The Guns of HBO's Renegade Force: Including a behind-the-scenes look and an Interview with Theatrical Armorer, and Firearms News Editor, Vincent DeNiro
September 18, 2019
Who among us doesn’t love a good gun movie? The brilliant stylized muzzle flashes, empty cases spilling forth to the rhythm of a proper techno beat, and associated paramilitary technical esoterica are the things that make a good action movie great. In our rarefied world, little will render that same movie lame faster than unlimited magazine capacity, revolvers that shoot a dozen times without reloading, or a Glock making a cocking sound as it is drawn. My enthusiasm for discussing such stuff as this knows no bounds. Perhaps that explains why I have so few normal friends.
The little things reflect the competency of the crew behind the movie. If the armorer knows his stuff and the director is willing to listen, then magazine changes happen when they should, fingers remain reliably outside the trigger guards, and muzzles never sweep friendlies. If the producer got his weapons from Bubba’s Discount Movie Rent-a-Gat then, well, the final product might seem more silly than cool.
While big budget epics from the likes of Michael Mann and Stephen Spielberg typically demonstrate reliably accurate gun handling, sometimes you trip over an unexpected jewel. Such was the case with the late-90s-era shoot ‘em up Renegade Force. This firepower fest also has a yet more intimate connection. In a former life, our own beloved Firearms News editor Vince DeNiro did the gun work.
Modern Americans get energized over the most banal tripe. This week’s prime example is the lamentable tendency to universally vilify law enforcement. We throw our cops into the very jaws of death and then pick apart their actions in retrospect from the comfort of our living rooms.
What might happen if those who swore to serve and protect were prevented by the very system they worked within to actually serve and protect? This is the question that is posed by the movie Renegade Force. The moral evolution that results ultimately yields some truly rarefied gunplay.
Renegade Force came out in 1998 as an HBO World Premiere Movie and featured several now-familiar faces. The same film can also be found under the title Rogue Force. Robert Patrick plays the renegade SWAT team commander. You will recognize him as the T1000 from Terminator 2. Michael Rooker is the FBI agent who is hunting him down. Rooker went on to play Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead as well as Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy.
The basic premise depicts Robert Patrick’s character as a dedicated cop. His efforts at fighting crime are hamstrung by a society and a city administration that value the rights of criminals above the safety of law enforcement officers and private citizens. That bit seems oddly prescient in the context of today’s headlines.
Fed up with carousel justice that leaves his city prey to the ever-growing criminal underworld, Patrick forms an off-the-books SWAT team that seeks out criminals for extra-judicial termination. These rogue cops use their highly refined tactical skills to make a serious dent in the local ne’er-do-well population. In the process, they showcase some remarkably fine firearms along with some proper professional gun handling.
Our own esteemed editor, Vincent DeNiro, served as lead armorer for this film. It seems Vince did a lot of interesting things in the firearms and defense industries before landing at Firearms News. I’d relate more details, but you know the deal. Then he’d have to kill us both.
One of the more interesting gun nerd aspects of the movie is that each side is reliably characterized by the weapons they wield. The primary long guns used by Patrick’s renegade tactical team are German HK MP5 submachine guns. The FBI SWAT guys who pursue them use M16 variants. Patrick’s team is dressed all in black. The FBI guys wear grey urban cammies. This provides an interesting subconscious delineation that helps you keep track of both Good Guys and Bad during frenetic high-octane action sequences.
Firearm action includes CQB engagements as well as some superlative long-range sniper work. While the Hollywood effect is still at play, there are still several serious gun nerd jewels interspersed throughout the film. So, grab your popcorn, kick up your feet, and let’s pick it apart.
The (Sort-Of) Bad Guys
The rogue SWAT team plays the villains, but anybody who has ever carried a gun for a living could, in quiet moments, sympathize with their frustration. Their primary handguns appear to be SIG P226s in both black and silver versions. When in street-cop guise they also employ Winchester Model 1300 Defender slide-action shotguns.
The principal long guns used by the vigilante SWAT team are HK MP5s. The gun geek committed to his craft will appreciate that the weapons used in the film are actually converted HK94A3 rifles. The lack of three-lug barrels and two-pushpin lowers gives them away. These guns are also frequently used with detachable muzzle-mounted sound suppressors. Interestingly, some of these cans do not reach back all the way to the front of the gun, implying that they were perhaps mounted over the original 16-inch rifle barrels.
