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Could an on-set tragedy like Alec Baldwin’s Rust shooting happen in New Zealand?

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Screensafe have developed guidelines for the firing of blanks based on identifying “exclusion zones” where crew cannot be placed because of the potential for injury. Durey says these protocols for armourers on film sets are “fairly universal around the world”.

He points out that film sets have many comparable risks, such as pyrotechnics, where the risk is managed by a principle of keeping crew out of dangerous areas. 

Why use real firearms?

While there are calls for the complete banning of firearms on set, Durey says the cost of solely using fake firearms is prohibitive for film productions. A bespoke fake firearm will cost you around $6500 to $7000 dollars, “when the actual real gun that you are moulding is worth $400.” 

He says it’s a case of supply and demand where the production costs of making a bespoke prop can’t compete with the low cost of firearms. 

Durey says, “You look at say, the AK-47 – there’s 50 million of them in the world, there are not that many fake ones. A real AK-47, you can buy for $200 in Europe. Even a cheap fake one, you are paying four times that.

“It quickly becomes, ‘let’s just get a license and have the real ones because it is cheaper and easier, and they look better’.”

Real guns are often used for close-ups on set because of the level of visual detail required, particularly to show the character cocking or reloading the firearm. When possible, the firearm is modified by screwing into the barrel and putting a thread through so that it can be “choked” to stop it firing. 

But news reports about the Rust set that revealed guns were used for target practice confounded him. “That there was live ammo on set baffled me and a lot of people. We don’t even have live ammo at our workshop,” he states, “there’s just no place for it.”

I asked Durey what the challenges were for keeping film sets safe.

Durey replies “you have to have someone experienced, that can say no to people”. To the bored people that don’t think they should repeat safety protocols or sometimes directors will want the gun pointed at people, and the armourer will have to refuse. Durey says “you’ll get directors that will throw a tantrum if he doesn’t get what he wants”. 

One of their challenges is getting the cast and crew to understand that you can never point a prop gun at anyone – whether it is real or fake. That’s right – you can’t even point fake guns.

Once, an art director pointed a rubber shotgun at a camera operator as a joke. Durey emailed his supervisor saying, “This is your final warning, this cannot happen again.” The reason is that high-quality fake guns look the same as real ones, and people can’t tell the difference. “We don’t want anyone to get into the habit of joking around and thinking it’s okay to point one of these at someone else.” 

Sometimes FilmFx armourers will simply refuse to hand a gun to someone. “You have to take it really seriously.” 

More important than money

I ask how their armourers deal with conflict on set or non-compliance. Durey explains that he lets his armourers know that if they are on set and “the director or someone is acting a bit reckless, and they start pushing back hard…you’ve got every authority from me to put the firearms in the truck and lock them up.”

Durey says safety needs to be the priority on set, “and if we lose the contract, or the producer is running after me angry, just know I am behind that (armourer) 110 percent. I would rather not do a contract with someone who is going to put us in that position and I’m happy to walk away from it. Some things are more important than egos and money.”

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