Motion Picture Firearms
Firearms safety for film
& theatre productions

“An amateur practices until they get it right.
A professional practices until they can’t get it wrong.”

A Firearms Safety Coordinator is on set to ensure the safety of cast and crew when firearms are being handled; comply with regulations on filming with firearms, and contribute to the look of the production through the story and the authenticity of the characters.

The presence of firearms on a film or theatre set should not put people on edge. When handled by professionals who know what they are doing, firearms are as safe as any other prop on set. In simple terms, firearms experts deal with the safety issues so that cast and the crew can concentrate on their jobs. This maximizes the talents of cast and crew and saves time and money for the production.

Safety with firearms is more than showing up and handing out guns. This is why we avoid the term “armorer” when referring to firearms safety experts who are there to do far more than just hand out the firearms. An experienced Firearms Safety Coordinator works within the Props Department to train cast and crew as required for each scene, evaluate the hazards that exist in the handling of those firearms and know how to control those risks through safe distance, personal protective equipment and proper training. They know the dangerous ranges of all the blanks and know how to achieve a good muzzle flash effect safely. In a fast-paced environment, they can also make instant decisions as plans change.

It is not just about safety when firing blanks. An experienced firearms expert makes a valuable contribution to a production through training the cast to look real and inspire confidence with both cast and crew. They collaborate directly with producers, directors, cinematographers and propmasters to tell a good story. They work quickly and professionally, have attention to detail, a professional approach to safety and a good understanding on how to get along with people.

Modern safety professionals stay up to date on regulations and safety guidelines and continually research how best to achieve the desired look in any production. They also know there are a lot of myths involving firearms safety on film sets.

In Canada, firearms may only be handled by persons with a valid Firearms Licence or must be under the direct supervision of a person with a licence. In addition, many replica firearms may be considered prohibited weapons in Canada and must be handled and supervised by qualified individuals. No matter how large or small the budget, there are safety issues and legal restrictions on the handling and supervision of firearms, discharge of blanks or supervision of replica firearms.

Attention to detail means getting even the little things right. The way an actor holds a firearm; the look; the weight; the handling … all of these details help make a character look believable. It is more than just keeping people safe. Actors want to look like they know what they are doing with a gun in their hand. They want their characters to make sense. They want the props to help tell a good story.

If a production just hands out a bunch of toy guns to professional actors, you lose that authenticity. Even mistakes such as police officers with equipment on in the wrong spot or holding a gun incorrectly can take an audience out of the story.

A Confident Approach to Safety
Firearms are props. They are not special effects and should never be handled by persons with multiple duties to perform. Experience with firearms is not the only requirement to properly handle them on set or train cast and crew. Almost anyone with some degree of training and experience can make a firearm safe, but it takes a special skill to be able to work directly with cast in a way that inspires trust and makes them also feel safe.

This is what Dave Brown brings to a production. A low-key approach and meticulous attention to detail makes Dave especially popular with cast. If the actors know the answers to their questions, concerns, safety or authenticity issues are always just steps away, they are free to concentrate on their acting and character.

Dave is one of the most experienced firearms safety specialists in the film and theatre industry. He has lectured across the country on firearms safety, been interviewed numerous times, spoken in front of audiences across North America and even appeared on an episode of the Discovery Channel to talk about firearms safety in film. Actor Keanu Reeves calls Dave “Obi-Wan.”

Some people learn through reading books or taking courses. Others, are the experts who write the books and teach the courses. These are the people who, if not doing, they are teaching; if not teaching, they are always looking for new ways to pass on their knowledge to a future generation.

One example is now part of the presentation on firearms safety in film and theatre available to all stage and film technicians in North America. A section discusses the relationship between the distance between actors and the hazardous range of blanks, and contains a simple mathematical equation now known as “Brown’s Law.”

Browns Law graphic

Read his interview on LA Talk Radio’s program “Film Courage.”

Not just a film safety professional, Dave is also one of the most respected firearms instructors in Canada. His research into a better way of teaching firearms safety resulted in what is known as the
PROVE procedure, now an integral element in the firearms safety training programs of Canada.

Filming with Firearms in Manitoba
Manitoba is home to one of the most trusted firearms safety professionals in the business. Unlike other jurisdictions, firearms and gunshots do not require the presence of ETF or paid-duty police officers on film sets in Manitoba. This trust has been earned through years of competence, high safety standards and professionalism.

Firearms in Manitoba are handled by designated Firearms Safety Coordinators, working under the Props Department. If required, additional Weapons Handlers can work directly under the Firearms Safety Coordinator.

safety guidelines for filming with firearms are designed to be simple, practical and cost-effective.

You can also download the complete 80-page Manitoba Health and Safety Guidelines for the Media Production Industry

Winnipeg, CANADA