Casting real worms presented unique challenges to the production. “Really early in pre- production, we were very concerned about not killing any of them,” explains producer Philip Steuer. “We met with a worm specialist named Steven Kutcher in Los Angeles, who is an entomologist and does bugs for movies. He told us that heat will affect the way worms move and you have to keep them cool.”
Of course, the production was slated to film during the height of the summer heat. “When we began working in Texas, our property master Dwayne Grady spearheaded their care and took it on full force with regards to who would do what with the worms. In our basement of the production office, we had a worm farm, home to thousands of live worms. As product placement, one company actually gave us living habitats (elaborate tins of dirt) to keep them in.”
The prop department also instructed the crew to save certain leftover food including: old toast, pancakes, fruit/vegetable scraps, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds and dead flowers and leaves to feed the worms.
Property master Dwayne Grady and his crew of five took their care extremely seriously. “On set the worms were always kept in special temperature-controlled containers,” explains assistant property master Amy Bell. “They were treated like movie stars.” Gummy worms and rubber worms were used as stand-ins to keep the stars out of the heat for as long as possible to preserve the energy of their performances. When production wrapped, several crewmembers adopted many of the stars and took them home to live in their gardens.
Among other things, special effects coordinator Everette Byrom, III and his brother, special effects foreman Craig Byrom, were responsible for the practical stunt worms. For example, “The Burning Fireball” is cooked in a boiling pot and the special effects wizards made the concoction gurgle and look boiling hot, even though the liquid was room temperature and safe for the actors to throw stuff in the pot and splash the contents without getting burned.