The MP5 was the apex predator back in the 1980s thanks to the well-publicized Iranian embassy takedown by the British SAS. The cultural influence this operation had on the modern tactical community reverberates even today. The rogue SWAT guys in the movie frequently run their MP5 clones with a pair of magazines taped back-to-back.
One member of the rogue SWAT team carries a Franchi SPAS12 shotgun. I own a SPAS12, and that thing is the U.S. tax code of shotguns. The mechanism is ludicrously complicated. The gun will theoretically swap between pump and autoloading modes, but it sports enough ancillary switches to launch the space shuttle. I would hate to try to keep all that mechanical stuff straight in a real fight.
Without giving away too much of the plot, we see bad guys wielding Uzis and Norinco Type 56 AKM’s as well. The Uzi sees service with both vigilante SWAT guys as well as Mafia hitters. The AKMs produce that cool angled muzzle flash that stems from their slanted muzzle brakes. As these were the days before widespread digital graphics, the muzzle flashes come from good, old-fashioned blanks. On the screen, it makes a difference.
There is a super cool sequence set on a golf course wherein a vigilante sniper uses a Springfield Armory M1A with a sound suppressor to make a crazy long-range sniper kill. The gun is outfitted with a short magazine, a commercial scope, and a clip-on M16 bipod. The gun makes that ridiculously soft mouse fart sound that most sound- suppressed movie guns do, but there’s an unexpected twist. In this scene, the shooter racks the slide manually, implying perhaps that he is using subsonic ammunition that will not cycle the rifle. Were that the case, the gun’s effective range would be extravagantly curtailed, but the sound would not be too far off. Much of this is can be out of the hands of the movie armorer as action scenes are usually what the director wants to see. Things get changed in the post-production editing room, where sound effects are added, long after the armorer went home.
I have a business that builds sound suppressors, so I’ve run a few cans in my time. Most centerfire pistol cans are underwhelming unless you use subsonic ammo and some sort of messy ablative material. Suppressed high velocity rifles are more unpleasant the longer you are exposed to the bullet’s flight. Shoot it across an open field and it can be quite loud. Loose a round into a proper backstop at ten feet and it seems markedly quieter. However, a properly suppressed .308 firing subsonic ammo really is movie-grade quiet. That’s the effect Vince captured with his M1A golf course sniper.
Another scene involving the vigilante sniper showcases a Remington M24 bolt-action sniper rifle. The gun seems to mount some nice high-end glass and a synthetic stock. This guy meets his end in a particularly dynamic way that involves a little rappel rope. I’ll let you figure out the details for yourself.
The Good Guys
Good Guy handguns include Beretta Model 92 pistols in both black and INOX. Diane DiLascio’s detective character uses a Glock 17. Michael Rooker’s character packs a nickel-plated SIG P226.
The FBI tactical teams are mostly wielding M16-variant rifles. Michael Rooker’s character totes a Colt Model 733 short-barreled carbine with a forward assist and an operational happy switch. He operates mostly with the stock collapsed, but he’s wearing body armor so that’s not implausible.
Most of his FBI comrades wield Colt AR15 Sporter Carbines with 16-inch pencil barrels. One of the FBI team members carries a full-sized SP1 AR15 outfitted with a genuine M203 grenade launcher. FBI snipers use AR15A2 HBAR rifles with 20-round magazines and those cool stubby little Colt scopes affixed to the carrying handles.
One member of the FBI assault team also packs a SPAS12, but doesn’t extend the stock. Another guy carries a Cobray 37mm standalone flare launcher. The FBI guys have at least one Winchester Model 1300 Defender shotgun as well.
The serious card-carrying gun geek lives for the little things. It is obvious that the Hollywood types starring in this film were properly coached. The team members move well and basic stuff like keeping your finger outside the trigger guard is appreciated by the more studious among us.
The support equipment is nicely done as well. The vigilante SWAT guys blacken the skin around their eyes when wearing balaclavas. The tactical advantage this might offer is debatable I suppose, but it looks cool as heck when they take their hoods off and still have black stuff smeared around their peepers.
