Author Topic: PROPS: Firearm safety and maintenance (meta-thread)  (Read 12463 times)

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Michael

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PROPS: Firearm safety and maintenance (meta-thread)
« on: Jun 22, 2004, 07:12 pm »
I just found out that I will be SMing our college production of Sondheim's Assassins.  Also just found out that there is a Gunmaster for the show. I've never worked with firearms onstage before nor worked with a Gunmaster.

Anyone have experience with this? Thoughts? Suggestions? Comments?

EDIT: This is a meta-thread consisting of multiple merged topics. - PSMK
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2009, 03:13 am by PSMKay »

Didaskalos

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #1 on: Jun 24, 2004, 12:35 am »
How Do They Do That: Stage Weapons Part II

Using Guns

Blade weapons are dangerous enough, but prop firearms require an even higher level of scrutiny. When professional weapons masters, like Sean McArdle of PropPeople.com, start looking for stage weapons, they must decide, with the director, whether the weapon will be fired, loaded on stage and/or fired, or just brandished about.

Those decisions will influence what kind of weapons they acquire for the show. Weapons distributors rent or sell non-firing weapon replicas, blank-firing replicas, and real guns converted to using blanks only. Prop directors need to be aware of the regulations for buying, shipping, and transporting firearms, including prop weapons and replicas.

Prop guns that fire blanks have blocked barrels. Weapons masters should examine the barrel and make sure that the blocked material will not come lose when fired. The chambers in the cylinder should be free of metal burrs and should be filed out if necessary. Test fire the weapon with the proper blank load (full to half loads can be extremely loud in a small theater). Test blank loads every time, especially if you buy from a different company; a quarter load from some manufacturers can be as loud as a half load.

McArdle urges weapons masters to test the weapon by firing it at a piece of suspended newsprint. Fire the blanks from four feet, then at point-blank range. The movement of the paper and the amount of powder left on the newsprint indicate the strength of the blank. Fire the weapon again from each side, both at four feet and then at point-blank range. This identifies the danger zone around that particular weapon, loaded with that size blank.

The weapons master and director can then determine where to place actors and crew around the weapon. McArdle suggests that this test should be done in front of the actors and crew; its visual lessons will make a bigger impression than anything that is said. If a weapon is fired off stage, the same safety precautions must be adhered to.

Finally, the prop director and weapons master should be aware of the federal, state, and local laws regarding transportation, storage, and use of all prop weapons. Comply with all manufacturer’s warnings, limitations, storage suggestions, and uses. Each weapon should be inspected before and after use, cleaned every time, and inventoried whenever the weapons locker is opened.

Knives, swords, and guns help make a production come alive. Being careful with these weapons will ensure the safety of both the actors and the audience members.



By Janie Franz
Do it right the first time;  do it right every time.

Didaskalos

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« Reply #2 on: Jun 24, 2004, 12:39 am »
source: <www.weaponsofchoicetheatrical.com>

ON THE USE OF PROP FIREARMS:
things every actor should know

You will soon be given responsibility for a prop pistol or rifle for use in rehearsal and performance of a theatrical production. Some firearms can actually fire blanks and some are purely for show but may have working parts which can allow an actor to simulate the real action of the weapon. .

Actors try to mimic the moves that they see in the movies, but forget that guns constantly break down while on a film set. Film studios can afford to have several duplicates and a gunsmith on stand-by – theatres cannot.

While by all means we want the actor to feel comfortable working with the prop on stage, these cautionary points are prudent to keep in mind today and until the end of the run.

¨ First and foremost - Never point it at anyone at any time. I cannot more strongly stress the importance of developing sound firearms safety practice among this nation’s actors. Always treat every prop gun as though it were a true and loaded gun, and if necessary to give the illusion of pointing the weapon, aim upstage of the other actor. The audience will never know the difference, and perhaps slowly we can all work together to prevent more senseless tragedies from occurring. This can only start with each and every person who sees any weapon, real or fake, to simply assume that it is loaded, white-hot, and ready to kill.

¨ Second - Do not "dry-fire", which is pulling the trigger when there is no blank in the chamber. Most guns break in rehearsal from actors dry-firing (playing) backstage. No gun, prop or real, is designed to be handled in this fashion. If it is necessary to the play that the gun dry-fire, then by all means rehearse as needed. But otherwise, why risk costly damage?

¨ Third - Don’t take it out of the theatre. Police respond with extreme seriousness to any possible incident involving firearms, and merely displaying a replica outside of a theatre is a felony in most states. Any use outside of a theatre (including any film-work) requires prior notification and consent of the local police.

¨ Fourth - The prop is not part of your costume. It is to be picked up from the stage manager just before your entrance, and returned immediately on your exit.

