Theatrical Firearms Explained.

In the wake of the tragic events on the set of Rust, team PB thought it best write a short blog to highlight the difference between theatrical firearms, live rounds, blank rounds and SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)

Theatrical firearms (prop gun)


The term “prop gun” or Theatrical firearm includes a variety of weapons, including nonfunctioning or nonpractical weapons, like cap guns, BB guns, top venting blanks and fake guns constructed of wood, plastic or rubber. Soft and hard rubber are primarily used by stunt performer’s when carrying out hard demanding falls.

The term also can mean real weapons modified to fire only blank cartridges, in the UK we call them section 5 firearms or practical weapons and if fired at close range they can cause serious injuries and potentially kill if not closely monitored by proficient firearms professionals. 

How theatrical weapons work

When filming with semi- and fully automatic weapons like the AK47 or M4 that are gas-operated, which means the combustion gas from firing a round is what reloads the weapon, the barrel typically has a mechanism called a “restrictor.”

Restrictors function similarly to the blank-firing adapters (BFAs) used in the military which are deliberately coloured Yellow or Red for identification, except for the film world where the device is internal, rather than attached to the exterior of the muzzle.

Theatrical weapons have the restrictor down the barrel to conceal the fact that it is a blank firing weapon.

Devices like BFAs or restrictors do two things: they help prevent debris from escaping from the barrel through the muzzle when a blank round is fired and they help the weapon chamber another round by preventing the combustion gases from fully escaping the barrel.

But weapons that are not gas-operated, like revolvers, bolt operated rifles and muskets don’t require a restrictor to help chamber another round. Which means there is no physical barrier between the blank round fired and whatever the weapon is pointed at.

The image below demonstrates the amount of flash from a futuristic weapon which was actually a Colt revolver with plastic mouldings built around. Note the amount of flash.


Live rounds

A live round or cartridge is ammunition fed into the barrel of a fully functioning weapon that comprises of several parts: 

  • The casing (sometimes called a shell)
  • Propellant material (gunpowder) inside the shell
  • The percussion cap or percussion primer on the bottom of the cartridge. (Where the firing pin strikes)
  • The actual projectile (bullet) itself

The bullet is the part of the cartridge that flies out of the gun towards the target.

Blank rounds

Blanks are shell casings loaded with gunpowder. They lack the deadly bullet point, which is usually replaced with cotton or paper wadding.

When blanks are discharged, they create the sound of gunfire, and the gunpowder combusts, causing a muzzle flash. The force of firing a section 5 firearms provides the actor with real recoil and case ejection.

SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)


UTM’s Silent Blank Rounds (SBR) cycles the firearm, which provides realistic recoil and weapon function, including bolt or slide lock-back, yet with no noise or projectile.


With the silent blank rounds the piston is solid, when it’s driven forward the gas can’t escape, so the cartridge is silent with no flash. This action allows the cycling of the firearm in an enclosed space without concerns around noise or injury.


UTM’s pistol conversions prevent a live round from fully seating inside the barrel so incapable of firing a live round


Their blank weapon conversions for rifles feature an off-set firing pin, enabling the weapon to only shoot UTM’s rim-fire blank training ammunition.


Silent Blank rounds are ideal for close-up shots to the body or camera and can be fired directly at the head without any danger to the actor.


Live rounds are to never be on set at any stage.

Set protocols 

The use of firearms on set is subject to stringent safety standards. Specialists such as BAPTY.co.uk who provide weapons for use on film sets and advise on their safe use. 

Before weapons leave the armoury they’re test fired, cleaned and inspected. The weapon serial numbers are sent to the police authority who over sees all theatrical weapons used in the UK film and TV indindustry.

Every weapon on set must be accounted for and it is the armourers responsibility to know every weapon be it non practical or practical while on set. 

When on set and not required the practical weapons are concealed and constantly manned by the armourer until required.

Before being issued weapons a safety brief and training is provided highlighting important features of the weapon and the importance of trigger and muzzle discipline. 

Strikeback 2019

A demonstration of the danger a blank round can do is provided by firing a blank round into an orange or apple to provide a visual demonstration on the effects to skin. 

Before shooting a scene,  rehearsals are mostly carried  out ‘dry’ which means no blanks are loaded in the weapon.

Dry rehearsals Strikeback 2018

Ear and eye protection will be offered to crew within the set area and the armourers will ensure saftey distances for firing in close proximity are observed along with limiting the chances of hot ejected cases bouncing back to hit the actors. 

Strikeback 2018

Once ready to shoot the armourer will show weapons are clear to the actor and show him the blank rounds before being loaded.

