SCOTTSDALE — The producers had one goal when they set out to do “Only the Brave,” the film that chronicles the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Prescott that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Tell the men’s stories.
“People don’t know what these guys do and we got the chance to introduce them to the world,” Michael Menchel said last week as reporters from around the state gathered at Scottsdale’s The Phoenician Resort for a media event promoting the film. It arrives at theaters on Friday, Oct. 20.
“We’re super proud of the film,” fellow producer Trent Luckinbill added, a sentiment shared by Brendan McDonough, the lone survivor of the Yarnell Hill Fire.
“Since Day 1 we’ve just felt that everyone who has been a part of it just wants to make sure that it’s authentic and make sure it’s honoring and make sure it’s a fitting film,” McDonough said. “Make sure it shows what our brothers were about and the moral code they carried.”
McDonough and former Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighter Pat McCarty consulted with the filmmakers throughout the production, advising them on everything from the crew members’ personalities to how to recreate the fire that engulfed Yarnell Hill in late June 2013.
In an interview, the pair remembered their fallen colleagues and gave us a behind-the-scenes peek into the film.
About the film
“Only the Brave,” directed by Joseph Kosinski, stars Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, Granite Mountain’s supervisor; Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Amanda; Miles Teller as Brendan “Donut” McDonough; Jeff Bridges as Duane Steinbrink, the crew’s biggest chearleader; James Badge Dale as Jesse Steed, Marsh’s second-in-command; and Taylor Kitsch as Chris MacKenzie, McDonough’s roommate. The screenplay is based on Sean Flynn’s GQ article “No Exit: The Granite Mountain Yarnell Fire Investigation.” It’s rated PG-13.
Playing with real fire
Every scene in which the actors were close to fire was real, McCarty said. And the big Yarnell Hill blaze? That was recreated on a New Mexico backlot forest, where they had planted 10 to 15 acres of ponderosa pines similar to the ones in Prescott.
“It was unbelievable what went into this. That ended up getting burned, all of it,” McCarty said. “It was done very intentionally to be realistic. If you don’t pay attention to authenticity in a film like this, you don’t have a film.”
Let us introduce our brothers.
“There were so many great moments that were brought to life. Some fantastic memories of my brothers and how they transformed my life and what that brotherhood was,” McDonough said. “This film is so much more than the tragedy. This film is how they lived, what they did.”
Among the scenes that stood out for McDonough was one where he and his roommate, Chris MacKenzie, called hotshot members for help when McDonough’s infant daughter came down with a high fever.
“That hit home to the brotherhood. That hit home to how much those men loved me and how much I loved them, who we were on and off the job,” he said. “There were moments (in the film) that were so powerful from the beginning to the end.”
What the 19 firefighters would think of the film
McDonough and McCarty said their fallen colleagues would probably laugh at the thought that anyone would make a movie about them.
“These aren’t the type of people who want the spotlight. To have the spotlight shed on them, I’m sure they would feel a little bit embarrassed,” McCarty said. “And I think that speaks to the entire hotshots community, the entire wildlands firefighting community and the entire firefighting community. They don’t want the spotlight, but they deserve it.”
Brendan McDonough still lives in Prescott with his fiancé and now 6-year-old daughter.
Last year, his memoir, “My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor,” was published. He is a public speaker and works with nonprofits for veterans and first responders.
Pat McCarty is a Prescott city firefighter and serves on the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial Partnership board of directors.
The partnership in June started accepting proposals for a memorial to the 19 firefighters to be built on the corner of the Yavapai County Courthouse square in Prescott.