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Sam Harris – Assistant Director discusses gun safety on movie sets

Industry: Entertainment

Sam Harris has been an Assistant Director on Hollywood movies for over 25 years, here he provides some clarity on how gun safety protocols should work on film sets

Vancouver, Canada (PRUnderground) November 12th, 2021

After the tragic accidental shooting of a crew member on a Hollywood film set recently, there have been cries for guns to be banned on film sets. Is this necessary?

We have four different types of guns on film sets. Rubber, or plastic guns that don’t fire anything at all and have no moving parts. We have replica guns that also do not fire at all but may have some moving parts. Then we have gas guns – these look like a real guns but are made of plastic and they have a “breech” that moves just like on a real automatic weapon. These guns are powered by a gas cartridge in the butt of the gun, they look very realistic, but are completely harmless. Then we come to the real guns, these are as real as you can get.

For wide angles, generally rubber, or plastic guns are used, for closer angles, replicas are used and for real close-up angles, usually real guns are used. Often replicas are used all the time, if the gun is not going to be fired. If any gun has to be fired in any of these different sized angles, then usually a real gun is used.

Where are the guns kept and who looks after them?

The plastic, replica and gas guns are usually looked after by the on-set props person and are kept locked in a props cart near the set, or in a secure props vehicle. When one of the guns is required on the set, the props person will hand the gun to the actor and announce to the crew that the gun is fake, a gas, or a replica gun. Once the scene is complete, the props person will retrieve the gun from the actor and put it away.

The real guns are looked after by a licensed Armourer and kept locked up in a secure case. So would the blank firing rounds used in the guns. There would NEVER under ANY circumstances be any live rounds anywhere near or on the set.

When a real gun is required to be fired by an actor, the following procedure is used:

The Armourer will bring the empty gun on to the set. He or she will open the gun to show that there are no blank rounds in the weapon, to the actor in question and the Assistant Director who is in overall charge of set safety. Then using a flashlight, the Armourer will show that the barrel and breech of the gun are clear of any obstructions or blank rounds. Once satisfied the gun is “clear and safe”, the Assistant Director will announce there is to be gunfire on set and all crew and cast must wear ear and eye protection if they are in the vicinity of the gun being fired.

The actor will also not point the gun at his fellow actor in the scene, the camera angles are worked out, so that it looks like he is pointing the gun at an actor, but in fact is not. The actor would also be given ear protection.

If the actor has to fire two shots, the Armourer will then load two blank rounds into the gun, cock the gun and hand it to the actor.  The Armourer will then shout: “Gun is hot, two rounds”. The cameras would then roll and the actor would fire the two blank rounds as directed. The Director then calls “cut” and the gun is handed straight back to the Armourer, who will then make the gun safe and call: “Gun safe or gun cold.”

Rubber guns, replicas or gas guns are used 80% of the time in movies and TV shows. You have to get very close to a gun with a camera to be able to tell whether it is real or not. Also, very often these days the muzzle flashes from the end of the gun barrel are added in post-production.

Is it safe to have real firearms on movie sets? The answer is yes, as long the industry safety protocols I have described are followed. Which is why, as I write this, there are dozens of guns scenes being filmed all over the World without incident.

About Sam Harris

Sam Harris – Assistant Director

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