Once the working parts are released forward and a round is chambered the safety catch is applied and the armourer will announce ‘Weapons Hot’ to everyone on set. 

If at any time the armourer observes something they feel is not safe before and during the shoot they will step in and stop everything until any safety issue is resolved. 

If a weapon misfires during the shoot the actor is instructed to simply play out the action until the director shouts cut then simply raise their hand and with the weapons barrel pointing towards the floor and the armourers will clear and inspect the weapon. 

If the weapon needs to be fired off for safety reasons, such as a black powder musket or test fired,  the armourer will notify all cast and crew by shouting ‘ fire in the hole’ before firing in a safe direction. 

Cast, stunts and extras are all instructed on the importance of not playing with weapons during breaks, leaving a weapon unattended or walking off set without handing it back to the armourer. 

Once filming has finished all weapons are accounted for and serials checked against their lists before being packed up and taken back to a secure location, cleaned ready for the next day.



Training Bootcamps

Most productions will invest and provide weapons and tactics training to everyone participating in the action scenes involving weapons.

1917 bootcamp 2019


Military Technical Advisers along with armourers will assess and train for what is required in the script to a high standard and preferably two to three days before the action is to take place.

Cast training for strikeback and Wrath of Man

Anyone deemed unsafe or not confident around weapons will be issued a non firing weapon. 

Bootcamps ensures everyone is fully briefed and confident in weapon handling and safety protocols beforehand which then only requires a ‘remind and revise’ before going on set. 


Theatrical firearms courses 

I have touched on such courses in the past and frequently asked if I run my own course. 

I run production financed training for the specific roles required for the production who hire my services to train cast, stunts and supporting artists who are paid to learn for the required role.

Room clearance drills.

There are numerous courses out there some good some over hyped and some very bad. Some lay claim being on their course will ensure you are picked for action roles over those who have not.

Some issue certificates as proof of attendance which are waved under an armourer and advisers nose to demand or stake claim to forgoing any training and being picked first to fire weapons.

Such claims are solely a sales pitch and untrue.


The following hurdles only apply.


1. The Director choses the look he requires. 


2.  The Armourer and the military advisor will assess and decide who is safe and able to fire a blank weapon on set.


3. Armourers weapons and procedures may be different to what your course provider taught you.

Allways remember. The armourers weapons so its their rules.


Such courses are a ‘nice to have’ and will help you better understand weapon safety but they will not turn you into an overnight expert nor will they bag you your big break. Skill fade will factor in once you leave a course no matter how long it lasts. 


No firearms courses are recognised by any governing body or production. No armourer or military advisor will accept firearms certificates or even previous military qualifications as an insurance of safety on set.

Finger on the trigger punishment during a bootcamp.



To end this blog,  armorers and military advisors teach and allways remind you the “three golden rules” of weapon handling, and it’s the same on a range as it is on a film or set. 

1. You always treat a weapon be it real or plastic as if it’s loaded.


2.  You never point a gun at another person.


3.  You always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re absolutely ready to fire. 

PB Military Technical Adviser for film and tv Ltd

Exciting Opportunities in the Film and TV industry

Team PB have more opportunities for the right people. (Open to Ex Armed Forces based in the UK only)

As more productions are gearing up the requirements for the company have increased so more quality Military Technical Advisers are required on the team.

1. Must have good availability.

2. Willing to travel world wide and for prolonged periods.

3. Physically fit (no pie eaters).

4. Ability to communicate and be respectful to others.

5. Good work ethics. 

Please read link for an insight to the job.

If you think you have what it takes send your CV and a current photograph to Pbactionextras@gmail.com

Good luck.

IMDB “Paul Biddiss – IMDb” https://m.imdb.com/name/nm7168922/

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WORLD WAR ONE ON SCREEN.

This Blog will be dedicated to all things World War One.

later In the year I will be highlighting  Weapons, Equipment and Tactics used during the great war.

Supporting Artists who wish to attend the boot camp for this production will find this blog handy when preparing for the boot camp assessment prior to the training.

Stay tuned and if you have not enlisted already, hit the link the below.

CASTING NOW – WORLD WAR I FILM
We are looking for men aged 16-35 for filming next year near Salisbury.
All roles are paid. Food and costumes will be provided.

We are looking for a ‘core’ group of young male supporting artists with great availability in Spring and Summer 2019.
Filming hours are often long so whilst experience is not essential, a positive ‘can do’ attitude is a must.

Apply here

                       Who was the Military Adviser on that?

