- BBC News World
Action movies are among the highest grossing in the world. These include spectacular scenes of combat and shootouts, which involve the use of explosives, firearms and other dangerous devices.
The filming of these scenes makes a movie set a place of high risk for the life and well-being of the actors, the coaching staff or any other person present during the filming if strict protocols are not followed.
The fatal incident that occurred on the set of the film “Rust”, produced by and starring Alec Baldwin, in which cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was seriously injured by the impacts of a prop weapon, demonstrates the inherent dangerousness from said scenes.
Although full details of the circumstances in which Baldwin fired the prop gun are not available, the film industry is governed by strict occupational health and safety regulations when it comes to the use of all types of weapons and explosives.
Health and Safety Guides
In the UK the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Joint Entertainment Advisory Committee (JACE) have issued a document on the handling of weapons in the film industry and television, which has its equivalent for productions in the United States, although it may vary.
Its guides recommend limiting the number of people who come into contact with weapons, having enough time to explain their use to the cast, make a complete review of the weapon, use filming techniques that minimize risks, offer physical protection to the team. technician and actors, and have an expert person designated for all of the above to take care of the weapon.
On filming in the UK, that person is known as the armero.
Simon Atherton is one of the most sought after gunsmiths in the industry. Since the age of 16 he has been involved in the manufacture of both sharps and firearms, and with his company Zorg he has worked on numerous large budget productions.
“The first thing I do before a weapon is to be used is to visually examine it so that it is unloaded, both the magazine and the cylinder -if it is a revolver- and the barrel, see that it does not have anything, neither a pebble nor mud “, Atherton explained to BBC Mundo.
“I do that demonstration in front of the actors, before loading it with a salvo. If the gun is going to be pointed at the camera, I also show it to them and make sure they are well protected.”
What’s more, there are instructions that can be given to the actor not to point directly at a person when I go to shoot. The camera angle can compensate to make it look like you’re doing it.
Blank bullets are not harmless
The salvoes are a cartridge with gunpowder in which the lead bullet has been replaced by a plug. That plug can be a small metal cap or a block of compressed paper or cardboard.
The idea is that when firing, the sound blast occurs and the smoke and flame that are normally seen with live ammunition, but without the projectile, is released.
Even without that projectile, the salvoes can do damage, both because of the air pressure they expel and because of the material they release.
“I do tests firing salvos at a piece of paper at 12 feet (about 3 meters) and then at 6 feet, to make sure they are safe,” Atherton said.
It is important to have enough time to train actors. Many times the production does not allow more than 20 minutes, but he insists on having two weeks of training.
The relationship with the cast also plays an important role. “I like working with women, because they recognize that they know little about handling weapons and are open to learning, but sometimes I have to deal with an actor with a macho attitude.”
The crucial thing, however, is to make it clear who is in charge before, during and after the shooting of a scene in which weapons are fired, something that is not always easy.
“If you’re working with such directors as Steven Spielberg or superstars like Tom Cruise, it takes a lot of guts to yell ‘cut it out’ if you’re not happy with the situation,” said the gunsmith.
“I stand in the middle of the set and I don’t let anyone come near or do anything until I say ‘All clear! Arms clear!'”
Lack of communication causes things to fail, he says.
In search of a reaction to the tragedy on the set of Alec Baldwin’s film that was being shot in New Mexico, USA, BBC Mundo contacted Babty & Co., a company in London specialized in arms for the cinema, TV and theater.
His representative refused to speak on the subject and limited himself to commenting: “The only thing I can tell you is that we do things differently here.”
Simon Atherton agrees that, indeed, there are differences between filming practices in the UK and the US.
To begin with, in the United States the man in charge of arms is not a gunsmith, but the main prop of production that has taken a short course to obtain a license in the handling of weapons.
“That is bad, because the prop is responsible for many other aspects of the shooting and if they call him to attend to something else, his attention is no longer on the weapon and that is where complicated situations occur,” he said.
Atherton also does not agree with trials with loaded weapons, which is what he suspects may have happened in Balwin’s production.
“I can’t understand what the cinematographer was doing next to the camera during a shot. Her place is in front of the video monitor,” he said.
“This is going to be a big wake-up call,” he added.
There are many other measures that are taken on a set to minimize risks, such as the use of plastic or rubber reproductions during closed scenes or in “close-up”, not allowing outsiders to manipulate real weapons and weighing boxes of ammunition to ensure that no loose volley has been embedded in the barrel of a gun.
Taking into account that digital effects They’re so advanced, why aren’t the shooting simulated during filming and adding visual and sound effects in post-production?
“It can be done but it is not the same,” said Simon Atherton. “A simulation can be expensive and when you see the final product it is not convincing.”
“There is something that happens with the actors when a gun is unloaded. The adrenaline rises, the acting changes, they blend in with the scene,” he said.
“Many times we fire a shot in the air before the scene to get them into the atmosphere.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.