¨ Fifth - Perform a "chamber-check" with every hand-off. The person handing over the weapon to the actor opens the gun to show that there is no bullet or blank in the chamber or magazine, or some other proof that the prop is harmless. When the actor returns the gun, the chamber check is repeated.

¨ Sixth - Don’t drop it. Real or replica, these are delicate props, and simply can’t survive aggressive action. If the gun must be tossed or dropped, we suggest that you purchase several for the run of the show, for they will break. For the same reason, don’t "twirl" the gun or force the working parts.
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smejs

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #3 on: Jun 24, 2004, 12:47 am »
I was fighting with my computer regarding pdf files, while Didaskalos gave those fabulous replies.  I agree with all of it (and Sean McArdle is a GREAT prop guy.....worked with him for a season).

First off, I think you should be GLAD you have a gunmaster for that particular show.  I actually joined the prop crew at the last minute for a student production of ASSASSINS, didn't even get to see a runthrough, and the props run crew head hadn't written ANYTHING down.  And there are a lot of guns in that show that sometimes fire and sometimes don't.  So be prepared for a list of all that for your person and the order of it all (as a good stage manager should, of course).

In the Equity world, we actually have to fill out a piece of paperwork that lists exactly what firearms are used in the show and how. You can download it in pdf form at http://www.actorsequity.org/Library/sm/sm_firearms.pdf

One thing I didn't see listed is that a standard thing when you hand off a gun is for the receiving person to say "Thank you" when and only if they have a secure grip on it, so that the person handing it to them knows when to safely let go.

Also, check if there are any rules in your space regarding guns.....the roadhouse I currently work at is also a state building, so we can't use any guns that USED to be real, even if are filled now, or never use blanks, etc.

You may also want to list in your general run crew sheets the intended number/occurance of gunshots during the show so they can cover ears, etc., or have the backup gun ready, etc.

Hope this helps.

Didaskalos

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« Reply #4 on: Jun 24, 2004, 12:54 am »
In a nutshell:  the Weapons Master is a highly specialized props/stage combat person.  He is the ONLY person who ever touches a firearm other than the designated actor(s).  He is responsible for instructing all actors on safety and protocol for gun usage on stage.  He is directly responsible for instructing the designated actor in the function and safe operation of the firearm, as well as the dangers inherent in its use.  Before a rehearsal or performance, the Weapons Master retrieves the weapon (and blank ammunition) from its locked storage, inspects it, loads it, gives it to the designated actor, and supervises as the actor inspects the weapon.  After the scene or show (whichever is appropriate), the Weapons master receives the discharged weapon from the actor, unloads it, inspects it, cleans it, and returns it to its locked storage.  

Hope all this helps.  As the SM, it is your responsibility to know all the safety stuff as well (even though you may never have occasion to touch the weapon), and to make sure that protocol is followed by the company members who will all want to "play" witht he guns.  Best wishes and BE SAFE!
Do it right the first time;  do it right every time.

Didaskalos

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« Reply #5 on: Jun 24, 2004, 01:03 am »
one last thing--as a courtesy to your patrons, be sure to post a sign at the lobby entrance that states:  "Multiple gunshots are fired in this performance."
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smejs

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #6 on: Jun 24, 2004, 01:06 am »
Also, I doubt that you will use the "real" guns for all of the rehearsal process....but you should have your actors get in the habit of treating them the same as real ones...especially if they're the performance guns except for blanks.  No one touches anyone else's gun, do proper hand-offs, etc.  And lock up the guns after rehearsal.  Also, your gunmaster will probably not be around for those rehearsals, so it's really in your court.

Michael

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« Reply #7 on: Jun 24, 2004, 04:28 pm »
Thank you all for excellent pointers -- this promises to be the most intense show I've done yet.

I'll likely keep everyone posted, either in Self-Promo or The Green Room. (for those that are interested....)

loebtmc

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #8 on: Jun 25, 2004, 01:01 am »
one more thing - don't know where you are, but everywhere I've worked, the producers or I always make it a point to notify the local police/sherriff/marshall's office to let them know 1) that shots will be fired, 2) how many and 3) at approximately what time.  It saves major hassle on both sides. And they appreciate it as well because  in smaller houses the neighbors hear it and start calling in concern to their local police dept.

Suzecamp

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« Reply #9 on: Aug 16, 2004, 08:37 pm »
¨ Third - Don’t take it out of the theatre. Police respond with extreme seriousness to any possible incident involving firearms, and merely displaying a replica outside of a theatre is a felony in most states. Any use outside of a theatre (including any film-work) requires prior notification and consent of the local police.

