DIY and PRO Prop Hacks: Working with Weapons The Right Way - Raindance
Lethal Tender
When I first started making Grindhouse style mainstream pictures, I made kickboxing movies and produced a lot of them in the years to follow. ‘Lethal’, ‘Deadly’ and ‘Fatal’ seemed to be in the title of at least every other picture I made. So I have a very healthy respect for the guys and gals that worked for me – and I learned how hard they toil to be safe and precise in their stunt work. Same with the special effects teams. They are true professionals and would handle fire, rain, explosions and atmosphere in VERY careful precision for all involved. Don’t EVER mess around with either. Please.
For the Robocop: Prime Directives (2000) mini-series I directed, we went through 100,000 rounds of ammunition alone and blew up sets, cars, and Robocop himself! We always worked carefully and safely to insure that cast and crew were always protected. #safetyfirst
Cinema 2.0 productions stay away from excessive physical violence and specialty stunts. It doesn’t matter if your friend is cool with falling down a flight of stairs – it’s just too risky and in the mainstream world, nobody takes a fall without many years of proper preparation and training. Same with fire and any kind of glass work, explosions and don’t get me started about live steel or bladed weapons. It’s not cool to hurt someone for your film. Don’t ruin a life for a shot. Things can go wrong very quickly. Even on sets that should know better.
If you cannot afford to have a professional stunt coordinator or special effects (SPFX) technician on set – stay away from the kind of gags that you see in big budgeted cinema. Specialized performers, coordinators and supervisors take years to learn their craft – and make it look easy. It’s not.
Check out this professional prop armourer below to see how weapons are handled in the pro movie and TV industry.
NEVER EVER have a DIY gun in public under any circumstances, as the cops don’t know you’re making a movie. Don’t paint a big plastic gun black and wave it around outside or you’re going to feel the boot of the law. Hell, in Chicagoland, it’s scary the amount of heat you can draw. A cop doing their job can kill you or you could have your actors arrested. Please don’t do it.
If, however, you are working with rubber props for bladed weapons or replica guns and using visual effects to composite in gunfire (all filmed in studio or within the confines of a closed set location) – carry on (carefully). Make sure the working actors examine all of the weapons and have a chance to see how they work. Demonstrate, detail and don’t let anyone play with the props between takes. They are not toys. They’re film props. Having a designated props person or weapons handler is essential to safety and well being. We always post safety regulations and have proper safety meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.  We use protective eye and ear-wear when filming and hide behind bulletproof Lexan ™ shields while dealing with ammunition of any kind. Surprise nobody with last minute changes. Having a weapons specialist and a skilled stunt coordinator makes all the difference when dealing with prop weapons and functioning non-lethal firearms, steel, batons and clubs.
In Arkham Sanitarium: Soul Eater (2014) we had lots of rubber props ranging from a crowbar for one actor to hit another with through to specialty knives, Velcro tie-downs, body parts and an acid-spewing octopus from outer space. Even though we were making a parody of the found footage genre and having a great giggle while we worked, we were always VERY serious and trained, rehearsed and made sure we made safe before we used any prop and the actors had a chance to sign off on their comfort and safety level. We had safety meetings before filming and before each set-up. Actors provided ‘thumbs-up’ approval after a take with medical support standing by.
Never ever pressure an actor to do something they are not comfortable with. Not only will it show on screen – you will be a complete ass-hat and quickly lose the respect of cast and crew alike.