In the wake of the incident in which actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot dead a cinematographer on a movie set, an Israeli weapons expert who instructs Hollywood’s big stars on the correct ways to use weapons during filming told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper about the guidelines the actors are instructed to follow.
Aaron Cohen served in the Duvdevan Special Forces Counter-Terrorist Unit of the IDF and, following his military service, moved to the US where he ultimately was approached by Hollywood productions and asked to train their actors on the use of weapons and the control of firearms and security procedures.
The basic guidelines, he said, were put together following the 1993 death of actor Brandon Lee, who was shot with a prop gun while filming the movie “The Crow”.
"When I work with actors, I go over safety issues with them for an hour," Cohen told Yediot Aharonot from his home in Los Angeles. "I gave this course to Michael Fassbender and Keanu Reeves and every actor I have worked with. I explain to them how to check the gun, how to make sure there are no bullets in the barrel, warn them not to aim the gun at anyone."
Cohen said he never takes the actors he guides to a live shooting range. "There is no need. They just have to look as if they're firing and they need to know how to hold a gun, but no need for bullets. I worked with a lot of armorers and they are very professional people. They don't give a weapon to an actor until they feel safe. After the filming of the scene is completed, they immediately come to take the gun from the actor and move it far away from everyone. The meticulousness is insane. Since Brandon Lee was killed thousands of movies have been made and yet, we've never heard of a shooting accident on a set, it just does not happen."
Asked about the incident involving Baldwin, Cohen said, "I was very surprised when I heard what happened on the Baldwin set. The safety standard in operating weapons in filming movies is very high. First of all, live bullets are not allowed on the set, this is not the military and there is no such thing as live bullets."
"Secondly, the weapons used undergo small changes in the barrel of the rifle. They insert a piece of metal, a kind of plug into the barrel, so that in case there is a live bullet, it will not be able to come out of the barrel. The armorer is supposed to check the weapon before handing it over to the actor and he is the only one allowed to do so. The actor does not receive the weapon until ten seconds before filming.At the same time, the armorer announces that it is a 'cold weapon' (i.e., with no live bullets), so everyone knows there are weapons on the set.Cold weapons mean there are no live bullets."
"And one last thing, even after the actor gets the weapon in his hands, he must not aim the gun at anyone. If the scene requires directing the gun towards the camera, then the photographer and the director and everyone who is there should move away from the range of fire."
Asked why in this day and age real weapons are still used while filming movies, Cohen explained, "Holding a replica pistol is not the same as holding a real pistol. Real pistols and rifles are heavier and you can feel it when the player waves his hand, if he is holding something that is like a pistol or rifle, it is not the same and it affects his acting. Actors also respond better when it is a real pistol with gunfire coming out of the barrel, which is achieved by means of idle bullets that are empty bullets, but do make a sound, provide the gunfire effect and give the actor the real feeling of a grip on a weapon. In any case, it is forbidden to aim the gun at anyone and it is forbidden to shoot too close to anyone, because idle bullets can also cause injury."
"This is precisely why this story is really so surprising. Working in my studio as an actor's coach and on other sets, led me to appreciate how meticulous the productions are when it comes to safety. No production wants accidents on the set, these can be very expensive, both in terms of expensive filming time and in terms of lawsuits. That's why every set has a person who is in charge of weapons. He is the one who checks each weapon, gives it to the actor by hand and ensures that he takes it away from him immediately after the scene is filmed. Rumor has it that people on the production team of ‘Rust’ brought live bullets in violation of the ban and went out to the range in the area for fun. It is possible that this is how a live bullet made its way into the gun and whoever was supposed to check it did not do so, and that is total negligence."