The moral components of the plot come across a bit heavy-handed. There is an obvious reticence on the part of the rogue cops toward the beginning to harm their fellow law officers, but this thoroughly evaporates by the end of the film. They ultimately gun down a likeable cop in cold blood to protect their secret without producing nearly the angst one might expect. By the final free-for-all, both vigilante SWAT guys and FBI shooters are exchanging fire liberally and freely with obvious lethal intent. The final firefight is fairly epic.
While the mafia guys are overtly despicable and therefore disposable, the moral ambiguity surrounding the rogue cops is tougher to stomach. You sympathize with their professional frustration, but their actions are indefensible by the end. However, it’s a superb shoot-em-up just chock full of ballistic eye candy, so I am undoubtedly overthinking things.
The set-piece action scenes rival those of the Michal Mann crime classic Heat. That inimitable Heat sound is not there. But the gunfight choreography really is superb. The foley guys (sound effects crew) in Heat purportedly got that awesome reverb effect during their urban gunfights by firing blanks down among the buildings and then meticulously capturing the sound on set.
The filmmakers clearly burned through a lot of ammo making Renegade Force. The movie is available for free on YouTube and is good fodder for any proper gun nerd. Take it in while reloading or cleaning weapons, and it’ll get you in the proper frame of mind.
The violence is all stylized (medical school will absolutely ruin you on both theatrical battle wounds and horror movies). There is a fair amount of nudity, just in case you were thinking of asking Junior to join you. For a little gratuitous gun porn, however, Renegade Force is an underappreciated jewel. It’s also kind of cool to see Vince DeNiro in action back in the day.
Behind the Scenes on HBO’s Renegade Force with Theatrical Armorer (and Firearms News Editor) Vincent DeNiro
Dabbs: So, when did you get into the movie business?
DeNiro: I got my first “taste” of it in 1987 when I tried out for an acting role in a movie that was filming in north eastern Ohio. The movie’s funding fell thorough so it would be a few years later that I would actually do any work.
Dabbs: Do you have any formal acting training?
DeNiro: Yes, a bit from the mid-1970s when I appeared in plays and even had a lead in one that was televised on regional PBS. My real love was special effects back then and I used to make stop-action Sci-Fi-type movies with a Super 8 film movie camera, as well as home movies. During that time, I read any monster movie/Sci-Fi movie magazine I could get my hands on to learn about special effects. Gun magazines too. One thing that I did when I was very young was to watch the gun scenes of action movies, over and over, paying close attention to the guns and squib/gun hits special effects. My family got a VCR in 1978, so I spent a lot of time with it.
Dabbs: How did you break into the movie business? So many people dream of doing it and very few succeed.
DeNiro: Well, that is a long story. My father was a very close friend of actor Ed O’Neil’s uncle and also a friend of his father. Ed, of course, was the star of Married with Children, several films, and is the current star of Modern Family, but although that connection never developed into any movie work for me, knowing that a “hometown boy” made it in Hollywood was still a motivator. I really have to give the credit to a best friend of mine who was also my karate instructor, the late Master Joe Bonacci. Joe was a former special forces Recondo in Vietnam who got his start in the movies while stationed in Hawaii after his tour. He appeared as an extra on a couple episodes of Hawaii Five-0 in the late 1960s or early 1970s. After he came back to Youngstown, Ohio, he became a police officer and opened a karate school. Through his karate connections, he worked on a few films as a fight choreographer, actor, and even providing security to stars such as Patrick Swayze, as the work became available. The first movie I tried out for was one being partly produced by World Lightweight Boxing Champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, and which was to star Joe Estevez. Bonacci had a production role with this 1987 movie, entitled Death Penalty, in the area of casting from what I can remember, but the movie’s funding fell through. I started at one of his schools around 1984, and began studying Kwan Mu Zen Do Kai karate. Prior to that, I studied Tae Kwon Do and traditional boxing. By 1989 or 1990, I had developed a close friendship with Joe and worked with him on several businesses projects we had, some of which involved firearms training which involved my gun store, some involved karate with a patent I had on a stretching machine for martial arts, and some involved his security and private investigation company. To make another long story short, Joe taught seminars around the eastern USA with some of the biggest names in martial arts like Joe Lewis, Michael DePasquale Sr., Michael DePasquale Jr. who owned Karate International Magazine, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Keith Vitali, Danny Lane, and Joe Hess who Bonacci fought at Madison Square Garden back in the early 1970s. Most of these guys were either world champions and/or action movie actors and were respected as some of the best in the USA. Joe took me along to help him teach at some of the big karate camps where all these guys would meet, and teach, a couple of times a year. It was like a dream come true to get to know the guys I looked up to for so many years. And some of these guys were cops, like Joe Hess, who headed up the training division for Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, and Vietnam War vet Danny Lane, who was a cop in West Virginia and also a personal friend of Chuck Norris. When some of the guys heard that I was a “Class 3” gun dealer, they asked me if I could help them with a movie trailer they were producing, so of course I said “Yes!” I contacted Sid Stembridge, of the legendary Stembridge Gun Rentals in Hollywood, who I sort of knew from being in the “Class 3” world, and spoke to him about gun rentals. I also picked his brain about how to internally adapt some of my machine guns for blank fire. In 1990, I modified an MK-760 submachine gun and that was the beginning. My retail business, named International Exotic Arms, Inc., closed its retail division in part due to the negative effects of George H.W. Bush’s import “assault weapons” ban, and became Exotic Arms for Motion Pictures. Joe and I did a trailer which was called Silent Tears, and we even did some of the special effects. Silent Tears ended up not being produced as a full feature, but it got my feet wet.
