With the tragic death on the set of the movie Rust making headlines, a lot of attention was focused on the firearms procedures used in Hollywood. As a veteran of a 40-year career in that industry, and an “Emmy Loser,” I know a thing or two about the procedures on sets regarding firearms.
A Little Background
Beyond the death of a crew member, allow me to provide a little background of firearms on movie sets and backlots. First, firearms are not allowed on studio property or locations unless they are under the control of a licensed armorer, PERIOD! Additionally, it is verboten to have live ammunition of any kind or caliber.
I must offer a caveat at this point. Prior to the technology that allowed squibs and CGI effects, exhibition sharpshooters did use live ammo to make certain shots and create effects that could not be achieved any other way. A classic example can be seen in the movie Winchester 73 starring Jimmy Stewart when, to break a tie at a shooting contest, a coin is shot out of the air. The shot was made by world-renowned exhibition shooter of the day, Herb Parsons.
The practice of using live ammunition, fired by professional shooters, ended shortly after that in the 1950s. From that day through ‘tomorrow,’ live ammunition has been banned on all movie sets for safety reasons. My career in the industry started in the 1970s. On the occasions I was responsible for arranging for a firearm, this is how it worked.
I was given a script that specifically stated what firearms were needed, exactly how they would be used, by whom, the way the ammunition would be photographed, the number of times each firearm would be fired in rehearsal and on camera, and where the scene would be shot i.e., in a sound stage or on location. I would go to the famous prop house — Ellis Mercantile on La Brea Ave. or Stembridge Gun Rentals AKA The Gun Room on the Paramount Studio lot. With one of their gunsmiths or armorers, I would go over the script.
Once everything was arranged, I would issue a purchase order for the rental of the firearms, the number of dummy rounds, and the purchase of the number of blanks. The armorer on the show would be notified when the order was ready and would pick it up. Everything remained in the armorer’s possession, under lock and key, until the moment before the director yelled, “Action!”
After he yelled, “Cut!” everything would immediately be returned to the armorer and securely locked away in his box. BTW most, if not all, of the Hollywood guns were modified to fire blanks only. With no live ammunition being used, safety dictated that the guns should not be able to fire live ammunition.
Getting back to Rust… for one live round to find its way into a single-action revolver and be staged in the correct chamber, so it would fire the first time it was cocked, and the trigger was pulled, makes me believe it had to have been deliberate. Colt Single Actions, and their clones, load through a side-loading gate. The cylinder needed to be rotated so the loaded chamber was the next in line to fire. That must have been done by someone who knows guns, and single-actions in particular. At a minimum, there was a number of errors that culminated in the tragic event.
Hollywood used to get it right. However, in recent times Hollywood is, more often than not, embarrassingly wrong. One reason everything is incorrectly depicted is because those involved in contemporary productions are anti-gun and know nothing about the proper use of firearms. Even if a firearms advisor is hired, their advice is most often ignored. The worst part is that Hollywood influences what new shooters and the general public think about guns and two wrongs don’t make a right. That being said, let’s start with one of the most photographed and obvious mistakes that occurs over and over and why.
The most egregious error we often see is an incorrect grip. But let’s start with the finger-on-the-trigger pose first. The finger on the trigger was the way it was done until the NRA pioneered safe gun handling in both the military and law enforcement, forcing the Motion Picture industry to follow suit. However, until that occurred, the finger on the trigger was how it was.
The first grip we will examine is the “cup-and-saucer” or “teacup grip.” This shows up in a lot of movies and TV shows. When utilized, the shooter cups the pistol in his or her dominant hand and then rests the bottom of the grip in the support hand (the saucer).
In the first photo, we have the character Jack Bauer, played by rabid anti-gun actor Kiefer Sutherland, from the popular TV show “24.” Notice his hands, especially his weak hand. You can clearly see he is using a cup-and-saucer grip. Jack Bauer isn’t the only character who has used the cup and saucer.
