Film industry gun handling and preparation?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by tomrkba, Oct 31, 2021.

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  1. tomrkba

    tomrkba Member

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    After all the swirl regarding Baldwin’s negligent handling of a firearm on the set of “Rust”, a question comes to mind:


    What are the typical procedures that are used in the industry when handing an actor a firearm for use in a scene?


    My thought, out of sheer ignorance, is that the actor is to not manipulate the prop except as directed during the scene. The reason is that it is loaded with blanks that need to perform a certain way for the camera shot. Therefore, assuming this is true, it stands to reason that the actor (not Baldwin, but any actor) would not be in the habit of checking the “prop” handed to them. I use the word “prop” to differentiate it from “gun” — which may or may not be true (as we saw in the Baldwin case where the firearm was fully functional).


    I would appreciate only comments from those who have worked in the film industry.
     
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  2. Plan2Live

    Plan2Live Member

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    My qualifications includes a background in local television productions. I worked on the set when Barbra Walters interviewed Burt Reynolds at his home and his dinner theater in Florida. I'm also a former concealed weapons permit instructor. Hopefully that qualifies me to comment.

    The protocols for handling firearms on a movie set should be no different than classroom firearms instruction; follow the four cardinal safety rules, period, end of statement, no exceptions. While I was teaching, we never allowed live ammunition in our classroom and we never pointed a firearm at any human being or in any direction that wouldn't be considered a safe direction in the insurmountably slim chance that somehow a live round had found it's way into a firearm. When I or any of the other instructor picked up a firearm for demonstration purposes we always opened the action and not only verified with our own eyes that it was empty but we angled the firearm in a manner that one of the students could see the action and verify no rounds were present. I can't for the life of me imagine why similar protocols weren't followed on this movie set.

    As for changes in the movie industry resulting from the Rust incident, I would suspect there will be some new (and most likely temporarily enforced) rules or guidelines put into effect by the industry itself but I don't see any local, state or federal legislation arising from this unfortunate negligence. Because so many actors, directors and others involved in the movie industry seems to be so Anti-2A, what be a fitting change would be some form of law that requires anyone handling a firearm on a movie set to be certified in the use of any firearm they touch. If you aren't certified on a particular firearm you aren't allowed to touch it, period. Requiring some group like the NRA to provide the training would be awesome.

    But in the end, this really comes down to personal responsibility. I've read accounts in the press that Keanu Reeves received extensive firearms training for his movie roles. I can't imagine Keanu handling a firearm that he didn't personally check. And if actors weren't hypocritical they would put their money where their mouths are, those that are Anti-2A wouldn't accept roles in movies that depict firearms in any way.
     
  3. CryptKeeper5

    CryptKeeper5 Member

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    Because scenes in the Johnny Depp movie "Public Enemy" was being shot at my Masonic lodge, they allowed "us" (members) to come on to the set and see what happens "behind the scenes". As it worked out, our old lodge building doubled for a bank and there was a BIG shootout involving BAR's, Tommy guns and I think some others. Anyhoo...I specifically talked to the armorer to have a look at what they did and how they did it. He was ALL about safety on the set. EVERY round was accounted for, locked and the firearms were all very well tracked. They used wood dummies for practice. When it came for "action" it was very impressive. The blanks were full power rounds in order to cycle the action so it was a LOUD event but very cool to watch off frame up on the 4th floor. I guess it probably all depends on the budget and how qualified the armorer is on each movie set. Seemed that this guy new his business though and took it very seriously. He DID let me keep a couple of spent casings....one of which I got Johnny Depp to sign along with the days call sheet. Depp was pretty cool...I brought my two young daughters(at that time) who were big fans of his. He talked to them between takes in the lodge and got some pics with them as well.
     
  4. hso

    hso Moderator Staff Member

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    With the OP's limitation to comments only coming from people with experience in the film industry this one's not going to get many responses. And it isn't likely to last long since the responses have been from folks that haven't worked in the industry.

    I spent the last weekend set up at the local gun show with a pal that is a movie Armorer (Worked The Pacific, Tomorrow When The War Began, etc). Perhaps I'll ask him to sign up and provide the high points of what we discussed about the incident.