Dabbs: What was your first big movie?
DeNiro: Well, the first big movie I was in was The Public Eye starring Joe Pesci, back in 1991. Just prior to that, I was working on a movie which Joe Estevez was attached to called Neon Knights. Estevez is Martin Sheen’s brother and the uncle of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Bonacci knew Estevez, so that’s how I got involved, but that film’s funding fell through after a lengthy “soap opera” of events. Since I had a full-auto 1928 Thompson and some 1920s/30s period firearms, Bonacci and I initially approached the Public Eye production with the idea of supplying the guns and some people trained in theatrical fighting. After a couple of meetings, the production had a big special effects company come in, and Bonacci ended up doing pre-production film tests of explosive squibs and blood packs on his head, and director Howard Franklin liked my look so he gave me a special extra part as one of the hitmen in the movie.
Dabbs: What is a special extra?
DeNiro: It can mean different things. In my case, I was basically an actor without lines. Since I didn’t have my SAG card (Screen Actors Guild union), the production could pay me less because I wasn’t in the union. If they gave me any lines to read, even one word, it meant that they had to make me join the union and my pay would have been at union scale. But, other than pay, I was treated like the other actors and had a room in the same hotel as everyone else, a honey wagon room on set, meals, etc. The movie’s budget was set at 30 million, which was a very big number back then and much larger budget than many action movies. I had three handmade silk suits for my character in the film, ties and all! That wardrobe budget was the biggest I have ever seen. At the end of the movie, my agent told me that he could get me into the union if I wanted, and then my name would appear in the credits as they could “Taft-Hartley” act me into SAG. When I heard that it would cost me $800, I declined. Most people would have paid $5,000 and their first born if they could to get a SAG card back then, but I didn’t like the idea of not getting full pay for my work and then getting forced to join the union. In the long run, getting my SAG card would have been the better move. Oh well, young and hard-headed! Anyway, it was a great experience and I appeared in the biggest action part of the movie and met many well-known stuntmen who worked on hundreds of movies over the two weeks I worked on it. Pesci was also fun to talk to in between filming.
Dabbs: So, how did your involvement with Renegade Force come about?
DeNiro: In the summer of 1997, Bonacci called me about a movie filming in the Cleveland area called Counterforce, which was its working title. So, we met with the producers and did our usual dog and pony show, but by this time our group grew to include not only some karate celebrities, but some of our students from the Action Film Camps we were teaching at over at Michael DePasquale’s place in New York. A couple guys from our group got hired to do stunts, Mike Jones and Tom Smith, who were both cops and karate instructors in addition to experienced stunt men. None of us had enough movie work to quit our day jobs! Soon, I got a call to run the gun department and was hired by Special Effects Coordinator Richard “The Wizard” Huggins. Since the movie was very gun heavy I was allowed to hire an assistant so I hired my friend and special effects guy Brian Schuley. Brian and I taught karate for Bonacci now and then. Brian is now with The Specialists in New York City, which is one of the largest movie gun and effects houses in the USA.
Dabbs: How did the gun selection come about?