In this most recent blog I have decided to touch on the tricky subject of all things regarding military authenticity in the movie and TV industry. Surprisingly, despite the production team having a military technical advisor on board, “things will not be 100% authentically correct every time. “Penny wise and pound foolish” Bear this phrase in mind when reading the rest of my blog.

“Filmmakers are under more pressure than ever to make sure military tactics and equipment are depicted realistically on-screen, and experienced advisers can make the difference” wrote Nick Goundry for KFTV.com last year

What we do

Production will often hire a technical advisor to ensure that a complicated area is portrayed as accurately as possible in the production. Similarly, a period movie may include one or more historians of the period, or eyewitnesses if possible, for the same purpose.

Technical advisors typically answer to the director and Line Producers. Their expertise adds realism both to the acting and to the setting of a movie. Some advisors for military movies have been known to run miniature boot camps to give actors a first-hand experience of a military setting. Boot camps additionally help provide the basics so when the camera rolls only a quick remind and revise is required. So less takes, less time and as we all know. Time is money!

To be a technical adviser you do not have to know every aspect of warfare, military history or have taken out several enemy bunkers armed with just a wooden spoon. What you do need is the ability to research your subject thoroughly, honestly and have that all important art of diplomacy. There is more to it than that, but I will reserve that explanation for another time.

I have made no secret during media interviews that advising in any capacity is 60% research and 40% your experience articulated to the Director, actor, stunt coordinator and supporting actors.

You can only offer advice; you cannot demand it’s taken. The Director will have the last call and he may have a set look he wants to portray and its known as ‘artistic licence

http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/war-peace-military-advisor-says-7272759

The Seven Ps during the early stages.

Movie or TV production preparations can take anything from six months to a year before the camera starts rolling. In most cases costume, art and prop departments are approached long before a technical advisor and although other departments are very experienced in their field, not all are subject matter experts (SME’S) on military jargon and Google image takes a pounding in the search for the right look, but without really knowing what they are looking for.

In an ideal world a Military Adviser (MA) should be brought in as early into pre-production as possible. An MA’s knowledge (tactfully delivered so not to offend) can save departments a lot of time and money from the offset, bringing the desired look as close to reality as possible from the very start, with communication at the very beginning and at all levels to avoid embarrassing mistakes that film critics and tabloids crave to exploit for headlines.

The wrong flags or medal, a beret worn like a helicopter landing pad on an actor’s head or even a WW2 fighter aircraft painted in the wrong markings for the year might seem trivial, but can make all the difference with the end product and can avoid fuelling critics looking for page space.

Don’t Shoot the MA.

”Who was the Military Adviser on that?” is one line commonly trotted out on social media and blogs when mistakes are highlighted but don’t be so quick to shoot the adviser.

Contrary to popular belief, and from my experience so far, Military Technical Advisers are not always approached by production during the early preparation stage of a film or TV program as much as you would think. Unfortunately it’s an all too common mistake and only identified once it’s too late and the budget on props and costumes have already been spent.

Most people with a service background or those who regularly attend historical re-enactment events are quick to critique any production with Military content and no Film or TV program are exempt and unfortunately it’s the MA who gets it in the neck most the time from those less experienced in the industry.

Before I started in the film industry I was the very same, pointing out inaccuracies until I had my first real taste as a full time Military Adviser on War and Peace for the BBC.

I was brought in with only a few days to learn Napoleonic warfare and put together a structured safe training program fit for purpose, before jetting off to Lithuania.

Once I landed in Lithuania I had a day for my own prep then straight into a seven day intensive Boot camp for 200 extras for the winter scenes. When time permitted I attempted to liaise with all the various departments, but it was obvious all the preparation work and fittings had already been done months in advance with very little I could do or add to change things.

Thankfully the team on War and Peace were mostly on their game and they had consulted a Historical adviser for all the costumes and medals, but that’s not always been the case. Once I was brought in the day before a scene was due to be filmed and it was the first time I had met the director or been able to train the actors with the supporting cast on set, just minutes before the cameras rolled!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wJqUYqGgPN8

These are not the droids you are looking for.
Set etiquette, diplomacy, and respect for the work and effort of each department is a skill in itself which must be mastered if you are to survive as a Military Technical Adviser. The ability to muster the force with the director comes in handy too!

Stepping on other department’s toes, strutting on set with a big ego, a reenactment head or a Regimental Sergeant Majors approach to every situation, while shouting and screaming from the roof tops will not get you far and you will have a short lived career.

You have to remember most people within the relevant departments have no service history and will not respond or tolerate it.

A few Classic Examples.

