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Gunfire Gunshot Sound

Discussion in 'Special Effects' started by lieperjp, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Well, I found a little bit using the search feature, but "gun" is one of those three letter words it doesn't recognize, and "fire" "shot" and "shoot" didn't come up with much. So I created this thread with the words "gunshot" and "gunfire" as one word for the search feature.

    For our musical this fall, there is a scene where there are 8-10 gunshots. What do you use to make this noise? The director wants the noise to come from stage - not from the sound system. Obviously, a gun is a safety no-no, they are thinking a starter pistol, but even this I personally am leery of. We've also thought about cap gun caps and a hammer, as six year olds do this.

    What is the best sounding (and safest) way to do a gunshot?
     
  2. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    get yourself a 4' piece of 1x4. Stand with it wedged against your left toe one end and in your right hand on the other end. Raise your right foot and when the time is right drive it into the deck with your right foot (hinging it with the front of your left foot). I think you'll be amazed. Even with a killer sound system and a collection of great sound effects in my theater I prefer the sound of the 1x4.

    Sometimes this doesn't work due to your stage, so another option is to hinge two pieces of 1x4 together, one slightly longer than the other. Lay the long one on the floor and smack the shorter one into it.
     
  3. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    We did a skit in church once that had five or six gunshots in it. It was a Book of Revelation thing that involved taking people outside who would not take the mark of the beast and shooting them. We had a responsible adult use a rifle with blanks in the next room, after obtaining permission from the police and notifying the neighbors that we would be firing a gun during our services on this particular Sunday morning.

    Your "from the stage, not through the sound system" restriction not withstanding, the safest way to do it is to use a dedicated sound system (speaker, amp, and playback device), and hide the speaker in the set somewhere near where the gunshots are supposed to come from.

    The most realistic way to do it is with a starter pistol. Set up an area backstage, or behind the set upstage, where the gun op has a clear view of his/her surroundings and cannot be "snuk up on" from behind. Make sure you clear the use of the starter pistol with the proper authorities before hand and double check with them to make sure you observe all relevant safety protocols.

    There's also the belt snap. Just take a big leather belt and fold it in half like you're going to spank someone (in my dad's case, me). Grab both ends and push toward the middle. The centers will bow out from eath other. Pull the ends away from each other and... snap! I have tried this with various belts over the years and achieved varying results. With the right belt it sounds pretty realistic.
     
  4. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    It should be noted that hardwoods will produce a more realistic sound than pine or fir. Hickory is the best, followed closely by maple and cherry, with oak at the bottom. Kiln-dried of course, and moisture content kept below 10%. Avoid environmentally-sensitive woods, especially ipe, as the silica in it will destroy your sawblades.
     
  5. Les

    Les Well-Known Member

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    Not sure from where, but when we did Clue in a studio theatre we bought a few revolver "stage pistols" which used caps. These caps looked more like bullets except without the projectile. They made a good sound and due to the design of the gun no harmful projectile was possible, nor was there really anything to project.
     
  6. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Thanks! I ran a google search for stage pistols - don't know why I didn't think of it before - came up with this:

    Western Stage Props: Guns and Accessories

    But definitely not as cheap (or easy) as the 1/4. We'll have to test. The 1/4 against 1/4 is similar to a whip crack instrument that percussion sections use in symphonies and bands.
     
  7. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Last edited: Sep 18, 2008
  8. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    Excellent idea. My first TD (now deceased) loved to play practical jokes. One of his favorites was to take an 8' or 10' 1x2 and stand about 15' behind someone. He would put one end on the stage, hold it at an angle, and let it fall. When the high end was about 4' off the deck, he would step on it. I've actually seen people come completely off the deck from a sitting position. :lol:
     
  9. loki

    loki Member

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    O know you wanted it to not come from the PA, but why not have a small but loud speeker on the stage somewhere (hiden) that plays the effect?
     
  10. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I would strongly advise you to avoid the starter/blank pistols. They are not harmless and can kill or injure. I have a small starter pistol that I used a couple times back in the day... until I hit an actress with a piece of shrapnel coming out of the end. It wasn't enough to injure her as she was 15 feet away but it was enough to get me a few choice words and scare the crap out of me. You see while there is no bullet and the charge is fired upward, the ends of the shell casing still get blown out the end of the gun. Once I got hit myself by a piece coming out the loading hole in the back.

    In Miss Saigon there is a woman who shoots a man. If you sit in the front row you will notice she aims quite a way upstage of where he is actually at. If you follow him to the dressing room you will find he's got body armor on.

    As at College TD I would Never allow someone to use a fireable weapon blank or or not on my stage without a REAL professional fire arm person overseeing the shot.

    There are good fake weapons that fire caps that I would consider safe... but I'm telling you, a real gun doesn't sound as good as a 1x4. Last time I used it I has actors complaining that they needed hearing protection back stage.
     
    lwinters630 and (deleted member) like this.
  11. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I agree that the safest way to do all this is the 1x4. If the director does not like this, nor the isolated speaker, and a starter pistol is not accessible (even shooting offstage in controlled situation) then I would suggest a controlled firing of a powder actuated fastener offstage (Ramset Fastening Systems for example). These are available to purchase or rent at many large hardware stores. I doubt if they can be dry-fired, but since they are using a gun powder charge to fire them, it obviously will sound authentic. It would less likely to be used as a toy and easier to secure (not as desirable) when not on set.
     