This brings up something that I've been a bit worried about.  The theater company I work with does all perfomances in a park.  We set up and take down the "stage" for each performance.  Everything including the props are kept in the shed.  The show I'm working on right now requires a revolver and a rifle. The revolver I am using looks real, but id sealed at the barrel, though it will fire blanks.  The rule I set was that only the actor who uses it, and myself can touch it.  It stays in my possesion when not in use.  So here is my question, since we don't have an actual theater, is it better to keep the revolver int he shed (It have a padock on it) or for me to take it home during the week. (Keepingi t in a safe place in my apartment.)
Suze

FallenRain

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« Reply #10 on: Aug 17, 2004, 02:26 pm »
That's a tricky situation, but I wouldn't recommend taking the prop home.  Even if done with the best of intentions, that situation just invites problems.  What if you forgot it one day?  What if something happened to you and you couldn't make it to a show?  What if you were late due to circumstances beyond your control?

For the same reason a prompt book should never leave the theatre (or shed as it were  :) ) props/costumes/etc. should also never leave the theatre.

Good luck!

loebtmc

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #11 on: Aug 17, 2004, 07:20 pm »
...or

is there a compromise - as in, is there an indoor locked office for your company nearby, or someplace other (and better built/protected) than this shed where you might store it? I would be concerned abt exposure to heat. cold, insects etc as all of those affect the guns' ability to fire.

jenk

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« Reply #12 on: Aug 27, 2004, 04:49 pm »
It's a good investment of time and resources for a set of weapons lockboxes to be built for the theatre, one that can house swords, one guns, and one larger things like axes and shields.
My theatre goes so far as to require anyone handling a firearm to initial and sign a set of safety and handling rules, so if anything happens and Equity wants to know if the actor/crew member was properly instructed, we have the paperwork.
And one more thing we do when handing off a gun: as you hand off the weapon, we say, "live weapon." This can remind an actor a they go into a charged-up scene what it is they have in their hand. I don't know how truly useful it is, but I have had actors mention often that they appreciate hearing it, it grounds them in their responsibility.

Didaskalos

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« Reply #13 on: Aug 28, 2004, 11:26 pm »
We always rent guns for shows, so I don't need permanent storage, but I purchased a small, fireproof safe to store blanks and prop pistols during the runs.  It is bolted to the floor in the prop room.  It might be a worthwhile investment for your company.  When not being used for weapons, it doubles as a storage for opening change and concession money!
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Mac Calder

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Gunmaster -- any experience?
« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2005, 02:03 am »
Some places (I know australia does), has very tight legislation on anything which RESEMBLES a real gun (ie anything not plastic that fires 'caps').

In Au, you would be required to have a licence for the gun and it must be stored according to gun legislation - IIRC that means the blanks stored in a separate LOCKED container to the gun, which is in a LOCKED gun cabinet.

In cases like this, the whole keeping it at home thing would not work - unless you have a gun locker?

Notifying the constabulary is a must, as others have said.

Ammunition counts before and after the show, very important. Guns are to be loaded with the exact number of shots required, no more, no less, and are to be handed to the actor with safetys on, loaded whilst in their hand.

I make sure I have a guns master, or a dedicated ASM with basic training, give them a clipboard, and we have sign out forms for the guns. The guns master signs the form when he removes it from the locker, the form has a basic safety check list, as well as a listing of what it is loaded with, it also states his responsibility for the fire arm. Just before the actor enters, he signs the receipt of the gun.

When it returns, the GM signs to say it has been returned, with no bullets in the chamber, and that it has been returned to the locker.

Before the show, another form is filled out by myself and the GM, together. We initial beside each weapons details, enter the count of munition, and sign, along with carrying out a basic safety check on each weapon, and check to make sure that all munition is blanks. This procedure is also carried out after the show, on the same sheet, signed a second time, and placed in my prompt copy.

I worked with one GM who would always say "Gun is ready, with x shots, to be returned empty at the end of this scene. Acknowledge." When I have been in charge of distribution of weaponry, I use much the same phrase, and make sure the actor acknowledges.

Many GM will ask to have a list of when and where a weapon is to be used, and will only release it just prior to the entry of that actor.

Some will also insist on the actor carrying a non-working model during scenes where it is not needed - a good practice if your budget can afford it.

It is also essential that you make sure that EVERYONE follows the instructions of a GM - where weaponry is concerned, they are above EVERYONE. I had a director who wanted to have a suicide shot fired, gun to the temple. The GM said no. The director complained and got a new GM who was open to the idea (and I don't think trained). The director is no longer permitted to work in this theatre. The actor who did the scene lost 10% of his hearing. The new GM I have not seen again. The show stopped after the first night as the actor refused to work with the theatre again.

Just because it is a prop does not make it safe. As SM, it is your duty to ensure that things are as safe as possible. If you have to use a fake gun and a sound effect to make it safe, do it.

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