Guns on movie and television sets: How does that work? - Albuquerque Journal

Guns on movie and television sets: How does that work?

Pictured is the entrance guarded by security to the Bonanza Creek Ranch where an accident involving actor Alec Baldwin took place Friday afternoon on a movie set in Santa Fe. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died Thursday after a prop firearm that actor Alec Baldwin was holding discharged on the set of “Rust.” Director Joel Souza was also hit and injured but has since been released from the hospital. While many things still aren’t known, the AP looks at the use of firearms on film and TV productions and the safety protocols in place.

WHAT IS A ‘PROP’ FIREARM?

It’s a loose definition and could apply to anything from a rubber toy to a real firearm that can fire a projectile. However, if it’s used for firing (even just blanks) it’s considered a real gun. Chris Burbank, a former police chief in Salt Lake City who has consulted on several TV productions, said firearms for simulations during police trainings or film productions are often made so that they can only be loaded with blanks.

WHAT ARE BLANKS AND CAN THEY KILL?

A blank is a type of gun cartridge that contains gunpowder but no bullet. Still, it can seriously hurt or kill someone who is close by, according to the Actors’ Equity Association. Film firearms-safety coordinator Dave Brown wrote in a 2019 piece for American Cinematographer that, “Blanks expel gunpowder and hot gases out of the front of the barrel in a cone shape. This is harmless at longer ranges, but the explosion can seriously injure someone if it’s too close.”

IN THIS INSTANCE, WERE BLANKS FIRED?

We don’t know. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating what “type of projectile was discharged.”

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WEAPONS ON SET?

Generally, a weapons master or armorer oversees all weapons that are used on a production. This can mean anything from selecting the correct items for a certain period in history, to taking care of the weapons on set and making sure they are being used safely and properly by actors and stuntpeople. It’s a fairly new position in film production, going back only to the 1980s. Before that, the prop master handled everything. Recently, it’s become more common to enlist specialists.

WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR FIREARMS ON SET?

The weapons master is required to be on set whenever a weapon is being used. The Actors’ Equity Association’s guidelines state that, “Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.” Further, “All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.”

Armory coordinator Sam Dormer said that, “Nowadays, all weapons are checked before your blanks are put into the weapon. … The blanks themselves are never loaded until the very last minute when all crew is in position, so the armorer knows exactly where every member of the crew is so that no one’s walking through any danger areas the armorer has set up.”

HOW DOES ONE BECOME A WEAPONS MASTER?

According to Backstage magazine, there’s no formal path but it is common to have internships and apprenticeships or a background in stunt work, the military, police or security. Weapons masters are required to abide by state and federal laws and hold proper operating permits.

WHY WOULD THE GUN HAVE BEEN POINTING AT THE CINEMATOGRAPHER?

We don’t know what happened on the set of “Rust,” but it is fairly common to have a gun pointed at the camera, and by extension the cinematographer, to get a certain angle.

“We’ve all seen the very famous shots in films where you get that dramatic effect of a gun being pointed at you, the audience, and of course, it’s being pointed towards the camera,” explained Steven Hall, a veteran second unit director and cinematographer who has worked on films like “Fury” and “Thor: The Dark World.” “To minimize that, one would put a remote camera in that place, or at least if someone does have to operate the camera, I’m normally protected by safety goggles, a safety visor and often a PERSPEX screen that withstands pretty much anything. Obviously, it wouldn’t withstand a real shot from a gun, but it would certainly withstand a blank.”

GIVEN THE REGULATIONS, HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?

While the specific circumstances of the “Rust” shooting are still unknown, professionals in the business say that sometimes the crew and production are encouraged to “speed things up” for any number of reasons which can sometimes lead to “relaxed” safety protocols.

DOES IT MAKE IT MORE COMPLICATED WHEN IT’S A PERIOD PIECE?

“Rust” is set in the 1880s and according to Hall, when period weapons are used “you have to use actual historic period weapons and to check the safety of those weapons. I have known live rounds to be fired out of revolvers, certainly, to make sure that they do function in a way that when you put a blank in, it isn’t going to blow up or explode in the actor’s hands.”

WHY DO PRODUCTIONS USE REAL GUNFIRE WHEN SPECIAL EFFECTS ARE AVAILABLE?

It is becoming more common to add in gunfire in post-production when working on the visual effects. But visual effects can be expensive and it can be easier, and cheaper, to use props. Also, Dormer says that there can be advantages to using props and blanks, like getting an authentic reaction from an actor.

HOW IS HOLLYWOOD RESPONDING?

There has been an outpouring of dismay and anger from all levels of the industry that something like this could have happened. Director James Gunn tweeted that his greatest fear is that “someone will be fatally hurt on one of my sets.”


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
‘Mean Girls’ to launch a seven-performance stand at Popejoy ...
Entertainment
Nadina Hassan remembers begging her mother ... Nadina Hassan remembers begging her mother to get the "Mean Girls" DVD from Netflix so she could wat ...
2
Bow and Arrow Brewing's Native Land beer program spreads ...
Blogs
Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. started ... Bow and Arrow Brewing Co. started a project that has spilled over into more than two dozen communiti ...
3
Salvage-yard finds fuel artist's work
Arts
1"I work full time in my ... 1"I work full time in my studio – at least 8 hours a day – and my process has to ...
4
Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra to play two shows in ...
Entertainment
Oscar Hernández is meticulous when it ... Oscar Hernández is meticulous when it comes to music.As the leader of the Gramm ...
5
Six bands to perform in benefit for charity that ...
Entertainment
Six local acts are coming together ... Six local acts are coming together to raise money for charity for the third annual Burque Niñ ...
6
Santa Fe steakhouse a decadent evening for carnivores, pescatarians ...
Dining Reviews
As we roll into the holiday ... As we roll into the holiday season and think about restaurants we can take friends and family for an ...
7
Location manager creates film for international competition project
Blogs
Alex Gianopoulos is used to deadlines.A ... Alex Gianopoulos is used to deadlines.A location manager in the film industry, he has ...
8
NM artist Leah Garcia to show her cyanotype works ...
Arts
It's been months since Leah Garcia ... It's been months since Leah Garcia has had some downtime.The New Mexico-based artist h ...
9
'Encanto' a charming tale of magical new Disney family
Entertainment
The end credits for today's animated ... The end credits for today's animated films run for so long that if you live within a mile or two of ...
10
'House of Gucci' is pure, unapologetic and over the ...
Entertainment
Everything in "House of Gucci" is ... Everything in "House of Gucci" is over the top. The accents. The performances. The fashion. The sett ...