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Weapons in the Movies

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by basbol13, Mar 5, 2017.

  1. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    Another movie that somehow managed to get the gun details correct, if nothing else, was the Charles Bronson movie "Death Hunt." It was based on a true story about a trapper in the Yukon who shot a policeman who was sent out to question him about some complaints about trapping violations. In real life, the trapper was a mysterious individual that no one is quite sure about. Anyway, the actual man had a Savage Model 1899, and that was what was used in the movie. Just about every other fact in the movie was mor than slightly distorted.
    Stearmen likes this.
  2. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    Not necessarily on Titanic, but it's also common to have only a few working weapons on a set which are traded back and forth between actors who need the functioning one in that particular shot. VERY convincing molded plastic (or something of the sort) replicas are carried otherwise. Sometimes a bad version of these can be seen but the more poorly made ones are disappearing, they started to show up in the 1980s when there were fears of accidents with actual firearms and the technology to easily make the copies crossed paths. It's often more the finish that shows off a fake on camera than the crispness of the lines, I've seen molded copies of real guns that could confuse me until I picked them up ... but that's only when they get the finish right or it hasn't been beaten up or damaged by the sun. Generally the only actors with actual firing firearms are the ones who physically shoot them and quite often it's only during the actual shot where they do the firing. If a prop man or armorer has a nicer gun the last thing he wants to see happening is an actor (especially a star who no one can discipline) playing with it in a dangerous or damaging way. Most of the time they take the guns away as soon as the shot is over.

    I can't remember if the 1911 in Titanic was fired but I wouldn't be surprised if it was one of the few actual 1911s that reliably function. Getting the "valve" in the barrel of a semi auto (basically making it gas operated) set right is very difficult. You have to balance the slide/reloading motion with getting some muzzle flash and as you fire them they gum up quickly. The hole in the lug (usually a large set screw) that blocks the barrel is smaller than you'd think, but if you make it too small it ... well, bad things can happen. With the demise of Stembridge many times you get stuck using the very limited selection your prop man happens to own rather than having a wide set of choices or replacements. Film guns get beaten up horribly, it's VERY rare to find truly high quality pieces that function well too. Same with the classic cars used in films, many of the rentals barely run and are nursed to life just enough to get the shot. The people who have them are in business and they don't make money keeping cars in top shape if they don't need to. Many of them look good on film but if you saw them in person you wouldn't be impressed.

    Though British features tend to do some awesome weapons work, probably courtesy of a few (maybe just one) sophisticated film armorers, many BBC shows get along with just what their prop department has. With gun laws in the UK being what they are sometimes you'll see things like semi autos with missing hammers and other obviously "deactivated" details. I once did a book cover photo shoot in NYC where we had a choice of a number of piles of ill fitting, parts missing, deactivated junk. Thanks to the magic of photoshop I was able to use those as place holders then composite in other guns I found and photographed with appropriate lighting in states with different laws. It's odd this still goes on because there are so many top notch Air Soft copies. Many could be turned into excellent props with only a bit of a repaint or the removal of the 6mm barrel insert.

    It's cool as hell when a film gets every detail right but many things operate against that level of perfection.
  3. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain One Too Many

    I saw a still, somewhere, from an old movie, a Western made either in the 1930s or 1940s. It showed a scene being filmed and it actually included a real rifle being fired for effect on the ground. Elmer Keith mentioned real guns being fired off-screen but I didn't think he knew what he was talking about until I saw the photo. THe man with the rifle was very close and there was a screen (an invisible protective screen!) in place but it was still surprising. But it may have been safer than many of the stunts in movies, even today and probably considerably safer than when horses, wagons and chariots were involved. Supposedly Jackie Chan does his own stunts and frequently gets hurt. Must be a tough guy.

    Another old movie, this one a Jungle Jim movie from around 1950, had the bad guy armed with a .45 auto. He used it but you didn't see the gun actually fired. Wonder why they picked a .45 auto?
  4. EngProf

    EngProf One of the Regulars

    Agree 100% about the potential problems/dangers about getting the blank orifice correct. You have to hit the "baby bear" diameter - not too big, not too small - to get reliable and safe functioning.

    I have been doing WWII reenacting for a number of years and among the reenacting community there is a tight connection between the blank manufacturers and the people who make, sell , and use blank-adapting hardware. If you find an adapter size (orifice diameter) that works well with a particular blank (source of pressure) and your gun, you want to stay with them.
    For my blank-adapted M1 Garand I only use US military-surplus M1909 blanks since I know I can rely on them to be of constant pressure.
    The blank-adapter folks will usually sell you a range of orifice sizes so that you can tune your firearm for reliable semi-auto function while not over-stressing it.
    Also agree that M1911's are among the most difficult to blank-adapt. Conventional wisdom used to be that it could not be done, but the "trick" is to use a junk barrel and cut/grind the barrel locking lugs off and convert it into a straight blowback pistol. Obviously, you DON"T put a live round in it!

    One blank-shooting horror story is that one of our guys did not confirm the source of his blanks and put a military grenade-launching blank in his M1. It blew about a cubic inch piece of the back of the receiver off. He was lucky that it blew off at an angle and missed his face, or it would have likely killed him.

    Any blanks that I don't know the exact origin of I only use in bolt action rifles with no orifice to raise pressure.
    Bushman likes this.
  6. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I didn't know some of that. Thank you!

    To make matters worse for movie companies you can't always use the same sort of blanks. Some locations have rules about quarter, half or full load, sometimes safety rules mandate a certain approach, some directors want more or less flash or smoke. Yet filmmakers still are addicted to the 'gun porn' of fancy semi autos in every shot ... or they were a decade or more ago when I last worked in the biz. I used to argue for revolvers all the time just because they weren't tricky but it rarely got me more than a "yeah, yeah, you told me so." Military long arms work pretty good but the manufacturers pay a lot of attention to making them work with blanks for the various services.

    Anyway, you'd think on a high budget picture nearly anything is possible but the money spent on the expenses of day to day filming is surprisingly limited and every penny is pinched. The bulk of the cash goes to the various big names and a large percentage is actually paid back to the studio in a sort of shell game that repays the overhead created by all the films that are developed but not made. The money or time to get the perfect gun is not always there ... even on films like Titanic.
  7. basbol13

    basbol13 One of the Regulars

    Always liked what James Cagney could do with a couple of Colt Official Police models


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