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Morning Briefing: Sparks flew during the filming of ‘The Natural’

A lot of baseball followers, especially older ones, are big fans of the movie “The Natural.” In fact, it finished in sixth place in our recent best sports movies poll.

There are many memorable scenes in the film, but perhaps the most is the iconic homer that ended the movie, in which Roy Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, wins the game by homering into a light tower, causing an electrical display not seen since, well, ever.

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I watched that scene over and over once the film was available on VHS (kids, ask your parents what that is). I loved the ending, with the slow-motion running, the joy of the players, the excitement of the crowd, Redford completely botching the handshake with the third base coach, and Glenn Close’s character standing away from everybody, apparently abandoning her kid before the end of the game.

But how did they shoot that scene? Producer Mark Johnson talked about it with Yahoo Entertainment.

“The home run was always in [screenwriter] Roger Towne’s script, but not to the degree that [director] Barry Levinson and [cinematographer] Caleb Deschanel shot it, where it became this pyrotechnic celebration. We’d seen home runs in the movie, so it became, ‘How do you top that?’ So we’d say, ‘OK, it goes over the fence. No, it goes over the bleachers!’ ”

And then the crew visited the fictional New York Knights’ home stadium, which in real life was War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, which had a towering light stand behind the bleachers in right.

“It became clear that the ball should go into the lights,” Johnson said. “We used a cannon and aimed the ball at the lights. The special effects man had an electric board that connected a charge to different lights, so when the first one was hit, he set off a whole sequence of the others.”

It took two long nights to film the scene in near-freezing temperatures.

“The excitement wore off pretty quickly,” Johnson said. “Every hour, we would raffle something off to the extras in an effort to keep everybody in their seats as long as possible. At a certain point, people said, ‘Unless you’re raffling a small Italian sports car, I’m leaving.’”

PGA Championship questions

What better way to boost the excitement this week over the PGA Championship (which starts Thursday at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y.) than with a four-day series of quizzes? Yes, it combines the excitement of watching golf with the terror of middle school tests. We’ll do a group of four each day, and the first person to email me (houston.mitchell@latimes.com) the correct answers will get their name listed in Friday’s Morning Briefing. You also will get a free subscription to our award-winning Dodgers and daily Sports Report newsletters (Editor’s note: Those newsletters have won no awards, and they are already free).

Here are today’s questions.

1. Who is the only player to win the PGA Championship on the same course twice?

2. What is the name of the PGA Championship prize?

3. Who has won the most professional majors without ever winning the PGA Championship?

4. Who was the first player to win consecutive PGA Championships?

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