If you’re going to fire a gun, make sure it goes off

Thinking of having a gun firing in your film? Sometimes an off-screen sound effect with a prop gun in the scene just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t give your production that force to leave a lasting impression on your audience. The scene's within your budget and vital to the storytelling, but where do you start in your production?

You start with the script, understanding whether it's necessary to push forward the central narrative. Remember, if it's not necessary then it's not meant to be there! Nonetheless, a blank fire gun can heighten the realism/tension of a scene that an off-screen shot can't. With ‘Spectacle of Self’ the gunshot was necessary as the director, Erik Bloom, wanted to shatter the wall between moving image and the audience, blurring the lines of reality. The video below has the gun scene in question as well as another segment of a boxing match that always made me smile. I hope you enjoy it too.

Ensure the location is secured as well as the crew and cast for the production. This step goes for all productions, whether with blank fire guns or not. Nonetheless, informing your crew and cast of using a gun that fires blank cartridges is important so you don’t run into any surprises on the day.

It’s been noticed a few times in the news where people will not inform the police of filming scenes of crime or with fake guns, only for the police to be called to it as an incident! Make sure you contact your local police force and inform them of your production. This is especially true if you’re firing blank cartridges (that go bang!) and most definitely if you’re filming where it can be viewed by members of the public.

In this instance, I contacted the London police via email where we notified them of using the sawn-off shotgun for the production and we received a CAD number. A CAD number is a dispatch reference that informs the police that you're filming with say, a gun or enacting a crime, and not actually a real crime. Other details they asked for included the location of filming and details of the Armourer on set. We worked with Armoury in Action, ensuring that we had a qualified and highly experienced Armourer on set. Experts are experts for a reason!

This goes without saying, but it’s a courtesy to contact the local buildings/residential houses/businesses/etc. around your location and inform them of what's going on. Luckily we shot in an industrial area with a few abandoned buildings, but nonetheless contacted anyone relevant locally so we didn’t have any other nasty surprises during filming.

Now comes your big day, your hopes and fears resting on a few seconds. Safety on set is the responsibility of the producer, director and 1st AD, who will be liaising with the Armourer and safety supervisor during the shoot. The relationship and communication between these key figures is vital for developing a trusting environment. The Armourer will be on call for each shot required as per the schedule, and will be verbally communicating with the crew and actor(s) that the weapon is loaded/unloaded. Follow the guidance of your Armourer.

Around the role of the Armourer is the rest of the crew. Have you made sure to get the best sound for your scene? Re-shooting is incredibly expensive, and we always want to try and get it in the can in one go. Make sure you have the resources to do a number of takes. Have you taken a further precaution and added some sound proofing to the location? Did you want to shoot slightly wide, or even go multi-cam, to give you options in the edit? Maybe you need some protection for your actors or camera if you’re firing directly at them (like we did), have you looked into that and discussed it with your Armourer? Don’t forget to thank the cast and crew involved and focus on safety as well as safe production practices. Your team is your number one!

I’ve always sat firmly in the camp that if something doesn’t work in the edit, then you have to get rid of it. This is the same for costly shots, no matter how much they mean to you. If it doesn’t work then remove it. In the edit you can heighten the tension of the scene by working closely with the composer and editor. You want this scene to be tight and look (as well as sound) like the real thing. It’s these costly shots that we require to seamlessly blend in but also stand out in the audience’s mind. This sums up the great paradox of creativity.

Do you have anything else to add to these preparations or want to share your own experience of filming with blank fire guns that might be of interest to our readers? Saying that, perhaps you’ve worked with things that have their own dangers or require their own precautions? We would love to hear about your experiences.

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