Exotic Arms Frequently Asked Questions by producers

- Answered by Vincent DeNiro

Q: Can I rent machine guns and have you send them to me?

A: No. Federal law prohibits the possession of NFA weapons (machine guns) by anyone other than the person to whom the machine guns are registered, class three dealers, law enforcement and military. I will work with your prop master or special effects coordinator.

Q: Why should I pay you for an budget break-down?

A: For no charge, I will give you a rough estimate on cost. This free estimate is not a binding agreement to work for the estimated price, just a "ball-park" figure of what I expect the costs to be. I receive many requests for estimates. In order for me to give an accurate estimate, I must break down the script, which takes approximately 4+ hours per 100 page script consultation for an action film. This may include historical research, which is time consuming, to ensure that the right firearms are chosen according to past events. Also, when my break-down is done, the weapons scripting is done for every scene, along with a special effects break-down and blank count. If you do not hire us, you can give our break-down to another prop house, SFX coordinator or other armorer. The break-down fee is deducted from your final bill if we get the project. The other reason is that if I spend 4+ hours detailing which firearms to use in the movie, some producers will use all of my information in my breakdown and buy fake soft air guns with the intention of adding digital muzzle flash (getting the information from me for free). This is fine, as long as I am paid for my time. We will not do pre-production work without getting reimbursed.

Q: I produce mostly Science Fiction & Horror movies. How can you help with these?

A: Fist, let me say that I am a huge Sci-Fi and Horror Fan (I also write for Creature Corner). In the early to late 1970s, I collected Famous Monster, Fangoria and Starlog magazines. I used to make my own Sci-Fi films using the stop-action/claymation process with a Kodak silent Super 8 movie camera. I still have my Kodak 8mm/Super 8 film projector and my Bell & Howell Super 8 sound projector which I used to show all the neighborhood kids great films like; The Mummy, The Creature From the Black Lagoon (my favorite), Man Made Monster, Frankenstien Meets the Wolfman, etc. Yes, these were the days before home VCRs! I also stayed up late on Fridays and Saturdays to watch the great horror hosts; Hoolihan & Big Chuck (now Big Chuck & Little John), Chllie Billie, and Superhost (it was a good thing that I lived halfway between Pittsburgh, PA and Cleveland, OH and had a great antenna - no cable back them). I have also just published a horror novel. Now, having said all that, I now see that many modern low budget Horror and Sci-Fi films lack the pyro special effects that they need as well as weapons. Remember the soldier that opened fire on the giant ants in the movie THEM? He used a Thompson sub machine-gun and it looked great. Or the soldier that shot through the door with an M2 Carbine machine-gun trying to kill the alien in the 1950s classic The Thing? It also was great gun action. You can have the same weapons, bullet hits (wall squibs, dust balls, spark hits), and pyro-SFX (napta bombs/firery explosions) that are used in big budget films along with blood effects as well (squibs, pumping blood lines, etc.). We will also custom build or modify existing weapons to give them a futuristic look.

Q: Why don't you "take care of me" on this project, and I'll take care of you on the next one? Can we pay you after the movie sells?

A: This is the classic request by producers with low budgets. The answer is no. I have received bad checks and cannot rely on the marketing savvy of small production companies to come through for us. Also, I no longer accept stock in movies for payment.

Q: We are doing an anti-gun movie showing gun ownership in a bad light. Will you do it?

A. Absolutely not. I am very pro-second amendment and we review all scripts for any anti-gun content.

Q: This is a low-budget movie, can you work with us?

A. Sure. I'll work with your producers to schedule the action scenes so that you won't have to incur lengthy rentals. I will also give special discounted rates to low budget productions with budgets of $ 500,000 or less in the Pittsburgth area.

Q: I'm a first-time independent film producer, and after seeing your rates, I realize that we didn't budget enough for weapons . Can you do any pro-bono work?

