What are Prop Guns and how to Use them Safely on a Film Set


On film set, real-life tragedy happens, as a misfire from a prop gun or a blank ends up causing critical injuries and claiming lives.

Film sets having encountered such fatal accidents before, as the recent prop misfire involved US actor Alec Baldwin who fired a live round in a prop gun, taking the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza on a film set in New Mexico, October 21.

Court submissions indicated that assistant director, Dave Halls, handed the prop gun to Baldwin while it contained a live round. However, Halls said he did not know that, and indicated it was unloaded by shouting “cold gun!”

Prop Gun

Such incidences have happened in the past, claiming lives of actors and crew members, like, Brandon Lee, Jon-Erik Hexum, Halyna Hatchins among others.

Even so, the Santa Fe film set shooting stunned the film industry as incidents like this are rare and the news has stunned the film industry. The use of firearms on set is subject to stringent safety standards.

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“On the film I recently made, even my plastic gun, I had to sign out, sign in every day, So that’s why this particular case is so incredibly baffling.” Said Australian actor Rhys Muldoon.

Despite sounding harmless, both prop guns and blanks can be dangerous. Here’s what to know about them and to use them safely on a film set.

What is a Prop Gun?

Blanks are used in the film industry to imitate live ammunition.

The reason they are so convincing is that blanks are essentially modified real bullets.

While the term “bullet” is commonly used to describe what is loaded into weapons, more properly it is a cartridge that is loaded: a self-contained ammunition package made up of a casing holding an explosive powder that when fired, blasts out a projectile, or bullet.

Blanks differ because although they use explosive they don’t use a projectile.

What is a blank cartridge?

The same as the live round, except it does not contain a projectile or bullet on the tip.

In a Live round, when the trigger is pulled the primer ignites the gunpowder and fires a bullet. While in a blank round, no bullet is fired.

However the wadding materials which are used to keep the gunpower in place can be expelled from the gun when it is fired, potentially causing injury or even death at close range.

A prop gun could mean a range of items, from non-functioning weapons to cap guns. But it can also mean a real weapon, or one adapted for firing blanks.

Together they add authenticity to productions – fire a blank using a prop gun and you’ll get a loud bang, a recoil and what’s known as a m

Using safe measures while handling prop guns on set

How to use Blanks and props safely.

Hexum’s death highlights a problem with blanks – even without a projectile they pack enormous power.

Adding to the risk, some film sets use extra powder to make the visual impact stronger.

Film sets usually have strict rules about the use of prop guns. Specialists provide weapons for use on film sets and advise on their use.

“There’s basic safety measures on every set,” said Mike Tristano, an armourer who has worked with Alec Baldwin in the past.

“You never point a gun, even if it is not a firing gun, at anyone else. I’m at a loss how this could have happened and how it could have done that much damage.”

A common shot in film shows an actor firing into the camera and Steven Hall, who has worked on films such as Fury and The Imitation Game, says it only happens with safeguards.

“If you are in the line of fire… You would have a face mask, you would have goggles, you would stand behind a Perspex screen, and you would minimise the number of people by the camera, ” he said.

“What I don’t understand in this instance is how two people have been injured, one tragically killed, in the same event.”

As others in the film industry questioned the need for a blank prop, at a time when gun effects can be cheaply added using computers, blanks are still being used at all.

Prop Gun used on Film set

“There’s no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore. Should just be fully outlawed,” tweeted Craig Zobel, an actor and director whose credits include Westworld and Mare of Easttown.

“Prop guns are guns,” TV writer David Slack tweeted. “Blanks have real gunpowder in them. They can injure or kill – and they have. If you’re ever on a set where prop guns are treated without proper caution and safe handling, walk away.

“No show or shot is worth risking people’s lives,” he added.

Read Also: Alec Baldwin to be Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in the Fatal Film Set Shooting

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