Charlie Taylor Interview: Blank Fire Guns for the Movies

I had a chance to spend a couple days filming at Movie Armaments Group up in Toronto, and took a minute to speak with Charlie Taylor, their Managing Director. MAG is has been around for 25 years supplying guns to the film and TV industry, and Charlie has immense experience working with blank-fire guns. Sounds easy, right? Well, there’s really a lot more that goes into reliable and safe blank-fire conversions than you might expect…

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  1. Someone told me that Toronto is a second Hollywood. Apparently it is true. Well, if it brings viewers to theaters, let them “flash” it out. I do not give attention to this stuff. Real shooting is better.

    But yes, I often thought what challenge it is to make movie ‘magazine-less’ shooting. Must be tons of fun for technicians.

      • Without trying to be ‘philosophical’ my impression is, that world (at least the one we live in) is becoming more of a made-up “story” than reality. In meantime, true life escapes among cracks.

          • I have had almost always the same feeling. But in last 10 plus years after quitting both TV and movie-going I cannot tell 🙂

            However and interestingly, it was moves and documentaries which sparked my interest in firearms and weaponry in general. We were fed with it on (early cold war years) regular basis. This is how it works, over and over – at least on majority of us.

  2. [off-topic so ignore if you wish]
    According to that U.S. forces asked for
    two weapon variants and a common cartridge for both weapons, utilizing government-provided 6.8 millimeter projectiles namely
    NGSW-R that is Next Generation Squad Weapon-Rifle
    NGSW-AR that is Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle
    What is that projectiles? If they would have 1930s-Soviet-level of secret paranoia (everything very secret) I wouldn’t be surprised if that “6.8 millimeter” wouldn’t be 6.8 mm at all, but do anyone known mass and/or length of that projectile? Or they are SECRET or TOP SECRET or ULTRA SECRET? Is it first time they ask for developing cartridge and weapons for given projectile rather than developing weapons for given cartridge? NGSW-AR is said to be effort to replace the M249 squad automatic rifle? Something is wrong with that weapon or it just cartridge? They want something to fill same role as this 1970s cartridge: ?

    • Regarding mentioned article and its contents…:
      “It will fire at speeds that far exceed the velocity of bullets today, and it will penetrate any existing or known … body armor that’s out there,”

      it sounds like utter nonsense. Do generals know truth or they live in parallel reality? Is it by-product of ill-conceived movies? I do not believe they are completely immune to them either.

    • Your further comment matches my own observation. The talk about some dreamed-out round which does not exist. It definitely cannot be 6.8 SPC.
      Btw, my understanding is that body armour advances are ahead of small arms capabilities. Do you know what is latest armour being implemented by Russia within “ratnik” program? Apparently this is pliable, semi-rigid type which hardens upon impact. Sounds like sci-fi, a nanotech product.

      • “Your further comment matches my own observation”
        Observations? So far I only made request for information. Not enough data for observations.

      • “Do you know what is latest armour being implemented by Russia within “ratnik” program?”
        Query in Russian wikipedia has quite rich description
        regarding stopping capability:
        6Б47 (helmet) – stops 9×18 mm at distance of 5 meters and shards (1,05 g heavy no faster than 630 m/s). Crafted with usage of Aramid fibers.
        6Б45 (vest) – stops blades and shards (1,1 g heavy no faster than 550 m/s), it contain plates “class 5A” which means it stops following cartridge at distance 10 meters: 7Н24 (from AK-74), М855 (from M16A2), 57-БЗ-231 (AKM), 57-Н-323С (SVD)
        6Б45-1 (vest) – assault variant of earlier mentioned with “class 6A” plates, stops folowing cartridge: 7Н13, 7-БЗ-3 (from SVD) at distance 10 m, .338 Lapua Magnum (from Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum or Sako TRG 42) at distance 300 m
        6Б45-2 (vest) – buoyancy providing variant; for crossing water
        6Б49 (“combat protection set”) – this is set providing protection for arms and legs, generally it stops shards, with varying level of protection.
        6Б50 (glasses) – stops shards and chemical elements
        6Б51 (joint protection set) – prevent elbow-joint and knee-joint damage
        6Ш117 (load carrying vest) – might be used with vest or alone
        MOUNTAIN TROOPS ONLY: 6Б46 (vest) – this is protective vest and load carrying vest combination, replaces 6Б45 and 6Ш117

