Hollywood and the gun industry see themselves as mortal enemies, but they have a lucrative, symbiotic relationship:
“Until they stop making films and outlaw weapons altogether, we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” says Gregg Bilson Jr., president of the American Entertainment Armorers Association and head of the Independent Studio Services, one of Hollywood’s biggest prop houses.
ISS is a massive, family-owned business — renting everything from Chinese takeout containers to canoes. With more than 16,000 guns in its arsenal, nearly all real, ISS is the largest armory in Hollywood (about 80 of the guns at the NRA’s Hollywood exhibit are on loan from ISS). Bilson’s crew of armorers and gunsmiths helps finicky directors from Michael Mann to Oliver Stone find and use historically appropriate weapons, train A-list actors (like Bradley Cooper, Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) in how to wield them safely and shepherd complex projects to completion. “You can’t have a modern movie without a car rolling down the street or someone taking out an iPhone,” says Larry Zanoff, an ISS armorer who has worked on many big Hollywood productions. “Seventy-five percent of the time there’s at least one gun involved.”
This bit of trivia amused me:
To serve Hollywood’s marquee felons like Mark Wahlberg (currently brandishing a Glock 17 as a cop in Patriots Day) and Danny Trejo (most recently armed with an M1911A1 pistol in 2013′s Machete Kills) — who aren’t allowed by law to bear arms — ISS has a roster of realistic electronic guns (also known as e-guns or non-guns) that can stand in for everything from Smith & Wessons to Uzis. “They get a lot of use on hip-hop music video shoots,” says one weapons specialist. Producers working with ex-cons or shooting outside in neighborhoods with noise restrictions rely on them since they discharge at a much quieter level. They also are used in close-fire situations like a point-blank execution scene, where real weapons firing blanks are deemed unsafe (e-guns don’t eject shell casings).
Filmmakers now have much more incentive to get things right technically:
IMFDB.org is a wiki list-serve that functions as a clearinghouse for every possible bit of trivia, analysis and commentary on the interplay between guns and movies. Able to be cross-referenced by virtually any metric — actor, movie, firearm or manufacturer, for instance — the site is a testament to the appetite for information on Hollywood guns. There are 71 gun manufacturers listed and more than 1,500 pages in the “gun” category, along with thousands of actors and more than 5,000 movies.
“The only other product that gets people as excited when it appears in movies is cars,” says Chris Serrano, 32, the self-described “geek” who started IMFDB in 2007 from his home in Glendora, 30 miles east of Hollywood. At the time, there was much discussion but little agreement about guns in movies on the web. Serrano, who worked in real estate at the time, thought IMFDB would be a good way to crowdsource consensus.
Interest was immediate. The first visitors were fans of Westerns eager to weigh in about history and authenticity. Some modern movies generated intense discussion. The entry on Michael Mann’s Heat now tops two dozen pages. When Chad Stahelski and David Leitch debuted the 2014 thriller John Wick, IMFDB editors began itemizing the array of weaponry on display in the gun-heavy film. “As soon as it came out, it was big on the site,” says Serrano, a gun enthusiast who says he likes “a nice lever action” rifle.
Today, IMFDB gets more than 1 million unique visitors a month and has a team of 12 administrators and editors scattered around the world. “I’ve gotten word that Hollywood people do come and do research,” says Serrano. It’s mostly prop masters and armorers, but sometimes actors also come to the site to do research for their shows.
I didn’t know they traced this one back to its origin:
Sometimes armorers find that their onscreen handiwork worms its way back into real life. John Patteson, a Florida-based armorer (Cape Fear and Bad Boys II), recalls an experience on a 1980s TV show that he will not name in which a director wanted two guys with semiautomatic handguns to fire while standing next to each other. Patteson pointed out that the ejected rounds from one gun would hit the second man, at best creating an annoyance and at worst a potential safety hazard. “The director says, ‘How about we ask the left guy to tilt his gun sideways, so brass goes up and arcs away?’ ” Patteson adjusted the scene accordingly, but “next thing you know, I’m seeing guys in 7-Eleven videos holding the guns sideways.” There’s no way to trace whether incidents of sideways shooting in real life increased as a result of movie portrayals, but the anecdotal trace of his craft in real-life criminal activity left Patteson feeling disconcerted. At some point, he says, people do get “educated” by cinema: “A lot of the time, unfortunately, it takes on a life of its own.”
Apparently the initial article referred to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum — “the most powerful handgun in the world” — as a “massive Smith & Wesson Colt .44″. Sigh.