In the next picture, we have James Bond played by another anti-gun actor, Daniel Craig also using a cup-and-saucer grip. Finally, we have yet another anti-gun celebrity, Milla Jovovich from the Resident Evil series of movies, also using the cup-and-saucer grip but with a revolver this time.
No doubt, pay attention and you will see this grip used in many other movies as well. The choice of grip is less of an issue for me. Do you notice the hypocrisy here? They have all publicly came out against firearms. They all make big money with a gun but seek to deny others the right to defend themselves… However, I digress…
The next incorrect grip we often see is the wrist brace. This was most famously displayed in the Dirty Harry series of movies. The series starred Clint Eastwood in the role of “Dirty Harry” Callahan, as a police inspector working in the San Francisco Police Department. Surprisingly, Clint Eastwood uses that grip, which consists of holding the revolver in one hand and gripping the wrist of that hand with his support hand. I guess it’s supposed to mean that the weak hand provides help in controlling the recoil of the .44 Magnum and prevents his wrist from being broken.
In the movie, Dirty Harry extols the virtues of the .44 with the following famous speech, “I know what you’re thinking: Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I’ve kinda lost track myself. But, being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question, ‘Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?’”
Technically, that speech was not completely true, because by the time the first movie was released, the Model 29 in .44 Magnum was no longer the most powerful handgun in the world. However, sales of the Model 29 went up dramatically after the movie was released because of that speech.
Dirty Harry isn’t the only movie character to use the wrist brace grip technique. In the next photo, we see the famous English spy, James Bond (played by actor Roger Moore), using the same technique with his much smaller Walther PPK pistol. I guess he was afraid the .380 might snap his wrist too.
My all-time favorite “Hollywood” way of holding a handgun — that has become very popular — is none other than the infamous sideways “Ghetto Grip.” Some people think that this style of holding a handgun originated in the 1990s, but it was actually seen in movies made in the 1960s as well. For example, Marlon Brando as “Rio” in the movie One-Eyed Jacks released in 1961, and Eli Wallach as “Tuco,” the ugly guy in the 1966 classic, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly used it.
While these movies did briefly show characters using the sideways grip, it was the 1993 movie Menace II Society that really popularized it. After Menace II Society was released, the sideways grip started to appear in a lot of other Hollywood movies, TV shows, and rap music videos. And then there is super anti-gun guy Russell Crowe who steps up and demonstrates his sideways grip, in the movie No Way Back.
The real reason why we started to see this grip in films and videos is because it allows the director to show a dramatic view of the actor’s face while the firearm is being pointed at the audience, all in the same frame, as you can see in the photo of Mr. Crow. At least that makes some actual cinematographic sense to me.
For those who might not understand why the ghetto grip is a bad idea in reality, allow me to explain. First, the sights of the weapon are rendered ineffective. The reason firearms have sights is to help the user aim the firearm accurately. Another complication comes in the fact that in all firearms the barrel is tilted up to help compensate for the gravity that will act on the projectile. If you put the gun on its side, the projectile will fly off to the left and drop. It may look cool in the movies, but in real life, the sideways ‘gangsta grip’ is detrimental to shooting — even when the shooter is relatively close to the target.
Here are a few more examples of bad grips I have seen — I’m sure you will know more and hope that you will call them out in the comments. The first is the beautiful actress, Ann Margret. Note how she uses her arm as a support for the firearm. That grip is guaranteed to let the pistol smack her in her pretty little forehead. Ouch!
The next bad grip technique also guarantees painful consequences. Notice where the thumb of the weak hand is placed. That’s right, it is behind the slide. When the user squeezes the trigger, the pistol will fire, and the slide will move backward at a high rate of speed to eject the spent cartridge. If the thumb is in the path of the slide, it will cause a painful cut or a broken thumb. Both thumbs must be placed so they do not interfere with the rearward movement of the slide.
Conclusion: Hollywood Guns
There are many more examples of the liberties Hollywood takes when portraying firearms, but time and space do not allow all the really stupid and impractical things to be discussed in this article. Fortunately, this article will provide fodder to continue the discussion around campfires and the clubhouse at your local shooting range.