Whoever said an indie movie has to be a quiet and understated character study? If you’re an independent filmmaker and bloody violence is more your style, then by all means, go for it. But if you plan to use weaponry in your film, you had better plan on hiring an armorer. We spoke to armory services professional Gerry Wright about how to let your characters get violent while keeping your cast and crew safe.
What are three common mistakes filmmakers make when it comes to weapons on-set?
Like stunts, projects involving weapons require safety considerations for the actor as well as the crew. As most everyone knows, there have been a few unfortunate accidents on film sets; Bruce Lee is probably the most well known. However, as recently as 2003 on a movie location in Mexico City, an actor was killed during the filming of a scene. In each and every case of weapons accidents on sets, they were found to be preventable. I think that the three most common mistakes made by indie filmmakers is: 1.) Budget, 2.) Budget, and 3.) Budget. Don’t laugh… If you are going to do a film with weapons then you should have, as part of your film team, a knowledgeable professional. Yes, budget is always a factor that the producer is looking at, but safety should always be a factor in the budget process because if something happens, the cost will be much higher—and we are not just talking money.
Case in point: I just bid on a film, and the way it came my way was from the screenwriter. He is a big one for action, and there is a lot, especially with a pump action shotgun. During one of the pre-pre-production meetings, the writer asked the producer who the armorer was going to be. They had not even thought about that at this point. The producer asked him if he knew anyone and he said yes, he had worked as an actor with me on other projects. Hence, I started talking with them. There are armorers out there, like myself, who specialize in working with the small budget indie filmmakers. We understand the budget process and we know how to tailor our services to meet the needs of these filmmakers. Yes, when I say small budget, I am talking budgets like $50,000+. I have actually worked on projects with only a $30,000 budget. At the end of the day, it is worth having a professional to assist in bringing the project to life as the filmmaker sees it and to have everyone come home safe and happy.
What are the three pieces of advice for using an armory service on your next project?
1.) Start thinking about an armorer as soon as you see you have weapons in your project, 2.) Before you start trying to secure funding, talk to an armorer or two to see what you are going to need for your budget, and 3.) Bring your armorer into your pre-production meetings so they can help work the weapons scenes with you so your film has the best look possible.
What are three important factors to keep in mind when hiring an armorer and working with weapons on the set?
1.) Safety concerns: When working with producers and directors, one of the first questions that I ask is whether we will be using blanks, or are they planning on putting in everything during post. Blanks change everything in terms of the safety issues on set; there is a discharge of flame and smoke, and more things come into play. When we read the script, I am not just looking at which actors will need weapons and what types of weapons will be needed, I am also looking at what every scene is calling for in terms of the actor and what they are being asked to do with that weapon. Based on certain scenes, I can compile my questions to go over with the producer/director, or in some cases, the special effects personnel. Our objective is first and foremost safety, but we also need to make the film we are working on look as real as possible.
2.) Make sure they are licensed. An armorer should have the proper licenses and permits to operate. (e.g. California requires that the armorer hold an EFP, Entertainment Firearms Permit. Without this permit, there are certain state laws that you will be breaking.) Knowledge is also key. An armorer should not only be knowledgeable about the weapons they will be using and the period they will portraying, but should also have some knowledge of the film industry and how a film shoot works. Hence, factor in experience. An armorer of course should have experience with weapons, but if they have had experience in the film industry, then they will have learned the little things that come up that can turn into big things, and therefore know how to make things continue to flow and keep everybody happy and safe.
3.) When working with actors on handling firearms, remember that every actor is different and some can pick things up quickly while others do not. Each actor is different and learns differently; they are people. Some are visual people and some are auditory. I try to find out what works best for each actor and put my training to him or her in that way. As for one-on-one training, typically the small-budget indie films cannot pay the actor to come out early. So most of the time I am working with each actor as they show up for their first scheduled shooting day. That is another reason why I always try to have an armorer’s assistant on set for each film. This way, we are not holding camera time up, nor are we holding up the actor from the things they need to do to get ready. We truly understand that actors are being paid to act, and the last thing the director needs is for the actor to forget their lines because they are not sure of what to do with the weapon. Therefore, when we work with an actor, we try to make it feel natural to them. I was able to work on one project where the primary actors came out the day before shooting was scheduled. It was nice being able to put their gear on them and work with actually firing blanks to familiarize themselves with what would be happening when that weapon went off.
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