Gun Safety

This is a story from a few years ago, back when I was a set PA on shitty indie movies. And by “indie,” I really mean “Skinemax.”1

The movie was described as an “erotic action thriller.” It was about a team of women who were spies by night, and strippers by… other nights? I’m not sure. Look, it was a weird movie. And not in a good way.

In any case, the actresses had less on-set experience than even I did at the time. They did have more experience in other areas, if you know what I mean. One day we were setting up a shot, and the prop master handed the lead actress her pistol. (We couldn’t afford stand-ins, so the actresses were their own Second Team.) Guess what she immediately began doing…

Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we'll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find... ¡The Three Amigos!
In this metaphor, as in everything else, I’m Chevy Chase.

The dolly grip,2 being the nearest thing to a responsible adult, asked her kindly to not do that. She pointed out that it was a prop gun, and couldn’t possibly fire. He agreed that while this was true,  there are certain rules to follow around all guns, so that we don’t inadvertently form bad habits–

  1. Every gun is loaded.
  2. Don’t point the gun at anyone or anything, unless you plan to kill it.

She immediately pointed it at him and pulled the trigger.

Base on the novel by a time-traveling Michael Crichton.
Like this, but with fake boobs.

He did the only logical thing– he took the gun away.

Despite the fact that this crusty old grip had about a hundred and fifty pounds on her, this actress had no sense of self preservation. She started yelling and screaming, tried to grab the gun back from him, beat his chest and arms with her fists. He pretty much ignored her, holding the gun away from her at arm’s length.

They looked like a couple of kids; the big brother had taken his little sister’s toy, and she was throwing a hissy fit.3 I think for a second he actually did that thing where he put his hand on her forehead, and she flailed her arms without actually reaching him. It would have been adorable if she wasn’t a grown woman.

The AD came over to see what all the commotion was about. She screamed that the grip had taken her prop for no reason and was acting like a general asshole. He calmly explained that she pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger.

The AD turned to the actress and said, “I’m sorry, he’s right. I’ll hand you the gun once the cameras are rolling.”

And that was that.

The grip handed the gun over to the AD, and went back to fiddling with his dolly. The AD walked back to video village to talk with the director. The actress just stood there, dumbfounded. I suspect this was the first time in her adult life that she hadn’t gotten her way.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate the AD at the time. 90% of the time, if anyone on the crew gets in an argument with number 1 on the call sheet, that crew member is going to be reprimanded. Or just straight-up fired. I’ve seen it happen.

But the AD saw that it was a safety issue. Next week, we might be shooting with blanks, which can be surprisingly dangerous, especially in the hands of someone who’s not careful.

The AD was not delicate with the actress. He didn’t apologize on behalf of the grip, or tell him he should have handled the situation differently. Instead, he told the actress, firmly and clearly, that her behavior was unacceptable. And from then on, she understood that there were certain rules even she couldn’t violate.

I’ve since lost touch with that AD and dolly grip. I don’t think I could even find the old crew list with their contact info if I wanted to. But I hope, somehow, that they read this blog. I hope they know that years later, I appreciate the example they gave me, and that I’m now passing on to all my other readers.

This is how professionals behave. This is how you should behave.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You take the jobs you can get when you’re a year out of film school.
  2. Not the dolly grip behind Dollygrippery, although I’m sure Darryl would agree with the sentiment.
  3. What makes you think I know from experience?
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5 Responses

  1. Great story — and you’re dead right about the danger of blanks. Just ask Jon Eric Hexum, an actor who once had a bright future in Hollywood. But while fooling around on set one day, he put a prop gun loaded with blanks to his head and pulled the trigger. It didn’t kill him right away — he hung on for a couple of days in the hospital — but in the end that “blank” was no less lethal than a hollow-point bullet. Guns are not to be fucked with on set.

  2. Can you believe I was on a low-budget set once (in southern Europe) where they brought out a non-replica pistol which they proceeded to unload and then pass to the actor who started fooling with it. He seemed offended when I told him he was a fucking idiot.

    1. Sadly, I can believe it. Also, let’s be honest, most actors are fucking idiots. I wouldn’t give one a gun any more than I would give one to a child.

  3. I agree with everything here, except it’s not just actresses that are prone to this sort of idiocy. I once handed a (non-firing replica) pistol to an actress, then turned around for a second and saw the camera operator horsing around with it. Not “checking it”, but muzzle-sweeping the room, poking all the bits, etc. I literally smacked his hand and took the gun back.

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