A deadly recording on a New Mexico film set with actor Alec Baldwin has raised a number of questions about safety procedures during film production. For a film expert, the tragedy underscores the importance of training and supervision in sequences involving firearms.
“With the sets I work on, I work with very large crowds, up to 500 people,” Paul Biddiss, a former British Army paratrooper-military adviser, told Task & Purpose. “Weapon safety is always paramount when working with any type of weapon.”
Baldwin, a producer and star of the Western movie “Rust,” fired a stopper gun while filming at Bonanza Creek Ranch, in Santa Fe County, around 6 p.m. 13:50 Thursday and killed Halyna Hutchins, 42, the film’s director of photography and injured director Joel Souza, 48.
“This investigation remains open and active,” the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “No charges have been filed in connection with this incident. Witnesses are still being interviewed by detectives. ”
The New York Times reported Friday that the shooting took place during a scene that was either actively filmed or rehearsed.
Such incidents are rare in the film industry due to extensive security protocols typically followed during film sequences involving firearms, and have resulted in a stream of discussion of security measures on sets when firearms are used.
To get a better sense of these security protocols, Task & Purpose spoke with Biddiss, who served 24 years in the British Army before moving on to a career as a military consultant in film and television. Biddiss has worked on several action- and firearm-heavy projects, from World War I’s epic “1917” to the crime thriller “Wrath of Man” and “Fury,” which followed a World War II tanker crew.
While some sets use prop weapons that fire nothing at all, many of the weapons used are actual firearms that have been changed to fire only items, Biddiss said. Empty ammunition has all the components in a normal round, except for the projectile, and the shell housing is shrunk at the tip of the round.
But even if a weapon can only fire items, they can still be dangerous, and therefore film crews are taking a comprehensive step to ensure the safety of the crew.
“Even though they are empty, there are still pieces that will come out – sparks and dust pieces that will fly out, and some pressure,” Bidess said. “A blank can actually do you a huge amount of damage. If it was pressed all the way up against your head, it could probably kill you. ”
When filming with semi- and fully automatic weapons that are gas-powered, which means that the combustion gas from firing a round is what reloads the weapon, the barrel typically has a mechanism called a “restrictor”. Restrictions work in the same way as blank firing adapters (BFAs) used in the military, except that the device is internal, rather than attached to the outside of the snout.
“They have it down in the barrel to hide that there is an actual restrictor,” Biddiss said. “It helps reuse the rounds so you have the automatic effect and the recoil and everything else.”
Devices like BFAs or restrictors do two things: they help prevent dirt from escaping the barrel through the snout when an empty round is fired; and they help the armory one more round by preventing the combustion gases from escaping the barrel.
But non-gas-powered weapons, such as revolvers, do not require a restrictor to help the chamber one more round. Which means there is no physical barrier between the empty round fired and whatever the weapon is pointed at.
“So there are always more precautions on them because you have to make sure the barrels are completely cleared because they don’t need restrictors in them because of course you recharge the weapon and reload another round in yourself,” Biddiss said.
In March 1993, actor Brandon Lee, son of the famous martial arts artist Bruce Lee, died in a firearms incident on the set “The Crow”. During the filming, a propistol — a revolver — had been filled with dummy rounds for a close-up. Dummy rounds have “the cabinet, and it has the bullet inside, but it has not gunpowder, and the percussion cap has already been fired, so there is nothing inside it,” Biddiss said.
After filming the sequence, the firearm was used again to fire items. But one of the projectiles from the dummy rounds was loosened and was admitted to the chamber, Biddiss said.
“What they did not do is that they did not look at every prop round that came out of that weapon because one of the rounds lacked the actual lead bullet,” Biddiss said. “And that lead bullet for some reason had managed to wedge itself into the chamber of that weapon.”
As the trigger was pulled, the pressure from the workpiece propelled the projectile from the dummy round out of the weapon. “It was effective as a live round,” Biddiss said.
“The same can happen if for some reason an actor has just put the barrel in the dirt and there is a stone … and it should only be a very small stone that has managed to get into the barrel and it has not been checked or someone did not see it, ”he continued. “Then he fires a subject: the little rock will act as a projectile.”
Movie sets for big power-driven features like war dramas can sometimes involve an army of extras. “Saving Private Ryan,” for example, required 1,000 extras for its opening D-Day landing sequence — in addition to the character character — all armed with rifles and loaded across the camera’s view that made mock combat. If done poorly, it can result in a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation, which is why many movies follow a strict set of guidelines, Biddiss said.
“I train guys in the safe use of weapons and trigger discipline, muzzle discipline, never point at the weapon, and always make sure they know the condition of their weapon. All these things, ”Biddiss said. “And I do it with actors, I do it with stunts, and that’s one of the processes.”
In many ways, preparing for an on-screen firefight is like training on range in the military: Weapons are carefully inspected to make sure the chamber is ready before it is issued; rounds are assigned and counted; weapon handling and awareness awareness are enforced; and weapons are cleared and inspected before being handed over and cleaned.
It has also become on par with the course of war films, especially putting the cast through a highly compressed version of boot camp, during which time they are trained by the film’s military advisers in handling weapons.
In addition to military technical advisers, film crews typically have an armor that can monitor the weapons of production and provide oversight during sequences that require the use of firearms.
According to Insider, the armor for “Rust” was among the witnesses interviewed by police in their investigation of Thursday’s shooting at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Before filming a scene involving the use of subjects, the cast will typically do a dry exercise, during which time the film’s armor will observe and make recommendations.
“The armor is there to make sure everything is safe: that people are a safe distance when firing an item near another person,” he said. “He’s like the security officer.”
“It is a time-consuming process, and sometimes directors can [say] ‘Oh Christ, come now, hurry, hurry’, but I have always felt that armor turned around and went ‘I do not care about your schedule, I have to make sure everything is safe’, he added.
On Thursday’s shooting incident, Biddiss warned against speculation about what happened until the investigation is complete, saying that “If there are lessons to be learned by all, then there are lessons to be learned. I would like to think that the whole industry globally will take these lessons with them. ”
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