Real guns could easily be banned on sets after rusting, experts say

While playing four seasons of FX’s “American Horror Story”, Leslie Grossman reckons she was called upon to shoot a gun “multiple times.”

“These are never real guns,” she says. “Nine times out of 10 I use a rubber gun. When the scene calls for a more dramatic close-up of a shot with physical recoil, Grossman says it usually shoots with an air pistol instead, with effects added in post-production to improve authenticity. On the most recent season, “American Horror Story: Double Feature,” Grossman remembers using only rubber pistols, even when firing them.

“I even said, ‘Wait, is this going to sound super fake? And they say, ‘Oh, we can fix anything later to make it look super real.’ And they did, and it looked really real, ”she said.

The fatal shootout on the set of the indie film “Rust” which killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza involved a real gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin which contained live ammunition rather than blanks . In the aftermath of the tragedy, the industry is faced with the question of whether real guns should be allowed on a set again.

In response to the “Rust” tragedy, the ABC crime drama “The Rookie” banned real guns. Eric Kripke, showrunner of Amazon’s superhero series “The Boys,” tweeted that he was making “a simple and easy pledge: never again blank guns on any of my sets.”

A petition to ban real guns from film and television productions has nearly 70,000 signatures. California State Senator Dave Cortese said he plans to introduce a law officially banning real firearms and live ammunition from all productions, and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham , said his state would take similar action if the entertainment industry did not voluntarily adopt such a ban.

Bandar Albuliwi, filmmaker and author of the petition, is incredulous that the practice of using real guns continues, citing the death of actor Brandon Lee on the set of the 1993 film “The Crow” and from cameraman Sarah Jones on the 2014 production of “Midnight Rider” (unrelated to firearms) as earlier examples that should have made safety a top priority in the industry.

“It shouldn’t have happened after Brandon Lee basically shot himself,” Albuliwi said. “Hollywood hasn’t changed for 30 years. We once again thought we had learned our lesson on the best protocols with “Midnight Rider”. It made a bit of noise but dissipated. That says a lot about our industry because in this event it only gained attention because it involved a leading player like Alec Baldwin. “

Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the 2018 Parkland mass shooting and gun control activist, agrees with Albuliwi. “All real guns should be banned from the sets,” he says. “The fake guns look very real. If the studios had the slightest regard for workers, real guns would be completely out of the question. “

For decades, real firearms with blank ammunition have been used in film and television productions, as they visually recreate real gunshots. But in discussions with industry insiders and visual effects experts, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, many said advancements in visual effects technology mean that the ban on live weapons doesn’t would entail virtually no sacrifice for the appearance of finished content. .

“If in the background there’s a dinosaur running around, you know that’s where the money is,” said a longtime VFX artist. “Some ‘bang bang, smoky smoky’ things are a sneeze compared to almost everything else. “

Often there is minimal lift required in post-production to make it look like a fake pistol has been unloaded, experts said. A “muzzle flash,” or the appearance of smoke and light from a gun barrel, is easily created with software used by publishers and digital middle houses.

“Just flashing your mouth is nothing,” says the effects artist. “It’s minutes of work per shot – maybe a tiny little glow, maybe a tiny bit of interactive light. “

More elaborate sequences involving gunfire, especially those involving an actor recoiling in reaction to an overpowered weapon, might require more work on visual effects.

“It’s essentially a modification of the performance, and that’s what would take it to the next level,” explains the artist.

But even in these cases, this artist notes that these are actions that an actor “can absolutely mimic” in his performance.

Removing real firearms from a set would also eliminate the potential lethal risks caused by the kind of negligence allegedly committed on “Rust” – from union teams marching and hiring scabs, to inappropriate gun handling protocols. . Veterans of the production coordination space, essentially those in charge of the “Hollywood back office,” as the saying goes, have said that standard security protocols are often overlooked, especially on productions outside of the company. entertainment backyard in Los Angeles.

“The unions on the west coast are demanding safety courses through CSATF,” said one of the senior production coordinators, referring to the digital portal Contract Services, which offers training and other functions for film shoots. and television.

Through contract services, employees take state-mandated courses, such as sexual harassment education and, of course, safety training. This union-mandated program also publishes daily safety bulletins with the production call sheet, informing the entire production about stunts and other dangers of the day.

“We are supposed to check the status of each member of the union team before they are hired,” explains the coordinator. “It’s not nationwide and people don’t use it often.”

These issues testify to a broader and more pernicious attitude involving safety and well-being on set – and a culture of silence that has kept people from speaking out.

“There can be a vibe like, ‘Well I guess they know what they’re doing,'” says Grossman, who notes that this isn’t the case on “American Horror Story,” where the security team operates. under strict guidelines, even when firing a propeller pistol. “But I’ve had other jobs where I feel like if I talk, I feel like they’re going to think I’m a pain in the ass or roll their eyes at me because I’m an actor.” . On sets there’s this general idea that “someone” – and I use quotes when I say “someone” – is in charge, and often no one is in charge. “

For Grossman, in this kind of chaotic environment, it doesn’t make sense to have lethal weapons available of any kind, period.

“There is no reason for a second to put someone in danger for making a false story,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

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