By: Peter Suciu
What you see on the screen while watching a movie or TV show is often “magic” – made real thanks to special effects, computer-generated graphics, or other tricks of the trade. What would an action film be without an intense or chaotic shootout? Could you imagine a western without some iconic firearms?
All that movie magic requires an armorer – not only to supply the weapons but to make sure they are used safely. Firearms are typically modified for use on screen (more on that later), and this is where the incredibly important role of the movie armorer begins.
Armorers are the specialists whose job it is to provide the production team with firearms and other weaponry. He (or she) might never win an Academy Award, get top billing on a movie poster, or any sort of notoriety, but without them, many of the movies we love best couldn’t happen.
The “weapons master” or “weapons wrangler” is the film crew specialist whose job it is to work with the property master, directors, actors, stunt coordinator, and script supervisor. It is this armorer’s job to oversee how firearms are used during a production. This person ensures safety by maintaining control of any and all weapons props; this job can include not only firearms management but also control over knives, swords, bows, and sometimes even melee weapons.
More Than a ‘Gun Guy’
The armorer is more than simply a firearms expert or “gun guy.” In fact, armorers need to have proper licenses and necessary permits to operate respective firearms. California requires that armorers hold an Entertainment Firearms Permit (EFP), and it is illegal to work as an armorer in the state without one.
It is also the armorer’s job to advise production on any legal requirements surrounding weapons, including relevant firearm laws, and to provide a full risk assessment before any cameras begin rolling. When filming outside of a closed set or studio, the armorer can often serve as a liaison with police or other authorities.
Another part of the armorer’s job includes providing the firearms for a production, and this can include ensuring historical accuracy as well as whether a particular firearm is “appropriate” to the story. Many directors or producers will consult an armorer about whether a character would use a particular weapon.
Prepping for the Production
The armorer also has the task of preparing the actors – including main stars and extras alike – on how to handle a firearm to make it look realistic, and, of course, to ensure that it is used as safely as possible. The armorer will watch the “half-speed” rehearsal in action sequences whenever a firearm is used, and if he or she sees something that is deemed to be unsafe – notably a gun pointed directly at someone’s face – it is the armorer’s job to let the director know. Weapons choreography is extremely important in a film production.
For this reason, the armorer is always required to be present whenever a scene with a weapon is being shot. This practice is carried out not just to monitor the way the scene is played out, but also to control the weapons before and afterward. The armorer will, in most cases, present the actor with the weapon just prior to the scene and then immediately take control after it is filmed.
Overseeing the Action
In most productions, the armorer is the last person most actors will see before they go before the camera, and the armorer is generally the only person other than the director to have the power to yell “cut” should he or she see something that could endanger the actors or crew.
Most armorers would agree that it is still very much the director’s job to worry about whether a scene works, but the armorer is there strictly from the point of view of safety. Given that many of today’s high-octane action films can feature shootouts as complex as a Hollywood musical, it is important to have a qualified armorer on set. Without these individuals doing their jobs, a film set could be far more dangerous!
The job of the armorer doesn’t begin right before a scene is shot, however, and in many cases can be an important part of the pre-production process. Larger and more complex sequences will require the armorer’s input and can include consulting with special effects personnel.
The actual amount of time the armorer and actors spend together can be limited, and while some actors go the distance with specific training, for many extras it can be as little as 45 seconds.
Behind the Scenes
When not on set, the armorer’s job takes on the role of craftsman or property master, either modifying real firearms to shoot blanks or creating other non-guns. While blanks and Simunition are still used in many productions, an alternative is an electronic gun that externally resembles the real thing. It can simulate fire and works with timed electrical charges – something useful for situations where blanks could be dangerous.
In theory, movies could be made without an armorer, but it would be far more dangerous process.
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at [email protected].
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