Fake guns a no no? You"d think people knew by now…
"Don't request extras to turn up with guns or police uniforms," was Met Police film officer PC James Waller's simple but firm message while addressing producers and line producers at an event in central London last week.
The reason? Three call outs for the armed response unit in less than a month alone, turning up with loaded guns and handcuffs ready, only to find a film shoot taking place. Not just a time and money waster, but also a highly dangerous practice in which extras could get easily hurt.
"We don't want to stop you from doing what you do," Waller told attending producers, "but we do want to stop casting agencies being encouraged to tell their extras to bring their own guns and uniforms to a shoot."
It seems like a pretty straightforward piece of advice, something that, given the developments in safety concerns around us, should be a given - especially to professionals in the industry. The reality, however, shows a different picture.
Licensed armourers, those who should be responsible for the transport, storage and use of all weaponry and firearms on film sets, are often left out of the budget and instead extras are encouraged to bring their own outfits - including fake weapons.
Considering though that fake uniforms and carrying (fake) guns around is illegal, and considering the fact that armourers are the only ones allowed to distribute weaponry for a shoot - leaving them out can be a major flaw in a production. Police action and the loss of an insurance bond are often an unwelcome consequence when things don't go as planned.
At Waller's talk, location managers also received a word of caution. All too often they fail to report to the council and the police that a shoot will take place at a certain time at a certain place, leaving the police without proper documentation to check incoming calls against.
One cautious word however, from a member of the public who thinks he or she saw something, and an armed police unit can swoop in and do some serious damage to both property and people they perceive to be a threat (if you don't believe it, here is the evidence).
Even if it involves spray painted toy guns, look-alike rubber guns or guns with blanks - with the perceived safety of the latter being a myth in its own right - the police will hold both the production as well as the actor accountable, and being caught with any of the above is a criminal offence.
A request to film with fake guns can also be turned down by the owners of a location, despite co-operation with the police. In March 2014 for example, owners of Camden Lock Market blocked filming plans for the BBC's crime drama The Interceptor because of its plans to use prop handguns, fearing it would send out the wrong message about the area.
So, in order to avoid the risk of having your production stopped, getting a large bill for wasting police time, or worse, having an actor taken out by the police, tell the council and the police what you are up to and make sure all the use of weaponry and the armourer are cleared before you start.
To find out more or to contact the Metropolitan Police Service Film Unit (MPSFU), please check out the Film London website for more information and conta