DeNiro: Most of the time, I would get movie scripts and was responsible for choosing the correct guns for realism and continuity. With Renegade Force, some of the guns were already chosen, and basically it was MP5-type SMGs for the city SWAT unit and M16/AR-15-type for the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. Some of the inventory from the special effects coordinator and from my inventory were worked in, like additional AR-15s, an UZI submachine gun, a full-auto Norinco AK, Springfield M1A, and others. There was a terrorist scene at an airport and a few other scenes where these guns worked well. To make it look like we had even more guns in the movie than we actually had, I would change parts on guns. For example, I changed out the UZI’s wooden stock used in one scene, to a folding stock in another scene. We also had some “rubbers,” which are hard cast rubber stand-in guns which could be used if an actor had to drop the gun or if a stuntman was falling from a building so not to damage the original. Some of these were airbrushed, and from 10 feet away it’s hard to tell if they are real or not, especially on film.
Dabbs: I see that the MP5s were HK94 conversions.
DeNiro: Yes, those were all transferable conversion rentals from Stembridge. At the time, transferable prices were climbing since the 1986 elimination of newly manufactured machine-guns for civilian sales but still not at the values we see today. So, renting them during that time was still seen as profitable and worth the risk as machine guns rented for about $150 per week in the 90s. At the time, an HK94 transferable conversion was selling for about $3,500 from what I can remember and today they are ten times that cost – the act of renting transferables from one licensee to another is pretty much over. Although, that was the only way for an NFA licensee to quickly obtain, through renting, a full-auto for movies. Many people don’t know, but there was a “Movie Gun Transfer” fax form from ATF specifically for the film industry that would enable a theatrical armorer to rent a full-auto, and those forms were approved within 24 hours most of the time. The stipulation is that the gun must be transferable, as dealer samples would not apply. The practice is pretty much gone today and most theatrical armorers are 07/Class manufacturers so they just build and convert their own “post-sample” inventory for rent.
Back to your question about the guns, all were the typical chopped barrel, sear conversions from the 1980s, which were done by companies like Hard Times Armory, S&H Firearms, Fleming Firearms, etc., and we had some of those on the set. The barrels were threaded internally for the plug, which allows some gas to escape yet retains enough gas to work the action, thus simulating a bullet leaving the barrel. If you look closely, you will see “silencers” attached, but these of course are not attached to a three-lug bolt set up like on a factory MP5 SMG. I did have access to factory MP5s at the time, but the contract with Stembridge was already done.
Dabbs: How many hours did you work?
DeNiro: Since this was a union movie, I was a union member of IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and we typically worked for 8 to 10 hours per day, six days per week, with overtime from what I remember. A couple of days we worked for 15 or 16 hours. On non-filming days for me, I cleaned all of the guns and equipment, sometimes doing repairs or training actors, and prepared for the next day of shooting. These days were much less hectic, but still busy. I was on this movie for over five weeks.
Dabbs: When we spoke on the phone, a while back, you mentioned that there were real SWAT team officers on the movie set. Who were they?
DeNiro: The movie hired real SWAT team officers from the Cleveland, Ohio, police department. Cleveland SWAT was the “busiest” SWAT team in the USA at the time next to LA County SWAT for the size of a city like Cleveland. Some of the guys on the team had over 7,000 dynamic entries under their belts, so they were very experienced. Realism was very important to the production and you just can’t train actors to do that many scenes and still look professional, especially in a short amount of time. One SWAT officer, who had no acting experience, ended up getting a speaking role as Robert Patrick’s character’s patrol partner in the movie. That was Sergeant Ron Dodus, and he even got his SAG card for the part. I hired him a few years later to work for me in the defense industry when I was a weapons importer. Great guy.
Dabbs: Many of the special effects looked dangerous, and since you were using real guns, how is safety handled?
DeNiro: Yes, there were a lot of explosions in the film, which were done with gasoline and det. cord, naphthalene bombs, etc., and that was handled by the special effects department. I assisted them at times when they needed help like manning a fire extinguisher or if they needed a hand taking a car apart to rig it with explosives, but that was primarily their department and they are experts in how to ensure safety when filming. I am a pyro special effects coordinator, but for this film I was the armorer. As far as the gun fire, all scenes with shooting are gone over by me in pre-production so I have a visual in my head as far as the action. I will also make sketches for scenes which may be hectic, like when multiple people are shooting in a small area, and go over those with the director, and first assist director. I have to be sure that there is no “crossing” of actors who are shooting whereby the muzzle gets too close to another actor or crew, as blanks can kill or severely injure at very close range. This coordination is also done to ensure realism.
