Action movies are some of the most popular films that people love to watch. Your favorite heroes are running around armed to the teeth fighting off bad guys, guns blazing. Think of movie characters like Neo in The Matrix, John McClane in Die Hard, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, or John Wick in that trilogy of movies. It’s a classic American concept of gunslingers shooting with great speed and accuracy.
Of course, there’s an expert on the other side of the camera that is making this all happen. Considering that most higher-ups in Hollywood aren’t exactly the gun type, these professionals get a lot of work in making these high-octane films looks compelling and convincing as possible.
Let’s take a deeper look into this truly under-appreciated job.
An Armorer or Weapons Consultant
The person on set in charge of the firearms is usually called the “armorer or a weapons consultant.” This is a job that companies like Musa MEC (Military Entertainment Consulting) specialize in, which provides “strategic, tactical, and military consulting services to the film and television industries.”
The people they send out to movie and television sets as consultants are often highly trained former military officers. They know exactly how multiple firearms should be operated and used to showcase accuracy in a cinematic scene.
The Guns Used Are Real But…
Most of the time in movies, they aren’t using a prop gun. It’s a real gun, but doesn’t obviously use real bullets. They use fire blanks, so that you see a real flash, and the shell release coming from the gun during a scene. These fire blanks are still dangerous, so everything the actors handle has to be done with extra care. It’s part of the consultants job to make sure of that.
Actors, of course, aren’t always careful — and that can be deadly. During the 1984 filming on the set of the CBS television show Cover-Up, actor John Erik-Hexum was playing around and pointed a fire blank loaded gun to his head. He pulled the trigger, and died of blunt force trauma when part of the blank entered his skull.
In another sad situation, Brandon Lee — son of martial arts star Bruce Lee — was on the set of the 90s movie The Crow and died from a defective blank ammunition accident. You can bet after this major incident occurred, the job of the gun consultant became even more important. And in case you were wondering, The Crow did have an experienced armorer hired for the set, but they didn’t feel like they needed him every day, and sadly he wasn’t there on that fatal day.
Building Fantasy Guns
In some films, the armorer is responsible for creating a fake gun or fancy sci-fi weapons that don’t exist in real life, but are usually based on real weapons. Making firearms that look like they could be real, with unusual capabilities or an unforgettable look, is certainly a cool part of the job. For example, in the movie Starship Troopers, they created a fantasy gun by building a fiberglass casing over an actual Ruger 556 to make it look more futuristic.
Teaching the Actors
Perhaps the most important part of the armorer’s job is to teach the actors how to accurately hold and fire the weapon to look like they know what they are doing. Many actors don’t have a clue how to operate a weapon when they get hired on a project. Plus, most of the time in action films they are running and jumping around trying to nab the bad guy while shooting a gun. You don’t see that much in real life.