  12. seanandkate

    seanandkate Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I like the idea of the 1 x 4 Gaff! If you do the the weapon thing, DON'T use a real gun with blanks. The blanks still have plenty of discharge and air pressure enough to make an acor have a very bad day. Even approach stage weapons with caution -- they still need to vent (generally to the side or top) so you need to make sure that nothing/no one stands on that path. SAFD would help you out with a rental I imagine if you actually need to SEE the gun shooting on stage.

    But if you don't the 1 x 4 thing is entirely badass . . .
     
  13. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    As I hope has been drilled home at this point, safety is key. Even in the professional world, when stage firearms are used there is significantly more fight choreography than for even the most intense fistfight in West Side Story (just an example of a show with lots of fighting).

    This is besides the fact that stage firearms require the same amount of care and maintenance as any firearm. This means that before and after every use each weapon has to be stripped and cleaned and tested. Weapons need to be locked up when not in use. All firearm safety procedures apply to stage weapons.

    Also, use of any firearm on stage requires the same safety precautions as use of pyro or open flames. This means that you have to have the appropriate safety equipment on standby and you have to know how to use it. You also need to have express permission of the fire marshall, and in some places you may need a licensed pyro or fireperson to supervise.

    When all of the above conditions are met, the use of stage weapons can be very effective and safe. However, the alternatives that have been given in this thread are all standard practices. Most people don't know what a real gun sounds like, for TV and movies, it is all sound effects, so there is no reason that the same type of recorded effects wouldn't work in theatre.

    Also use of a Ramset as suggested by [user]ruinexplorer[/user] is by far more dangerous than use of stage weapons, and should ABSOLUTELY NEVER be used as a stand in for a stage weapon or to generate a sound effect. Using tools that are designed for very specific applications for anything else is very dangerous. A ramset is designed to drive metal bolts into concrete. They are as powerful and lethal as any firearm and they do not have any safety features for use as a sound effect generator. A ramset has ABSOLUTELY NO place on stage or in the wings during a show.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2008
  14. magnumBD

    magnumBD Member

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    Alex, you make an excellent point:

    "This is besides the fact that stage firearms require the same amount of care and maintenance as any firearm. This means that before and after every use each weapon has to be stripped and cleaned and tested. Weapons need to be locked up when not in use. All firearm safety procedures apply to stage weapons."

    I have NEVER, repeat never, had any debris or pieces of shell casing project from any of my blank-firing weapons, and I have been at this for many years now.

    HOWEVER, blanks burn dirty, which is to say the charge is never completely consumed. This results in an accumulation of residue at the front of the chambers, within the "blowhole" where the gas is directed, and other working areas of the prop.

    In the case of the small "acorn" style blanks (typical starter pistol), if the chamber becomes fouled the blank may not be able to be fully seated or supported in the opening. This conceivably may cause a failure of the shell itself. I've never had any trouble with the .380 blanks in that way.

    They MUST be cleaned thoroughly after every production, or if it's a long run or a shooting intensive show, then after every week of performance. Left untouched, the accumulation of junk can be blown out by the next shot fired, causing the problem that gafftaper encountered.

    Obviously, I am a fan of blank-firing props, but I'd be the first to agree that if there is no provision for supervision or care of the prop, then an alternative method should be found. I have walked away from two productions in the past that couldn't/wouldn't take the necessary steps to ensure good practices and safety for all cast and crew.

    In one case they used the sound effects through the sound system. I showed the other production the leather belt trick as noted earlier and that seemed pretty successful for them once their crew member got the hang of it.
     
  15. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    A quick internet search found stories of two deaths from blank firing pistols besides the famous death of Brandon Lee.
     
  16. magnumBD

    magnumBD Member

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    Righto, gafftaper. I know one is Jon Erik Hexum. However, it MUST be noted that in his case, as with Brandon Lee, the guns were REAL firearms using blank ammunition. This allows a great deal of blast and pressure to be projected immediately forward out of the weapon.

    As you already know, purpose-built blank-firing props (the ONLY kind I use), do not project straight out the barrel, nor are the blasts and pressures anything like a genuine firearm blank.

    This basically an apples versus oranges situation. Not everyone knows the difference. That's OK- that why I do what I do in the theatre community.

    Clearly, real firearms very rarely have a place in a theatrical situation. I would say never, except that in some instances there are no replicas available. Sondheim's "Assassins", for one, is quite specific about the weapons used by the historical figures depicted. Several of those are some pretty esoteric weapons. I have done three productions (with not one problem) of that show, but admittedly had to play a little fast and loose with the weapons, using what I had on hand. A professional production may well end up with a genuine British Bulldog revolver, or an Italian military carbine on stage. A professional weapons handler also comes with the package, of course.