    This may help

    https://www.actorsequity.org/resources/Producers/safe-and-sanitary/safety-tips-for-use-of-firearms/
    https://www.csatf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/01FIREARMS.pdf
    https://www.csatf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/02LIVE_AMMUNITION.pdf
    https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/25/opinions/film-set-guns-safety-brown/index.html
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2021
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  5. Mizar

    Mizar Member

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    Well, from my limited experience - not in the US, mind you, but followed by armorers in the UK, South Africa, US and etc.
    Guns and blanks are only handled by the armorer/s, all the time, no exceptions. If there's a rehearsal of the scene - the armorer brings the firearms just before that, shows them to the actor/s to visually confirm they are empty and only then they are handled to them. He must be there, on the scene, for the whole rehearsal - to check if there will be unsafe handling, dangerous use (shooting too close to someone and etc.) and to "see" what kind of blanks must be used - full power, half load and etc. After the rehearsal stops he takes all of the firearms back. Actors are only allowed to keep them if they are in close proximity and can be seen all of the time - no wandering around, smoking outside, go to the catering, or flirting with that cute blonde girl from the makeup department... If there are dummy rounds to be used he checks EVERY one of them before handling them to the actor or loading them in the gun.

    "Life" shooting - brings the guns and ammo/loaded magazines just before, loads them in front of the actor and handles them over. After the scene is shot, he takes the weapons immediately to unload them and to prepare them for the next shot. He is in close proximity all the time of the shooting, watching what everyone is doing and can stop it at any time if he sees something dangerous.

    THE safety rules are followed on set, more or less - shooting aside of someone, not directly to the head and etc, but sometimes you have to point the gun at someone, or the camera, because the scene requires it. This is the time when the armorer steps in and he is the only one who can say what should be done, so everyone is safe. In general, most of the actors are completely incompetent of handling firearms beyond pressing the trigger and changing magazines (the later is not always true...) and cannot be trusted at all - give them a gun and the finger is put on the trigger at no time, you don't have a time to even blink - that's how fast those guys are at breaking the most fundamental rule of safe gun handling... There are very few exceptions to that. And I'm not talking about local actors, but the "big ones", recognized by all US names...

    The armorer/s is also responsible for testing the blank cartridges before the filming even starts - to see if they are working properly and more importantly, to make sure they are safe to use.

    So, to repeat just to be clear - no one except the armorer is allowed to handle the firearms, or the ammo. That's it, no exceptions.
     
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  6. jmorris

    jmorris Member

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    I drove the gun truck for a mfg, going to locations for different advertising photo/video “shoots”. Everything checked into or out of the truck was checked for clear. If live ammunition was being used, it stayed at scene location, didn’t travel with the firearms.
     
  7. earlthegoat2

    earlthegoat2 Member

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    I was under the impression that the prop master on site was not in the guild (or union) that prop masters are typically members of.

    Don’t know if that means anything or not.

    Sorry, don’t have any qualifications but that does raise questions of whether the prop master had any either.
     
  8. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    I am a union stagehand (IATSE Local 720)
    It sounds like the production had a dedicated armorer. My guess is the prop master was a member of IATSE Local 480 but it could have been someone else from a different local working out of town under Local 480's jurisdiction. While I can't say for sure what happened on Rust, the prop master doesn't usually handle guns if there is a dedicated armorer hired to handle these things. I have read that the armorer might have also been pulling double duty as an assistant prop master, but I am suspicious of this. Most IATSE locals discourage this kind of double dipping, ostensibly because you can't always guarantee the quality of the work, but more likely because they want as many members working as possible and one person doing two jobs for less pay doesn't help that.
    I don't know if she was a union member or not. Armorer is kind of a specialized skill so it might not be a union job. Prop master is most definitely a union job though. Whether or not the IATSE local there in Santa Fe had enough assistant prop masters or if Gutierrez-Reed was working as a pink card outside her normal jurisdiction, I can't say.

    pink card is kind of an old term for an IATSE member working out of a different local and it basically means that the destination local grants you permission to work in their jurisdiction and your dues go to them for the amount of time you're there. They might also require you to buy the stamp for your card but that's not really pertinent to this discussion.
     
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  9. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    I am a union stagehand working out of IATSE Local 720. I have done prop calls before although I've never been an armorer.