On one production scene I spent most of the 12 hour shoot correcting berets which had obviously been taken straight out of the hire company laundry bag and just pulled over the heads of cast in the changing room, with no attempt at shaping them a few days before. When I asked why this had happened I was simply told the hire company wanted them returned in the same state.

All I could do was to keep re-dressing the actor’s berets whilst teaching them what actions were required only to have to repeat the process minutes after. It was a very frustrating and repetitive day.

It’s not the costume departments fault of course as most of them would not know how or why there is a need to shape military headdress. However, on rare occasions I have had time with the costume department in advance and managed to convince them to allow me to take the berets out for a few days before a shoot and shape them to the respective heads during a boot camp.

This allowed the costume department to concentrate on other matters and I could correct how the actors would react to a given situation as well as answer all the other departments’ questions being fired at me during the day.

Some battles I have won and just this one example of adopting a diplomatic approach during prep, saved time, energy and the ever embarrassing berets saga. Other such battles I have lost and could only suck it up and grit my teeth. A very thick skin helps as it can be like banging your head against a brick wall at times.

Other examples, such as the configuration of soldier’s equipment, can also be an issue overlooked by departments not fully in the know.

On one production I had been required to step in at the last minute and change all the 58 pattern webbing belts to depict the units realistically for how they would wear them. For example the difference in equipment from an SAS soldier to a line infantry unit where an SAS soldier’s equipment and weapons would be more personalised and not standardised as a line unit.

The Props department were being led by a Google image they had been sent by a ‘Historian’ thinking the men in the picture were SAS troopers. Until I pointed out the unit was a light infantry regiment. Turned out the Historian had never served in the military so had no idea on how servicemen adapt issued equipment.

Current in-service unit insignia, badges, medals and flags are another gray area and sometime due to copy write laws productions are not always permitted to use these in films due to restrictions imposed by the MOD or DOD, so close alternatives have to be designed and made from scratch. I expect that more than half of you reading this never knew that!

There are also situations when heads of departments looking at savings feel they only need a technical adviser to train actors for a few hours then are no longer required during filming so to save money. This has proved to be counter productive as there is no one to correct obvious mistakes on set.

The actors and background are just that, actors. They are not soldiers and would not remember a few days training. So an experienced adviser should always be on set to remind, revise and be on hand for any questions.

From experience most Directors and Assistant Directors (AD) will not know the rank order of saluting or the difference from a Major to a corporal or unit trades when placing supporting actors in the background to act their respective roles.

I have been on set during filming with up to 500 supporting cast and I can find myself running from one group to the other correcting the obvious mistakes AD’s have made which would never have be noticed had I not been on set.

Again it’s not an AD’s fault, they are not to know and I only have two pair of eyes so something’s will be missed. It’s inevitable. However, Here are just a few howlers I have managed to correct on time.

1. A Russian private soldier shouting orders at a KGB Officer and giving the Private a British Army Salute.

2. A US Airforce Major General on guard and saluting an Airman First class as the Major General raises the barrier for him. .

3. A French prisoner of war given a sword and musket to walk past the camera with his captors when he’s supposed to be a prisoner.

4. A Royal Marine SGT who’s supposed to be part of a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) walking about with just a fire extinguisher and no weapon or webbing during an incident in a hostile situation.

5. Fingers on triggers and missing magazines ( that old chest nut)

6. A US soldier from the 80’s sporting a UK issued diamond Jubilee medal.

7. Soldiers about to run in front of a firing friendly heavy machine gun during a big firefight scene. (Not only dangerous but would have been a very costly re-set)

8. Everyone trying to hold their issued weapon like they have been on lone Survivor ( but it’s a musket you plonker)

The edit stage in post production is one great example where an adviser is not consulted. Taken from Rambo 2 where the hero fires a 66 LAW from inside a helicopter. The first we see a 66 as he arms it to fire.

The close up shot its changed to the hand and triggergrip of an RPG

In the final shot after firing its back to a 66

Had an adviser been consulted he could have pointed it out, plus the fact the poor guys in the back are going to get a face full of backblast.

These are just the belt and braces mistakes and I could expand further, but by now I’m sure you get the picture. An adviser on set is a one man ‘Billy No Mates’ department who supports all departments and cannot be everywhere all of the time, but when they are there they will do their best to get as much right as possible within the constraints mentioned above.

Military Technical Advisers brought in early are a good spend and pay dividend when the cameras roll and on the cutting room floor. There is work still to be done to ensure that military advisers are brought onto productions from the beginning as a standard procedure and to do away with the penny wise and pound foolish attitude towards MA’s.

If you do see me on set don’t forget to give me a hug. Unless your from 3 Para Morters!

Feel free to share this blog and add your howlers on the comments box.

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