Firearms Realism and Pop Culture

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In today’s op-ed, one of our minions admits to watching Sharknado. His appreciation for that quality of artistry goes a long way in explaining his writing, and the baldness of the editors. What movies do you think have the best gun play? Let us know in the comments below Mad Duo

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Firearms Realism and Pop Culture

by Dave Merrill

Yesterday, this picture was posted on the BreachBangClear Instagram

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I know I’m not alone in finding terrible gun handling in TV and movies distracting at times. In order to save my marriage, I’ve mostly kept to eye rolling with the occasional grunt whenever I see something incredibly stupid.

Even though I fully understand that I am not, in fact watching a documentary when is zombie or dinosaur or Sharknado movie is on, if something is egregious enough it can pull me right out of the movie. With any fictional medium you may need some suspension of disbelief, but unless it’s kitschy (either intentional or unintentional) it isn’t helping anyone. It’s one thing if it’s an unapologetic action movie and another entirely if it’s meant to be taken at least semi-seriously.

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AOK in an remorseless money grab
action film

Gun or military people are far from the only ones that are bothered by inaccuracy. My father, who has spent more years working in Emergency Rooms than I am alive, has never been able to stomach the hospital drama genre. Like me, he has learned to shut his mouth most of the time for the sanity of my mother.

Some guys who provide guns and training for production companies provided some insight. What most directors want is something that fits the aesthetic they desire, rather than exactitude. A gun or optic that obscures the main character’s face isn’t as often used. Ever wonder why you see so many C-More optics in movies? That’s the reason.

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We can’t block Patrick Bateman’s face

The same applies to gear. I can’t tell you how many police dramas I’ve seen where the lead character participates in an entry while wearing just a vest, while everyone around him or her is in full kit– helmet, goggles, and all. Main characters are also far more likely to use pistols. A pistol can be tucked away out of the scene easily, and we still associate pistols with leadership. Directors layer all sorts of inappropriate clicking and other noises whenever a gun is picked up to cue the audience. Slides are racked and hammers are cocked and safeties snapped to increase emphasis and drama, reality be damned. You’re more likely to see proper weapons and handling in bigger budget productions because more time and care can be taken. Some productions will send their actors to shooting schools for the sake of realism. It’s not just a matter of hiring someone who knows what they’re talking about it. Advisors usually have to be union members or union approved, and everything that entails.

For your average SyFy channel made-for-TV-movie it’s, “what do we have in the back?”

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More C-Mores in movies than in real life, and also less trigger discipline

Occasionally you’ll see poor handling on purpose, to establish the relative incompetence or ignorance of a character. Shutter Island comes immediately to mind. During the Instagram discussion about The Walking Dead, one of the points brought up was that these are not gun people, and there are no instructors during the apocalypse. Okay, I could probably concede that point if it weren’t for the constant fast head shots, even with rifles without rear sights.

But when they get it right…

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The Broken Windows Theory applies to suspension of disbelief too. For those unacquainted, the Broken Windows Theory (per, of course, Wikipedia) is:

“…is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening”

Or in the context of this discussion: if you focus on realism for the small stuff, I’m much more likely to believe that giant space alien robots are invading. At least during the couple hours I’m watching.

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When directors ‘get it’, it makes the show or movie all the better. Shooting scenes from, The Way of the Gun have actually been used as demonstrations of communication during fire and maneuver. Do you know a gun person who doesn’t love the movie Heat? I don’t. Handling by itself won’t make a bad movie good, nor give someone with the acting skills of a stone some character, but it does enhance the experience.

Admittedly, we’ve come a long way from never-ending magazines and accurate hip fire in movies–or maybe I’m just not watching terrible action movies anymore.

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-DFM


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About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at)BreachBangClear.com and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).

