As we begin pre-production on our next film, I am nagged with one small, but constant fear. I really, really don't want our production to be delayed by a SWAT team raid. I know, probably not the most realistic fear, but I'm also the guy who doesn't like being the first one in the water, even in fresh water lakes. It's also not that far-fetched when you think about how many concerned citizens would totally ignore the film equipment and camera crew when they tunnel vision on the men in tactical gear carrying big guns and call the police. So, as a public service, I am going to share some of the steps we are taking to make sure we are not standing against a brick wall, hands behind our head, waiting for the police to sort everything out.
- No Real Weapons: Having real weapons firing blanks brings a whole host of problems to your set that you will have to contend with. It will be highly recommended that you take out an insurance policy if you are bringing real weapons onto set. One need look no further than what happened on the set of "The Crow" to see why. You will also need to have a firearms safety officer present to insure safety at all times. Do NOT trust yourself to do this. even if you are intimately familiar with firearms, you will have too much else to think about to be hovering near the weapons all the time, and when it comes to firearms it only takes one mistake. And since we are concerned with appearance if the police are called to set, the last thing you want to be holding is a real firearm.
- Airsoft: The next best thing is going to be gas blowback airsoft weapons. The gas blowback means that you will have a working slide action every time the trigger is pulled. This provides a visual cue for your actors to react to as well as helps the effects team know where to add muzzle flashes and sound effects. The more expensive models will also add an impressive amount of recoil. To see more of how they work, check out our weapons tests here.
- The Orange Blaze: It is obviously going to have to come off for filming, but I advise you to leave it on as long as possible before you take it off. It doesn't need to come off for pre-production tests, so why take on extra risk? I must also caution that the orange blaze is restricted differently in each state. I strongly recommend you check the laws in your area before just stripping that orange off.
- Call the Police: I call it controlling the conversation. What is better than self reporting? Find the number to your local department's public affairs office or call the NON-emergency dispatch number. Tell them what you are doing, when you are filming, the address you are filming at and stress that you have no real weapons on set. Will it head everything off? No, but it sure does help of they can match the address of any potential 911 calls and know the backstory.
- Talk to the Neighbors: If possible, start knocking on doors and let people know what is going on. It's unlikely you will be able to get to everyone (our shoot is next to a huge condo complex as well as high rises) but every bit helps.
- Post Signs: And I mean everywhere. We did a walk through last week and I had signs posted on every door on the building, even the ones far away from where we were shooting. You never know what door police will go to if they are called. For your convenience, I posted a copy at the bottom of the page (apologies for the "I think I got it but can't tell because it's sunny" cut off to the photo).
- Invest in a Duffel Bag: What will look better? Walking into the building carrying three AR-15 Rifles over your shoulder, or carrying a nondescript duffel bag?
In the end, an ounce of preparation really does go a long way when it comes to safely shooting any scenes with weapons. Please do not take it lightly just because you are shooting with "toy guns".