A: First, my question in reply to questions regarding budget is: how can you budget for something with which you have no experience with the cost. Many times, independent producers don't balk about pricing for lighting equipment, camera rentals, etc., and then expect to use the change left over in their budget to pay for special effects and weapon rental. I have been involved in several productions as an associate producer, and on my first film I lost $8,000. If you want to be in this business, you need to make sacrifices. I  once had an independent producer tell me that he could not write a check for a balance of $150, because the production company was out of money, and then in the same breath, tell me that he'll get back to me after his Caribbean vacation. If you want your movie to look good, then you'll have to make a personal sacrifice even if it means selling something you own to get the special effects that you need. Otherwise, go to Toys-R-Us, and buy some cap guns for your production. As far as pro-bono work, I do not do anything for free, as I have already paid my dues. Give me a call and I'll help you with your budget.

Q: I have your estimate and break-down. It looks good, but I can't afford the weapons you've recommended. Can I substitute some lower-priced weapons for those in your break-down?

A: Yes, it's your movie. However, if by selecting other weapons, you compromise the historical accuracy or believability of the film (unless it's a comedy), I may refuse to do the movie, as my reputation is on the line as well. I can sometimes substitute resin-cast replicas of firearms that look realistic in a holster or at a distance, when you don't need the weapon to fire. These replicas can supplement the real weapons in your production and we can pass the real weapons around to the shooters in your scene.

Q: I can get a "gun wrangler" for $200 per day, why should I pay you more?

A: I have met many people who have called themselves gun wranglers, who were not even familiar with guns, but who passed themselves off as gun experts just to get on a movie set to do some work. If you hire just anybody, you are putting yourselves, your crew and your actors at risk. Many low budget productions have asked some of their crew to bring their personally owned firearms to the set because they didn't know where to rent them from a theatrical armorer. BIG MISTAKE - the blanks that are sold by sporting goods stores ARE NOT theatrical blanks and may injure, disable, or kill. These blanks will not cycle semi-automatic and full-auto firearms. Semi and full-auto firearms must be modified by a machinist in order for them to function with blanks. You cannot just simply load blanks into a semi-auto pistol, assault rifle, or machine-gun, it won't cycle/function. Keep in mind that, with all the respect in the world for prop masters, when I work weapons I am not a prop master, I am a weapons expert. I have worked in the firearms industry since 1982, have shot guns since 1975, and have been a defense indusrty consultant working on many top small arms projects for the US military and law enforcement for many years. I will give special discounted rates to low budget productions with budgets of $ 500,000 or less in the Pittsburgh area.

Q: What is a "prep day?"

A: A prep day is basically a pre-production day. When other crew are on set getting things ready for filming in pre-production, the Armorer and/or SFX Coordinator is in his shop getting all of the guns and SFX tested and ready for the film. He may also be building SFX equipment and customizing guns that will be needed in the first few days of filming. The daily rates that are agreed to for the film will be charged for the prep days.

Q: I can use fake guns or real guns that don't fire and add digital effects in post production. Why should I use real guns that fire blanks?

A: There are many reasons if you want your movie to be realistic. By just simply adding a muzzle flash does not make the gun look like its firing live ammo.

1) On all machine-guns and sub machine-guns the rate of fire (how many rounds fired per minute or per second) is different. They can vary from 400 RPM to 3,000+ RPM. Each one is different.

2) Most assault rifles, some pistols, and many machine-guns have a flash hider or muzzle brake at the end of the barrel that controls muzzle flash and/or recoil and each one creates a different type of flash which are sometimes shaped like a side ways letter E, 3 sided star, 4 sided star, 6 sided star and many other shapes.

3) Every time a semi (pistols, rifles) or full-auto (machine-gun) firearm is fired the gun ejects the empty shell. All models eject at different angles and throw shells at different distances.

4) Every time a semi (pistols, rifles) or full-auto (machine-gun) firearm is fired the gun ejects the empty shell and a smoke trail will follow the shell.

5) All guns expel some amount of smoke from the ejection port and barrel.

6) Belt-fed machine-guns feed from a visible belt of ammunition and it feeds/moves into the receiver of the gun at the gun's rate of fire.

7) Some machine-guns have plastic see-through magazines in which the ammo/blanks are visible as they move into the chamber, as the magazine is emptied, when the gun is fired.

8) All, semi-auto (pistols, rifles) and full-auto guns (machine-guns) have parts that move EACH time the gun is fired such as; bolt handles, slides, bolts, bolt carriers, etc. Some of these parts are large and may make up 40% of the gun in size.

