Monday, October 10, 2011

Gunplay in Film

In the below video several people were arrested for staging a fake robbery for a music video. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the cast and crew was justifiably arrested. I say justifiably because it was a "misguided" idea in the first place and after the video I explain why.


Everybody wants to play “cops and robbers”. They think it’s cool and adds a heighten sense of danger and it does, when done properly. A lot of people want to go out and shoot an “action scene” without the necessary precautions. A real weapon, even unloaded, on a film set is NEVER wise. A real weapon is unsafe for a myriad of reasons, but one only need to look at the tragedy of Brandon Lee.

On March 31, 1993, while making The Crow, the crew filmed a scene in which his character walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped by thugs. Actor Michael Massee, who played one of the film's villains, was supposed to fire a revolver at Lee as he walked onto the scene.

Since the movie's second unit was running behind schedule, they decided to make dummy cartridges (cartridges that outwardly appear to be functional but contain no propellant or primers) from real cartridges by pulling out the bullets, dumping out the propellant and reinserting the bullets. However, the team neglected to remove the primers, which, if fired, could still produce just enough force to push the bullet out of the cartridge and into the barrel (a squib load). At some point prior to the fatal scene, the live primer in one of the improperly constructed dummy rounds was discharged by an unknown person while in the pistol, leaving the bullet stuck in the barrel.

This malfunction went unnoticed by the crew, and the same gun was later reloaded with blank cartridges and used in the scene in which Lee was shot. When the first blank cartridge was fired, the stuck bullet was propelled out of the barrel and struck Lee in the abdomen, lodging in his spine. He fell down instantly, and director Alex Proyas shouted "Cut!". When Lee did not get up, the cast and crew rushed to him and found that he was wounded. He was immediately rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington by ambulance, but following a six-hour operation to remove the bullet, Lee was pronounced dead at 1:04 pm on March 31, 1993. He was 28 years old.- Info from Wikipedia
As an independent filmmaker I’m all for “getting the shot”, but it should always be safety first. A DP (Director of Photography) I was working with wanted to get a shot of the ground in a moving car hanging out of the window and I said “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”. His safety wasn’t worth a shot. If we couldn’t afford a car mount (Examples below) we weren’t going to get the shot.

Camera car mounts
In this era of heightened security, the independent filmmaker must also be aware of what could be seen as a possible security threat. At a Legal Rights for Filmmakers seminar I attended a story was told about filmmakers getting footage of water towers and being detained by police. Now you can only venture to guess what can happen if you are getting footage of government buildings, major bridges etc. They exclaimed DO NOT try to get that kind of footage without notifying the police.

I’m aware that sometimes as an independent filmmaker you must also try to get some footage “guerrilla style”, and don’t have money or time to get the proper notifications and permits, but sometimes you must be smart and err on the side of caution and safety.

FEBRUARY 2014
Sarah Elizabeth Jones was a camera assistant on the film Midnight Rider when she was struck and killed by a train on set in rural Georgia February 20, 2014. The Hollywood Reporter did an extensive feature on the accident HERE

My Twitter friend Cinematographer Cybel Martin wrote a great related piece. Can Guerrilla Filmmaking Become an Addiction? My Thoughts on the Tragic Loss of Sarah Jones

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