    You are not wrong in how you think it should be done. The armorer sets up the guns for the shot and wouldn't want an actor opening the gun up and playing around with things, if for no other reason than maybe they get the cylinder out of position or dump the blank and chamber an inert round. Then when the director rolls film, the actor delivers the line and pulls the trigger only to hear a *click* instead of the bang you were expecting. Now they have to cut and the armorer needs to safely open the gun and check all the ammo to see what happened. Same problems that might arise if you were shooting such as a hang fire. Since this was a western, I'm going to assume a revolver for this example. The armorer would likely load only one blank and the rest with inert rounds. When closing the cylinder, the armorer would have clocked it so that the actor pulling the hammer rotates the blank into the firing position. The actor fiddling around with that could screw that up and at the very least waste time and film, which isn't cheap but also isn't all that common anymore.
    In a perfect scenario, the armorer would have the gun prepped for the scene. The crew will be told to clear the field of fire because even blanks can hurt you. Armorer walks over from his/her work area when it's time for the shot, calls 'Hot Gun' and hands the actor the gun. The director rolls film, calls action and the actor does the scene as instructed. Director calls cut. The only person who moves is the armorer to retrieve the gun from the actor. The armorer takes the gun, clears it and checks it and declares 'Cold Gun' which now gives the all-clear to the crew that they can go about whatever work needs doing. The armorer takes the gun back to the work area, checks it for function and makes sure there is nothing in the barrel. Guns are generally required to be checked and possibly cleaned daily. The gun will then be returned to the gun safe until it is needed again.

    If you're shooting blanks though, you need a functional firearm. You need an actual firing pin and if you're doing any sort of close angle with the gun, people will spot a fake. Realism kind of demands a real gun. Recoil is hard to fake. Real muzzle flash and smoke looks cooler.That being said, calling a gun a prop isn't wrong. Prop just means property. But a prop gun could absolutely be a real gun and should be treated as such. You can be cut or stabbed with a prop sword.
    But there are also a long list of best practices and guidelines and rules published by industry sources.
    https://www.safetyontheset.com/resources/amptp-bulletins/
    Feel free to read at your leisure.
     
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  10. Riomouse911

    Riomouse911 Member

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    I’ve only worked as set security on a few films many years ago, I do recall there being a dedicated armorer on the one set I was a part of where a shotgun was in the scene. They were super careful; I saw the gun was carried from off set by the armorer, brought straight to the talent (Meryl Streep), then the gun went back to the armorer once the scene was shot. No one else was near the armorer when he had the gun, he loaded it himself (a double barrel shotgun) and it was never left unattended.

    Stay safe.
     
  11. .38 Special

    .38 Special Member

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    I managed a facility, decades ago, where several films were shot. My impression was that the typical production is chaotic, obnoxious, and staffed almost entirely by people who should not be allowed to do anything, anywhere.

    In particular, I recall a Remington 700 "sniper rifle", supposedly loaded with blanks, which was handled so cavalierly that I gave serious consideration to calling my boss and going home.

    I am biased in favor of Thell Reed, and so am biased in favor of his daughter as well. On the whole, though, I am surprised that people on film sets do not shoot each other on a regular basis.

    <edit> Short version: a responsible man checks any gun which is handed to him.
     
  12. Ivy Mike

    Ivy Mike Member

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    If the armorer is on top of things, people can't shoot each other.
    and an armorer doesn't want the actor checking the gun. It's been set up specifically for the scene and an actor popping it open and fiddling with things is not conducive to getting the scene filmed. That's why the film hired an armorer in the first place.
     
  13. Mizar

    Mizar Member

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    Most of the actors don't even know they are using "real" guns - in their mind they are some sort of specially built replicas for firing only blanks. Jason Statham, for example, was quite surprised when he learned that the rifles he used were real, only converted to fire blanks with a hidden screw in adapter in the muzzle... That's how ignorant they are.
     
  14. 1942bull

    1942bull Member

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    I saw am interview of a highly experienced film crew armorer. Beside the obvious safety precautions he added one that would have absolutely prevented this current tragedy. He said that when working on any film in which the gun is pointed at the camera for effect he makes the cinematographer set the camera controls and step out from behind the camera before the gun if fired. After firing the cinematographer takes back control of the camera. If he had been the armorer on the Baldwin film, the woman would be alive today.
     
  15. Mizar

    Mizar Member

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    Dummy rounds are made deliberately to look exactly as a live cartridge - they are made with real bullets and cases, minus the powder charge and with a solid plug instead of a primer.

    For example - .38 Spl, .223 & .308 dummy rounds.

    254350230-10224184919118039-8508160768448214920-n.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2021
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  16. Shanvanvocht

    Shanvanvocht Member

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    Commercially produced dummy rounds are usually quite real looking. A box of .22lr in my instructors kit is clearly marked "Action Proving Dummy Cartridges" look exactly like live rounds with the exception that the cases are black for identification. I also have some 12ga that look like typical low brass shells except that the hull is clear plastic and the word "DUMMY" is printed in the hull. They are complete with wad and shot and even carry a "WINCHESTER 12 GA" headstamp. These are typically used by gunsmiths to test for proper feed, extraction, ejection while working inn the shop.
     
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