As far as guns on the set are concerned, the theatrical armorer is boss just as the stunt coordinator is boss regarding safety with stunts. If I would see anything happening during a scene, which may injure someone with the guns firing, I have the ability to yell “cut,” which stops everything. I can only do this for an emergency, as re-filming a scene can cost several thousands of dollars just for a dozen seconds of action, so it’s something not to be taken lightly. I only had to do this once on this film. The more time I have training the actors and rehearsing the scenes, the less chance of injury or mistakes during filming, but believe it or not, some productions don’t want to spend the money on this, so I would have to pull actors to my station during breaks and off time to work with them. Thankfully, many of the actors were familiar with guns, or like in the case of the Cleveland SWAT officers, experts. However, safety on a movie set is much different than safety on a shooting range for several reasons, the most important being that people are aiming at each other with real guns and firing blanks. Just because someone was a special forces weapons instructor does not mean they can walk on a movie set and be a theatrical armorer. Many “gun experts” have passed themselves off as advisors for movies only to have people severely injured under their supervision. One issue I had with using real cops on set was that some of the Cleveland SWAT guys were technically “on call” for an emergency, so they wanted to carry loaded handguns. My answer was “no” and “You are either an actor or a cop, pick one.” Having firearms loaded with live ammunition is forbidden on set by anyone except the set security officers. I was a former deputy sheriff, at that time, so that helped with their decision. Cops always do better when talking to other cops.
Dabbs: The final big scene fire fight was a huge shootout between two SWAT teams, and was really dramatic. Tell our readers about it.
DeNiro: Yes, it was! The beginning of the scene starts with a shootout inside of a courthouse with the city SWAT team rappelling on the inside of the building while firing MP5s at some of the FBI agents. That scene took two days and was filmed at night because the courthouse was being used during the day. The set dressers even lit up the windows so it would look like daytime, from what I remember. That scene gets spilled out into downtown Cleveland in a massive shoot out between the city SWAT team and the FBI HRT agents with “civilians” running all over the area. For that scene, we went through over 6,000 blanks and we loaded over 90 MP5 30-round magazines. We had to coordinate the shooting scenes and reloading of guns from three-story windows, courthouse steps, the streets, all in an area of about 150 square yards — lots of running. The prep work for this scene took one day, and we filmed outside for well over twelve hours on a Sunday starting at 5:30 AM. At one time, I had 24 people firing guns in frame, which was a lot to coordinate and supervise for safety, but everything worked out well.
Dabbs: What was it like to work with Robert Patrick and Michael Rooker?
DeNiro: I knew who Michael Rooker was from the movies JFK and Cliffhanger, where he starred opposite of Sylvester Stallone, and of course everyone knew Robert Patrick from Terminator 2. I really enjoyed working closely with Rooker as he is a “gun guy” and gun owner, he acts like one of the crew, no big ego, and always was willing to help anyone in the production. I even remember him telling me that he should get a writing credit on this movie because of all the re-write work he did. He is one of the most professional actors I have ever seen on set and very intense. So intense, that in the airport terrorist scene, he has to charge his shorty M16, and when he did after several takes, he bent the charging handle. I got my first AR-15 in 1978, and have owned dozens since and I have never seen someone bend a charging handle. I laughed when it wouldn’t go back in the upper and he ended laughing as well. During one scene, the assistant director (AD) got some of his calls mixed up. You see, the words “shooting” and “filming” are synonymous from a director’s standpoint but not with special effects or armorer work. When the AD stated that they were “shooting this time,” I asked if he meant “firing.” He was in a rush (as we were filming at an airport which was still operating as one) and said “yes,” so I loaded up Rooker’s M16 and yelled “Weapons hot, fire in the hole!” as that is the last warning to let everyone know that the guns are going live. Somehow, the director ignored my warning and the AD did as well and said, “Action.” Rooker ran through the scene again but this time firing. After the scene was finished, the cinematographer and director stated that they didn’t know there would be firing, so the AD started bitching at me. Rooker looked right at him and yelled back that it was his fault and not mine. That is what a stand-up guy he is, and that kind of action is rarely seen on a movie set with a star actor.
