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How a prop gun using blanks on a TV or movie set can still fire a fatal shot

  • In wake of Alec Baldwin firing a prop gun Thursday on the set of his movie Rust, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza, The Wrap's Ross A. Lincoln explains how a prop gun can be deadly. The union IATSE says the gun contained a "live single round." "As is often the case after such events, there’s a lot of confusion about what, exactly happened," says Lincoln. "If the gun was filled with blanks, how on earth could someone be killed? How can a 'prop' gun be deadly. Was a crime committed? We’ll attempt to answer those questions here. Of course, we must also stress that the details of the tragedy on the Rust set are far from complete and it will be days, if not weeks before, we know the full story. First, it’s important to understand what the term 'prop gun' means in this context. People tend to assume it refers to non-functional weapons of the sort used in theatrical performances, or toy guns that fire caps to produce smoke. And while it’s true that those are also prop guns, the term also applies to real guns that are used as props. The reason a production would use a real gun is simple: Verisimilitude. As firearms instructor Dave Brown wrote for American Cinematographer magazine in 2019, real firearms add authenticity to close-up shots in particular. Anyone who’s ever held a gun can confirm that a real gun looks, weighs and handles different from an inert prop. But, Brown noted, they also require experts on set to make sure they’re properly handled at all times. That’s because a gun is still a gun, regardless of what’s in it. And that brings us to how a gun loaded with blanks can kill someone. The term 'blank’ is a shorthand version of the full term, blank cartridge. Notice I said cartridge and not bullet. A cartridge is a unit of ammunition fed into the barrel of a gun comprised of several parts: The casing (sometimes called a shell); propellant material (gunpowder) inside the shell; a primer on the bottom of the cartridge; and at the tip of the cartridge, the actual projectile (bullet) itself."


    • Emmy-winning 24 and The Orville director Jon Cassar discusses on-set gun safety precautions and explains why TV and movie productions continue to use real guns: "Why productions continue to use real guns is because it is a more real experience for the actors and it looks real," Cassar tweeted. "Fake prop guns that shoot a little flame don’t recoil, don’t have the flame and smoke effect, the huge blast sound and don’t eject shells like real guns. It’s the same reason why we still do real stunts. They’re more dangerous but they look and feel real compared to CGI. But if all safety protocols are adhered to, no one should ever get hurt although accidents can happen. And in the hundreds of scenes I’ve done with guns I’ve always made sure the guns being used for rehearsals are empty. The safety protocols for handling guns on set work if  you make sure they adhered to.  There are hundreds of productions every day that are dealing with guns and big action stunts.  A huge majority of them are safe but some that don't follow the guidelines and people get hurt."

    TOPICS: Alec Baldwin, Halyna Hutchins, Jon Cassar, Guns and TV, television sets, TV Props