Brandon’s abdomen started to swell, which indicated that he had internal bleeding.

Michael Massee, the actor who shot Brandon went into shock, and had to be consoled by one of the crew. The majority of the cast and crew were in a state of panic.

Some left the room, but many had decided to stay since it was too difficult to get out of the now crowded room, due to where Brandon was positioned.

Precious minutes went past and there was still no sign of the ambulance. It was close to 15 minutes after they were called that they were allowed to enter the back lot at Carolco studios.

When the ambulance arrived Brandon had no pulse. The paramedics immediately set up an IV. Once on the gurney it was determined that his heart had stopped.

The heart monitor was showing a flat line, while the brain was alive and telling the heart to beat, the blood was not getting to the heart. Emergency CPR was done, but his organs were fast breaking down due to the internal bleeding. His chances of survival were fading fast.

After arriving at the emergency department at the New Hanover Medical Centre, an X-Ray of his abdomen revealed that a projectile was sitting next to the spine.

Despite this discovery, the immediate threat to his life was the lack of blood circulation.

His artery had been damaged when he was shot, and without surgery to replace the lost blood, he had no hope.

A surgeon was on that night, and Brandon was rushed into surgery to replace the lost blood. He received multiple pints of blood, but little progress was made.

Imada fearing the worst, thought he should call to see how Eliza was taking the news. He had previously been told that someone had called her, but the truth was much different.

No one had called Eliza, despite reports to the contrary, and he would be the first one to break the news to her.

L.A was three hours behind Wilmington time, and Eliza was getting ready for bed when Imada called. She at first thought Imada was helping Brandon play a Practical joke on her, it was after all near April Fools Day and Brandon was notorious for playing elaborate practical jokes on his loved ones, including quite regularly - Eliza. Imada on the other had called with the assumption that she had been told of the accident.

He asked her if she was taking a plane out. Eliza asked him what he was talking about and if “Brandon put you up to this?”

He told her no, and that there had been a accident and Brandon was in the hospital.

Fearing the worst, Eliza Hutton jumped on the first plane to Atlanta from L.A to meet a connecting flight to Wilmington, North Carolina.

She also made a call to Brandon’s mother Linda. According to a 2000 interview with Shannon Lee, Eliza said that Brandon had been hurt, but that none of them knew what exactly happened.

Jeff Imada volunteered to meet Eliza’s plane in Atlanta.

While waiting for the connecting flight, he broke the news that Brandon's injuries were much more serious then they had first thought. Eliza called The Crow’s costume designer Arianne Phillips, who she shared mutual friends with in New York City from the airport frantic with worry, because the connecting plane had no phone on it, and until she arrived in Wilmington there would be no way she could check on Brandon’s condition.

Phillips tried to calm her down, and tried to assure her that Brandon's injuries probably were not as bad as she had been led to believe.

This was not the first time Brandon had gone to the hospital from a film accident, Brandon had been injured on the set of Rapid Fire in 1991, when a bad timing move had broken part of Brandon's foot. However, this time it was different.

Hutton and Imada landed in Wilmington just after midday on March 31st. They went straight to the hospital where Lee was laying in intensive care.

Eliza was taken directly to Brandon’s room where she spent her last moments with Brandon in private, though, Brandon still was unconscious and now in a coma.

A short time later, she and Imada were called into the surgeon’s office.

Eliza in the company of Jeff Imada and Jeff Cadiente, Brandon’s two best friends, she received the worst news possible. Brandon was not expected to make it through the day.

Hutton was understandably an emotional wreck and was being consoled by Imada when the doctor was called out for a code red. Closely following, Hutton and his closest friends witnessed the emergency, and with all them by Brandon’s side, he flatlined.

Brandon’s heart had stopped again. All measures had been done, but his organs had all failed.

He was pronounced dead at 1:04pm on the afternoon of Wednesday 31st of March 1993. He was 28 years of age.

Meanwhile, Linda did not know how badly hurt he was, and did not get on a plane until the hospital called her with an update at 4am.

She called his sister Shannon, who was living in New Orleans. They both jumped on the first plane they could and made their way to Wilmington.

The Lee women would not reach Wilmington until several hours after Brandon had died. Eliza Hutton and Jeff Imada met their plane and Eliza broke the bad news to them that Brandon was dead.

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