The fatal shooting of an actor on a Brisbane film set has raised serious questions about gun safety in Australia’s entertainment industry.
Veteran gun experts John Bowring and Gideon Marshall have decades of experience supplying real and imitation weapons for film and TV productions, and managing their safe use on set.
But the theatrical armourers – who have worked on blockbusters including The Matrix and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine films – say licensing standards have slipped nationwide and people with little or no experience have entered the industry.
Actor and stuntman Johann Ofner died in an underground Brisbane bar on Monday while filming a music video for hip-hop band Bliss n Eso.
The 28-year-old father was shot in the chest with what the band’s management called a prop gun that was loaded with blank rounds.
We are devastated about the tragic passing of Johann Ofner. We continue to express our support and condolences to the family and friends ❤️ pic.twitter.com/cfKeQScHEx
— BLISS N ESO (@blissneso) January 24, 2017
Three real firearms – two handguns and a shotgun – were also on the set.
Police confirmed a theatrical armourer was present, as required under protocols governing the safe use of weapons in production settings.
No one has been charged and there is no suggestion of fault on the part of the armourer or anyone else on set, and Mr Bowring and Mr Marshall don’t want to comment about how the fatality occurred.
But they do hope the tragedy will spark an overhaul of licensing standards in their industry.
“A lot of people that have licences are not experienced,” Mr Marshall told AAP.
He says theatrical armourers play a crucial role in keeping actors and production crews safe, and “make sure everyone gets to go home”.
“We’re responsible for how weapons are handled … and it’s the armourer who says yes or no.
“You need to have experience and to be very strong and not be intimidated by producers saying ‘rush, rush, rush, we’re running out of time’, or ‘we can’t afford this or that’.”
Mr Bowring says none of the state agencies that licence armourers are checking if applicants have any, let alone adequate, experience in managing weapons and ammunition in complex filming environments where directors and producers sometimes want to push the boundaries.
“Generally speaking all you have to do is pass the qualifications for a shooter’s licence in any state, and show you have the security to keep the weapons – generally the level of a firearms dealer.
“They don’t consider that they have to check your experience.”
Both men say staged shots that require direct hits on targets – even with blank rounds – are not the norm, and if they are done at all require exhaustive testing and specialised equipment.
“A blank is still a round of ammunition and it still has a large amount of material at high velocity,” Mr Marshall said.
“Why take the risk, even if it’s only one in a million, when just by firing off (target), moving the camera slightly and changing the positions of the actors you can achieve the same effect?”
Australia’s film and television union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has already said it will take a fresh look at safety for the entire industry.