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Emeritus Dave Merrill wrote for Breach-Bang-Clear from late 2013 until early 2017, including a year as its Managing Editor. He departed our ranks in May of 2017 to accept a well-deserved position as social media manager for RECOIL Magazine. He is a combat veteran of the Marine Corps who describes himself as a "...former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men." Merrill's articles are well worth the time it takes to read them - there's a lot of knowledge tucked away in that skull.


DFM has 82 posts and counting. See all posts by DFM

31 thoughts on “Firearms Realism and Pop Culture

  • April 24, 2015 at 5:45 pm
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    Well said! Now I am going to watch the way of the gun again for the millionth time! Another where they paid attention was The Hurt Locker. Tactical Response guys squared them away.

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  • March 30, 2015 at 1:17 am
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    One overlooked thing Michael Mann does better than almost anyone is the sound. For the longest time couldn’t put my finger on it, then watched the extra features on Heat. He realized that sticking w/ production sound was the best way to get that realism. End scene of Miami Vice had that same visceral quality as Heat

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  • March 28, 2015 at 12:52 am
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    Hawaii 5-0 started off strong, but has gone to the dogs lately. American Sniper irritated me when the shells on Chris’s forearm shell holder all had fired primers as he was going out on patrol. Ronin was another decent movie.

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  • March 27, 2015 at 5:32 pm
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    Got to throw another one in the mix. Pirates of the Caribbean. And that Russel Crowe ripoff of the Hornblower novels. 26 minutes into Pierats I had to walk away. Ships? Wrong. Rigging? Wrong. Weapons? Wrong. Uniforms? Wrong. ARRRRGGHH!!!!!! If you are going to blow $100 million on CGI effects at least get the simple stuff right. Sweet. Bleeding. Jeebus.

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  • March 27, 2015 at 4:53 pm
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    Larry vickers just posted a video (shown on soldier systems) that was pretty interesting. A break down of some Tom Cruise movie.

    I don’t really like the fact that most of these action hero actors are liberal gun grabbers… That’s right Liam I’m talking about you. pisses me off becuse I’d like to see some of those movies but I’d be a hypocrite if I went to the box office. Now I secretly wait for it to come out on direct tv.

    And as for realism… Would it kill Hollywood to do a freakin mag change every now and then. You can’t hate on sharknado though because that is just awesome.

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  • March 27, 2015 at 1:21 pm
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    “Would you like a cup of tea with that hold?!” By some miracle my marriage has remained strong through a number of films. Probably the one movie that didn’t require correction is Act of Valor.

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    • March 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm
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      When talking to a guy who worked on Act of Valor, he said they actually had to get the SEALS to tone it down on their weapon handling and sighting accuracy in some scenes to make it “fair” for the sake of the narrative. At the end fight in the factory, there are a few shots where they are tracking enemies across the room. They were told to keep the lasers off their heads, because every time a guy would run across, they were dead to rights.

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  • March 27, 2015 at 5:53 am
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    Final gunfight of

    Miami Vice and The Kingdom movies

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  • March 27, 2015 at 5:51 am
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    In I remember correctly the CBS drama “The Unit” showing Delta operators was pretty good.

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    • March 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm
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      I liked the unit too. Got a little too much soap opra’ish before it was cancelled. Guess they were trying to appeal to liberals

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  • March 26, 2015 at 9:50 pm
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    Currently, Hollywood is overrun with retired “Operators” who want to TechAdvise your Movie/TV/WebOnly project. Half of them are former Coasties.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 4:38 pm
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    The reason that they got the weapons manipulations right in heat was Andy McNab was the “technical weapons trainer”.

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    • March 26, 2015 at 9:44 pm
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      “McNab” got a reputation as a net loss on a production. He was too exacting. The patience Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Public Enemies) has for accuracy is non existent in his peers.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm
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    And I’ll bet James Caan was pissed when they gave him a snubnose revolver in WOTG.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm
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    I always like to use “The Way of the Gun” to show why 1911s suck. Reload, reload, reload (ouch I’m shot!), reload, reload.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    Tie between Heat and Collateral. Michael Mann puts his leads through weapons training for his gun movies.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm
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    Sometimes it’s not just the poor weapon handling, the wrong firearm can ruin it too. I was watching a low budget movie set in the Vietnam War. I had to stop when the Hi Point carbines came out.