  3. Actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died because of DIY blanking: the crew on the set of “The Crow” made their own dummy rounds for one scene, the slug from one of the dummies ended up in stuck the barrel of the .44 revolver that was subsequently loaded with blanks (and apparently not blocked at the muzzle) for a shooting scene. No one seems to have made sure the barrel was unobstructed. It was shot at Lee during filming; he was hit in the abdomen at a range of twelve feet and died after six hours of surgery. Whether live fire, BBs or blanks, let all bubbas beware. Hopefully the guys responsible never worked with firearms or in the movies again.

    • I thought that actors have placed “squibs” under their clothing which are activated remotely…. and the effect looks real.

      • There are various types and sizes of “squibs”, all fired electrically. And using the wrong size or putting it on the wrong way is as dangerous as a live round.

        Usually, a squib intended to simulate a wound has a very small charge and is underneath a gel pack of fake blood. This is why gunshot wounds (GSWs) in the movies are invariably more gory and spectacular than the real thing. (Trust me, I’ve seen more than my share of the real thing at PMs.) There is always a protective Kevlar “pad” behind the squib, between it and the actor’s body.

        Use the wrong type or size of squib,or put it on wrong-way-round, and even with the pad, you have an actor who is going to need to go to the ER. There’s a reason that generally only stunt performers are allowed to do this kind of “acting”, most obviously insurance liability.

        For the same reason, there’s a specialist generally called the “pyro tech” (pyrotechnics technician), who is responsible for all rigging and use of squibs. Among other things, he has to have at least a State and often a Federal license stating that he is qualified to do so.

        And pyro techs are fully qualified and authorized to tell a director, writer or actor “no” if they deem a squib stunt too dangerous. It would take a genuine idiot in any of the three categories, but especially the directing one, to order him to do it anyway. The studio legal department’s hair tends to catch on fire at that point. Right after that, the director or etc. tends to abruptly be “off the project”, with very good reason.

        Squibs are not harmless. They are explosive ordnance and must be treated with respect, just like any other rounds of ammunition.

        As the captain said in X the Unknown, leave them to be dealt with by those who know how.



    • Blank rounds generally don’t give you recoil and generally do not cycle self-loading live weapons very well. Interestingly, lots of dedicated blank guns are made with nonstandard calibers (like 8 mm) so that you can’t chamber live ammunition. I would refer you to a not-so-successful movie, The Monuments Men. There’s a pretty funny scene of US Army training for the artists recruited to save Europe’s artistic treasures.

      To sum it up, one of the American artists thinks that the “advancing under fire” exercise consists of crawling through the mud while the young officer cadets shoot blanks. A British officer tells him otherwise after the former manages to get out of the training area without getting shot (I’ll just paraphrase it here):

      “Yes, the cadets are teenagers, but no, they are NOT shooting blanks.”

  4. I’ve seen some documentary thing about James Cagney having a close call when a live Thompson was used to shoot holes in a wall he was standing in front of. I don’t recall the film, but a search suggests ‘Taxi’ from 1932.

  5. The book “Gun Guys: a Road Trip” by Dan Baum was a interesting read and among the many different topics that he covers, he includes info about visiting special effects companies/prop masters and how they handle guns in film and TV. One of the more interesting aspects of that particular topic was the secrecy with which the different guys protected their different proprietary systems that they developed to get the best looking firing sequences with blanks, just like is covered in this video (I don’t recall the exact companies that he visited but I want to say that they may have been on the west coast). They were really tight lipped about exactly what modifications they use, I guess as a way to protect their place in the industry.

  6. I remember a documentary on Hollywood many years ago where the section on stunts stated that in the very early days (early teens and before) they used sharpshooters with live ammo shooting close to the actors. They showed some footage of an early western and you could see rock chiping just over the actor’s shoulder during the “gunbattle”.

    • In THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1932) Jimmy Cagney and another actor ducked around the corner of a building just before a fixed machinegun (supposedly across the street) chipped away the masonry on the building’s corner. Looked real to me!

  7. Rohit Gurunath Sharma is an Indian international cricketer who is the vice-captain of the India national team in limited-overs formats. He is a right-handed batsman and was an occasional right-arm off break bowler.

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