Robert Patrick is a very professional actor and that was evident anytime he gave his lines, he was good to work with. While working on the movie, I was surprised to find out that he was from Cleveland. There was one time where things did not go smoothly. After the huge shootout scene, there is the part where Patrick’s character is meeting his end, so it’s his most important scene. We filmed this at the end of the day and were losing light, so there wasn’t a lot of time and by this point, we had been filming for well over 12 hours and all were beat. Patrick was to fire his MP5 on full-auto at the camera and then is shot. So, we loaded him up. He raised the MP5 and “bang.” One shot and the gun didn’t work. The AD yelled “Cut!” and I ran over to take a look. Nothing was wrong that I could see so we did it again. “Bang” and only one shot again, “Cut!” yet again. I ran over and switched out the gun and a new magazine. “Action!” and Patrick raised the MP5 and “bang” and “CUT!” Patrick then unslung the transferable MP5 and threw in on the grass so hard that the receiver bent. The set was taking a break until I could get this sorted out. Now I was pissed too. The three takes only took less than three or four minutes, but I managed to figure out what happened. The day before, I had borrowed an assistant intern from the special effects department to help us load MP5 magazines, so I then called him over. I questioned him and found out that the SFX Coordinator told him to save the new blanks which came in recently and to use a case of old ones he had. The intern ended up grabbing the wrong box and these were one-quarter-load blanks, which are used for close-up shooting for safety, and the MP5s were not rigged to run with these low-power blanks. We only had about a dozen magazines left and there was no way to tell which blanks were in them, so I had him get me the fresh case and we loaded them up and I did a test fire. All went well and the uncomfortable situation only lasted about five minutes. As they say, “Shit happens.” Patrick then shot the scene and it went perfect. Shortly thereafter, while I was bending the MP5 receiver back into place, Patrick walked over and apologized for breaking “my” machine gun and all was okay. All movies have “funny” and interesting stories, and that was one of them. The film also introduced Louis Mandylor, who went on to a successful career. He was a fellow martial artist, so Brian Schuley and I enjoyed talking with him. Another great guy.
Dabbs: Do you still work on movies? Any movie plans in the future?
DeNiro: I still can but have mostly sent crews out since 2001, when I got busy in the defense and firearms industries. The last movie I did was Bigfoot, The Movie a few years ago, and my website, ExoticArms.com, is archived if someone wants to see some of the work we did. In all, I did about 50 projects in film, TV, commercials, stage, and industrials since 1991. The film industry has changed so much and with the advent of digital / CGI post production technologies, many film companies are just using fake guns and airsoft and digitally simulating the muzzle flash, shells ejecting, and so on. I saw the writing on the wall at the 1998 Show Biz Expo in Los Angeles when I stopped by a computer effects company’s booth that was showing off their simulated gunfire services. It looked totally fake then but I knew that one day it would get better — it did. Shows like The Walking Dead almost exclusively use post-production CGI gun effects and although it looks fake now and then, it seems to be good enough for them.
The future for me in movies involves a look back. I have also been involved as a producer, special effects coordinator, stuntman, writer, and in choreographing fight scenes. In 1997, I was the first “Theatrical Armorer” in Ohio IATSE as I met with the union head and explained that I am not a prop master and the title “gun wrangler” was not a proper title for what I do. After making my case, he agreed and was recommending the title to the rest of the union nationwide. I coined the word “weaponography” in 1991, which is the choreography between the weapons, SFX, and actors for realism. Also, I believe that I had the first theatrical weapons website, for a U.S. company on the internet, which went up in 1997. So, I guess I made a tiny mark on the industry. Honestly, I love the creativity of movie making, but the politics and business practices, not so much. I’m not a big union guy at all, but if there is ever a place where a union is needed, it’s in the movie industry. Using people and lying to people is standard fare for the film industry, and I’m a bit too old and jaded for dealing with that stuff. But, if I could work on a film project where everything is run the way it should be, absolutely. About 19 years ago, I started working closer with Independent Studio Services, which is probably the largest movie gun house in the world. It’s a great company and if I ever got back into this full time, it would definitely be one place I would be calling for many of the rentals. Right now, I’m working in another area of the firearms industry than what I have done in the past, and that is fine with me.