9) Actors, both the shooter and the actor getting shot at, react naturally to guns being fired.

10) Muzzle flash will reflect on an actor's face and clothes in low light. Also other objects in close proximity to the gun will reflect muzzle flash.

Not counting a vast knowledge of firearms you would need to have, do you really want to spend all of you time in post-production doing all of the above, numbers
1) - 10)?
Even if you do, it still won't look authentic. If you choose to use real guns, everything is done as soon as the director yells "cut," and it IS real.

Q: I think that fake guns, wether they are made from plastic, wood, or paper mache' are just fine because my post production effects guy can add muzzle flash. I don't care about guns and I don't think the audience cares either. Don't you agree?

A: All of the above IS visible to the audience and with over 80+ million gun owners in the U.S. alone as well as millions of military veterans worldwide, do you really want to risk realism? As for those of you that think that fake guns look the same as real ones, this shows your level of knowledge of firearms. Let me give you an analogy based on your opinion: I suppose that if a director didn't have $ 500/day to rent a Ferrari, and was concerned about an actor stepping on the gas and running over some crew, he may just go to a junkyard and buy a red Z28 without a motor, put some Ferrari stickers on it, tow it behind a real car, and add some digital exhaust fumes, and engine sounds to it in post production and that would be just as good as having a REAL Ferrari as most of the audience probably have never driven, or have seen in person, a REAL Ferrari, and those reruns of Magnum P.I. are too distant of a memory for anyone to know better. All of the millions of race fans and car collectors wouldn't notice either. Right? Then again, its your movie.

Q: There are some new guns that are made from real parts which electronically fire a small explosive at the tip of the barrel. These look real, don't they?

A: These "guns" are great for filming in locations where firearms laws are very restricted like New York City limits and Washington, DC. The machine-gun versions fire the small explosives at the tip of the barrel at the same rate of fire as the originals but they don't eject shells. The muzzle flash would be generic and the parts that should move, don't. You would still have to do the following, from list above, in post production: 3), 4), 6), 7) and 8). Another problem with these guns is that when fired they leave "stringy" smoke trails that float slowly upwards, similar to firework smoke. If you have a need for these guns I can get them for you as ISS is a main distributor of them but don't expect cheaper rental rates as these guns cost three to four times as much as the real thing. Rentals are higher. I would use them if we had a film in Washington, DC but would use real guns in the DC suburbs which are located in Virginia and Maryland.

Q: What are the rules for actors and crew having firearms on set?

A: Click on this link for the rule sheet: Rules for Weapons On Set.

Q: Do you ever use fake guns on set?

A: Sure. There are times when the gun needs to fall on the ground or when the production can only afford a few real guns. Review this question above; Q: I have your estimate and break-down. It looks good, but I can't afford the weapons you've recommended. Can I substitute some lower-priced weapons for those in your break-down?

Q: Will you work as a local?

A: Only in the Pittsburgh, PA, Northern West Virginia, and much of North Eastern Ohio. As stated previously, I will work with low budget film productions. Motel 6 doesn't scare me one bit but I will not accept Motel 6 when other coordinators and production staff are sleeping at the Ritz-Carlton.

Q: Can you do special effects?

A: Yes, I am a special effects coordinator as well as many of my staff. I have been told that my squibbed blood bags are the best they've seen by those who have given me the compliment. I can also work as an assistant in your SFX department.

Q: Will you train my actors?

A: Of course. I strongly recommend that all productions take the time to get their actors trained for safety and realism. Your director will also yell "cut" a lot less when actors know how to handle the firearms. All actors will get at least a minimum amount of training.

Q: Are you related to Robert DeNiro?

A: I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me! The answer is yes. Although I have never met him, members of my immediate family were in contact with his father before he passed away. Our families are originally from the Campobasso, Italy and nearby Agnone, Italy regions.

Click here to see a sample script breakdown and estimate.

I understand that sometimes you must use all fake guns due to budget, local laws, etc. Many producers have done a good job with post digital effects and fake guns. However, I have never seen fake post gun effects that look like the real thing. If you can afford to add at least a couple of real guns, it will add to your production value.
(C) Copyright 1998 - 2008 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Vincent DeNiro's Exotic Arms for Motion Pictures