    And one of my favorite movie gun fights is at the end of Open Range.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm
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    John Wick… First movie I have ever seen where he carried 3 total mags, and actually ran out of ammo after using each.

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    • March 26, 2015 at 8:56 pm
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      I agree, completely. I really liked how the movie combined the gun handling with the hand to hand combat. The throat punch reload may have been an exaggeration, but the movie was well done, overall.

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    • March 27, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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      +1 on John Wick

      Good movie

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  • March 26, 2015 at 10:52 am
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    Reminds me of the first movie I can recall that had an actor specifically trained for realism with weapon handling. Thief with James Caan.I second the nod to Sucker Punch. Also if I might ask, what’s the deal with the lasers in the background of Merrill’s pic? kinda flashy.

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    • March 26, 2015 at 11:52 am
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      I was never allowed to have the laser background in school photos when I was a kid. So I decided to do it now, haha

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      • March 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm
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        The first show that comes to mind in regards to decent handling of firearms would be the show Strikeback.

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        • March 27, 2015 at 5:40 am
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          Strike back was great though there were times when the stonebridge character got so obsessed looking down the barrel that he forgot he had optics. the shoot out in eastern europe was outstanding, apparently the ‘grenade kick’ was a first take shot too!

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          • March 27, 2015 at 8:00 am
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            +1 for strike back…they did a few scenes that were amazing accurate – scene where they are clearing that nuke/chem plant/storage place in eastern bloc…fucking awesome.

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          • March 29, 2015 at 4:32 am
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            Strikeback is interesting in that it shows quite a bit of progression in their training:

            First season was awful. Second was still bad. Third one someone taught them proper gun handling which the main characters seem to remember most of the time.

            I have not watched it any further but now I have high hopes that by fifth season, they’ll figure out tactics and maybe strategy by eighth or ninth (as much as that ridiculous premise of a nearly omnipotent intel group with just two shooters allows).

            What I do not get it why it started off so badly? Wouldn’t Chris Ryan want his story to be properly represented?

            Another thing to note is how they evolved from using vz58s as stand-ins for AK to a rather realistic multitude of regionally appropriate weapons.

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        • March 27, 2015 at 5:57 am
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          Fantastic series ‘based on’ the Chris Ryan books who is former SAS and “The One That Got Away” in the Bravo Two Zero mission. I recommend all his books including fiction as excellent.

          Although one former SF commented on the series that the good guys “had real operator skills” but were blessed with bad guys with the worst.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 10:31 am
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    I have to mention the movie “Sucker Punch” as one of the best examples of competent gun handling in movies:

    Link here

    The movie is otherwise not realistic at all, the action is in fact extremely exaggerated, as everything takes place in a fantasy world. But the gun handling is awesome, and it really shows that the girls trained hard for the action scenes.

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  • March 26, 2015 at 9:49 am
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    Don’t you love it? Movie police loading their guns as they exit their car in front of the gang’s hid out. Glock’s that need to be cocked and off safed. 1911’s carried in condition 2 and cocked one handed during a fight. CSIs who line up and are third in the door. They have a vest, while everyone else has a helmet,knee and elbow pads and gear. “Trained” people who need their weak hand to hold open their holster so they can reholster.

    Hey, it’s drama, but unfortunately it makes viewers think it’s reality.

    Shameless self-promotion:

    http://tactical-talk.blogspot.com/2012/10/actors-and-guns.html

    Reply
    • April 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm
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      WHERE more pretenders than in the movie business?? The same ones who think we WHO EXCEL AT WEAPONS EMPLOYMENT and use them professionally should be denied them. Makes it hard to give them my $$. NON, MERCI!

      Reply

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