Motion Picture Firearms
Firearms safety for film
& theatre productions
“An amateur practices until they get it right.
A professional practices until they can't get it wrong.”
A Firearms Safety Coordinator is on set to ensure the safety of cast and crew when firearms are being handled; comply with regulations on filming with firearms, and contribute to the look of the production through story and the authenticity of the characters.
The presence of firearms on a film or theatre set should not put people on edge. When handled by professionals who know what they are doing, firearms are as safe as any other prop on set. In simple terms, firearms experts deal with the safety issues so that cast and the crew can concentrate on their jobs. This maximizes the talents of cast and crew and saves time and money for the production.
Safety with firearms is far more than just showing up and handing out guns. This is why we reserve the term “armorer” for professionals who both supply and modify firearms for film sets, and refer to the firearms safety experts who are there to supervise the use of firearms on set plus contribute to the look and authenticity of a film, as “Firearms Safety Coordinators.” An experienced Firearms Safety Coordinator works within the Props Department to train cast and crew as required, evaluate any hazards that exist in the handling of firearms and control those risks through experience. They know dangerous ranges of blanks and they know how to achieve a good muzzle flash. In a fast-paced and ever-changing environment of a film set, they evaluate the risks and make quick decisions on the best way to safely achieve each scene with a firearm.
Modern safety professionals also stay up to date on regulations and safety guidelines and continually research how best to achieve the desired look in any production. They also know the many myths involving firearms safety on film sets.
In Canada, firearms may only be handled by persons with a valid Firearms Licence or must be under the direct supervision of a person with a licence. In addition, replica firearms are considered prohibited weapons and must be handled and supervised by qualified individuals. No matter how large or small the budget, there are safety issues and legal restrictions on the handling and supervision of firearms, discharge of blanks and supervision of replica firearms.
Attention to detail means getting even the little things right. The way an actor holds a firearm; the look; the weight; the handling … all of these details help make a character look believable. It is more than just keeping people safe. Actors want to look like they know what they are doing with a gun in their hand. They want their characters to make sense. They want the props to help tell a good story.
Photo credit: Allan Fraser
If a production just hands out a bunch of toy guns to their actors without showing them how to make them look real, you lose that authenticity. Even mistakes such as police officers with equipment on in the wrong spot or holding a gun incorrectly can take an audience out of the story.
A Confident Approach to Safety
Firearms are props. They are not special effects and should never be handled by persons with multiple duties to perform. Experience with firearms is not the only requirement to properly handle them on set or train cast and crew. Almost anyone with training can make a firearm safe, but it takes a special skill to be able to work directly with cast in a way that inspires trust and also makes them feel safe.
As a professional firearms instructor, Dave Brown also brings years of experience in training police, military and government agencies on advanced weapons handling and marksmanship to a film production. He not only trains cast in authenticity but also acts as technical advisor on everything from scripts, sets, props and costumes to actions and tactical behaviour.
Film and Theatre in Canada
Dave is one of the most experienced firearms safety specialists in the film and theatre industry. He has been invited to lecture across North America on firearms safety, been interviewed by newspaper and magazine publications numerous times, appeared on an episode of the Discovery Channel to talk about firearms safety in film, and won an award for his lifetime commitment to firearms safety and handling on theatre stages in Winnipeg.
“If an actor makes a mistake, they get another take.
If a weapons handler makes a mistake, you'll read about it in a thousand newspapers in the morning.”
Dave Brown also made a critical contribution to the safety of the present and future generation of actors and film and stage crews, through his design of a presentation on firearms safety which is now available to all stage and film technicians across North America through the IATSE Training Trust Fund.
One section of the presentation discusses the relationship between the distance and the hazardous range of blanks, and contains a simple mathematical equation created by Dave, now named “Brown’s Law” in his honour.
Read his interview on LA Talk Radio’s program “Film Courage.”
When it comes to the use of real firearms by professionals who carry firearms for a living, Dave is also one of the most respected firearms instructors in Canada. His research into a better way of teaching firearms safety resulted in what is known as the PROVE Procedure, now an integral element in the Canadian Firearms Safety Course training program.
Filming with Firearms in Manitoba
Manitoba is a unique filmmaking centre. As home to one of the most trusted firearms safety professionals in the business, scenes involving firearms and gunshots do not require the presence of paid-duty officers on the film set. This trust has been earned through years of competence, high safety standards and professionalism.
Firearms in Manitoba are handled by designated “Firearms Safety Coordinators,” working under the Props Department. If required, additional “Weapons Handlers” work directly under the Firearms Safety Coordinator and Prop Master.
“Multiple safety checks, performed multiple times a day and observed by multiple people may seem redundant to outsiders, but it serves to create an environment where a one-in-a-million error becomes a zero-in-a-million possibility."
- Dave Brown, CNN News
The Province of Manitoba safety guidelines for filming with firearms are designed to be simple, practical and cost-effective.
You can also download the entire Second Edition of the Manitoba Health and Safety Guidelines for the Media Production Industry here.