    It is regrettable that you experienced a scarey incident with your actress- it does demonstrate that extreme care must be taken. But really, I have never heard of anyone being accidentally killed by a starter-gun type prop. Again, the deaths you cite are real firearms, with tragically poor supervision. Apples and oranges.
     
  17. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    It's been a long time since the starter pistol I had spit out the little shards of metal. So long I can't seem to find the gun or I would take a picture of it. It was similar to this but I purchased this in the mid 80's(?) so it was probably very different. It had a little door in the back that flipped down to load a tray of blanks. The tray fired upward. The front of the barrel was not fully plugged. It did have a little metal "x" shaped grill but there was enough room for some debris to come out. Also that back door didn't secure very well so one time I got dinged but debris coming out the back... the last time I fired it by the way.

    As for the poor actress: this was a high school production back in the day when we didn't worry about students having guns at school. I actually had this starter pistol in my locker my entire senior year. We used it in one play, and several improv games. In a rehearsal I shot her from about 15 feet away. She yelped and swore that she had been shot for real (she also smacked me a couple times). I told her there was no way it could happen but there was still a tiny little red mark on her arm I couldn't explain. Another friend ran for class president and as part of his campaign speech I played the part of his body guard and shot a dissident who's body was dragged away by other body guards... He didn't win, but he made a wonderfully satyric statement about the students who ran our class a 4 years. Good times:rolleyes:

    In college I did lighting for a student directed show that used a bunch of guns. One of the actor's had a Dad who was a gun guy. He brought in a bunch of guns he said were safe for use in the show. Today I would NEVER allow that to happen on my stage.

    Anyway. The point I want to make is that for the vast majority of people reading this thread they should seriously reconsider firing blanks in shows because unlike our friend Magnum here, we DON'T know what we are doing. If you need visible gun fire on stage, then you should hire someone like Magnum here to help you do it safely. My policy at the college is any gun on stage must either not be able to fire at all OR we hire a weapon expert for the show. It's not worth the chances.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2008
  18. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    I was on the track team in high school (yah, I was one of the equipment boys. I didn't actually run on the team :rolleyes: ). We had a starter pistol that looked (and worked) like a small revolver thak looked like this:

    [​IMG]

    The barrel was solid, and the gas, burning powder, smoke, etc. came out the front of the revolving part and was dissipated to the sides by a cone-shaped spike of metal.

    (Full Disclosure: I couldn't find a picture of what our starter pistol looked like, so I downloaded a picture of a Precise 880 .22 Caliber Starter Revolver and Photoshopped it to look like the one we had.)
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2008
  19. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    As I stated, this would not be the first option for use (nor second, nor third). A ramset does not fire bolts but nails and is used to fasten studs to concrete. It does have safety features in that it cannot fire without substantial force on the front of the unit, enough to prevent recoil, so no it could never misfire and would thus be less dangerous than a real firearm firing a blank (unless you put it to someone's head)! Yes it has the potential of being dangerous if used improperly, as is the use of the blanks in a real firearm, thus all precautions should be taken in using one. They are safe tools (speaking from personal experience) and since they require pressure on the front could never stand in for a weapon (nor can I imagine a reason in doing so). That is ridiculous for you suggesting that it could, or that anyone would use a loaded weapon on stage.

    Anything that anyone cannot do safely should not be done, period, in the theater or otherwise. That includes the use of any firearm, blanks or not. A power actuated fastener is not intended for this purpose, but then many things used in theater are not (please refer to theater history on truss and chain motors for some dangerous examples). So for you to say that it has NO place in the wings (I never suggested on stage) during a show is wrong. A statement like that nullifies so much equipment that is (mis)used during productions that we would all be out of business!

    So please, anyone who is not qualified to provide proper safety to all those on stage, please change careers or get the education you need to do so.
     
  20. magnumBD

    magnumBD Member

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    gafftaper - thank you very much for the further info on your pistol. The photo explained much. I now fully understand your experiences. I have never cared for that type of blank gun for the exact reasons that you related- the unplugged barrel WOULD allow blast, burning debris, etc. to project forward, and the loading gate is less than totally secure. That's quite an antique (no dig intended because so am I!). Seriously, it might be worth something to somebody on good ole eBay. For what it's worth, those particular ones are no longer imported to the US. Yes, you can get a similar model, but the barrels are fully plugged.

    If I may be allowed to speculate, I'd guess that your actress was struck with a small bit of still-burning powder- as said before these blanks don't burn cleanly and thoroughly.

    Thanks for the photo and info, philhaney. These types are generally quite safe if handled properly, plus they are usually reliable. They are what I use probably 90-percent of the time.

    Some general guidelines for using revolver types are: keep other people a good three feet away from the SIDE of the gun. The blast strikes the solid face of the frame where there would normally be a hole for the barrel and comes out to the immediate left and right of the "shooter". Five feet of separation would be even better. Following that, the shooter should never hold the gun in such a way that fingers are laid across the cylinder portion in any manner- for exactly the reasons stated above- it's a good way to get burned.

    I think by and large a lot of good thinking and info has been presented on this thread, and I appreciate everyone's commitment to safety.
     

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