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From Edward Scissorhands to Infinity war, he's the green thumb on movie sets

Dan Gillooly shows off the bamboo outside his log cabin in Dade City. It was part of Thanos’ garden in the Avengers movies. And bamboo isn’t the only living souvenir Gillooly has from working as a  Hollywood greens coordinator. There are azaleas from Big Fish, palm trees from Pain & Gain, a cactus from Guardians of Galaxy. [ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times]
Dan Gillooly shows off the bamboo outside his log cabin in Dade City. It was part of Thanos’ garden in the Avengers movies. And bamboo isn’t the only living souvenir Gillooly has from working as a Hollywood greens coordinator. There are azaleas from Big Fish, palm trees from Pain & Gain, a cactus from Guardians of Galaxy. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published Jul. 10

Thanos had his post-Snap life all planned out.

He wanted to switch careers from genocidal maniac to simple farmer and, as he said in Avengers: Infinity War, "rest, and watch the sun rise on a grateful universe."

But the Mad Titan barely had time to enjoy his bamboo garden before he was decapitated by Thor in Avengers: Endgame.

"It seemed like such a waste of good bamboo," said Dan Gillooly. "So, I brought it home and surrounded a hammock with it in my backyard."

The bamboo garden is not the only famous foliage planted around Gillooly's 2,700-square-foot Dade City log cabin. His azaleas are from the set of Big Fish, palm trees from Pain & Gain and a white cactus from the planet Morag from Guardians of Galaxy.

"When I finish a job, I like to find the plants good homes," he said. "Some stuff I bring to my home."

As a Hollywood greens coordinator, the University of South Florida graduate and former Tampa resident oversees every plant on the movie set, from the largest trees to the smallest blade of grass.

RELATED: How Tampa Bay helped create the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The scope of Gillooly's duties fluctuates in size too. Sometimes he repairs a lawn trampled by a film crew. Other times, he is charged with building a set.

The forest on the planet of Berhert where Starlord first encounters his father Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, for instance, was an empty sound stage before Gillooly populated it with real trees.

"I took an insulation blower and turned it into a gun that sprays ground-up moss and glue," said Gillooly, 64. "We used that to spray all the trunks and the ground."

For Endgame, he built the crater in the final battle scene.

"All the trees, root balls, dirt piled up, debris and rubble," he said.

CGI then expanded upon his work.

"Dan has a way of finding the perfect piece for any set," said Charlotte Lee, a Plant City native who was a set decoration buyer on Infinity Wars and Endgame. "His work is part of what makes the make-believe believable."

RELATED: How Ybor City parties inspired the sets of Avengers: Infinity War

Gillooly said his most challenging project was transforming downtown New Orleans into a post-apocalyptic wasteland for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

"We had to go up 30 feet with ivy on walls," Gillooly said. "I had three tractor trailers moving materials there."

His most "magical" experience was turning a barrier island off the coast of Beaufort, S.C., into Vietnam for Forrest Gump.

"You could see magic happening as they filmed," he said.

Multiple cameras were needed to shoot the scene in which Forrest Gump, against the backdrop of napalm explosions, carries a wounded Bubba out of the jungle. Gillooly said he used foliage to hide each of those cameras and a crane that helped hold up Mykelti Williamson, who portrayed Bubba.

Gillooly also made his acting debut in that film as the helicopter gunman whose glance told Gump and Bubba that he didn't expect them to survive the war.

"I felt like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver," Gillooly said with a laugh. "I practiced that look in the mirror for days."

That remains his sole acting credit, but he has 51 for the greens department, according to IMDB.com.

"He is number one at what he does," said retired Tampa prop master Tandova Ecenia, who has worked with Gillooly. "He creates vistas and landscapes."

He has worked with directors including Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Terry Gilliam, the Coen brothers, M. Night Shyamalan, Oliver Stone and Tim Burton, or, as he calls him, "Tim."

"With Tim you always go big and outrageous," Gillooly said.

It was on a Burton production that Gillooly received his Hollywood break.

After graduating from USF in 1977 with a fine arts degree, the Cinnaminson, N.J., native went to work for Gandy Photo Studio on Davis Islands before a friend got him into the local stagehand union.

"I mostly did concerts," Gillooly said. "And then Edward Scissorhands came to town."

The filmmakers were shooting in Tampa Bay in 1990 and hiring residents.

"They wanted set dressers and carpenters and assistant greensmen," Gillooly said. "I had no background, but I loved working outside so went with greensman."

He was initially charged with helping to build the topiaries that Edward Scissorhands creates to wow the neighborhood. Frames welded out of rebar and covered in chicken wire were shaped into a dinosaur and an open hand, among other things.

"We then rigged artificial greenery on every topiary," Gillooly said.

Once filming began, Gillooly was on set.

"Tim says he is going to pull the camera back and shoot Edward Scissorhands' castle from the next hill to show off the whole hillside," Gillooly said.

But there was a major problem: The hill was mostly dirt. So, Gillooly said, he sprang into action. He sliced branches from nearby oak trees to cover the hill.

"It was night and looked like vegetation," Gillooly said. "I look over and Tim is right next to me throwing limbs."

Gillooly spent the next three years on local productions until he was hired as assistant greens coordinator for Forrest Gump, shot in 1993 and released in 1994.

Since then, he has worked consistently on blockbusters as boss of his department.

Still, after the last Avengers film wrapped, Gillooly thought his career was in its end game.

He was ready to retire, but Marvel Studios coaxed him into working on three original series being produced for Disney's streaming service scheduled for a fall launch. He is currently in Atlanta filling studios with plants.

"Marvel keeps offering me exciting opportunities that are hard to turn down," he said. "But I am staring at 65 in August and wonder how much longer I'll do this."

When Gillooly does walk away from Hollywood, he envisions his next phase to be reminiscent of Thanos' post-Snap life, minus the beheading at the hands of a Norse god wielding an axe forged by the light of a dying star.

"When I saw that shot of Thanos in Infinity War walking through the fields and brushing his hand against plants, I related," Gillooly said. "That's how I picture my life."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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