Front Fire Fracas

My handful of posts on this blog about front-fire blank guns have been consistently some of the most popular entries, according to my WordPress stats. Those of you who have read them know that the biggest importer, if not sole importer, of front-venting blank props is Maxsell.

 

It’s a small business based in Florida, which was at the center of the big Glock lawsuit over the vaguely-Glock-like Zoraki blank guns that I wish I’d gotten ahold of before they were Glock-blocked (and summarily destroyed). And now it sounds like he’s in trouble again, and I’m worried that it might end up being bigger bad news for all the theatres and indie-filmmakers who have benefited from the brief window of opportunity for US purchases of the front-venting versions of blank guns Europe has enjoyed for decades. Stock is already way down at all the online vendors I know, and if Maxsell goes under there may not be anyone brave enough to tackle the bureaucracy and fill the void.

However, rather than do my own full write-up, I’m going to direct you over to the blog of my friend Jay, who runs Jay the Barbarian, and has already done as good a job of writing this up as I could. Readers of the Theatrical Firearms Handbook may well recognize Jay’s name, as he’s cited in it several times.

Suffice to say, anyone who knows people to call, email, petition, or otherwise lean on should do so, and help guide the rest of us; these props help our industry, and keep a lot of people from doing riskier things with real guns when they want that muzzle flash. I just ordered a couple more, despite the bad timing for Fight Designer, both to show my support and to make sure I don’t lose out like I did with the other Zoraki model. I encourage all of you who can to buy his stuff that IS in stock now, both while the company is in business (worst case scenario) and to help them with legal fees, etc. (best case scenario) HERE. (full disclosure – that’s my FighDesigner referral link, so I get a kickback there too. You can order directly as well.)

 

So here, without further ado, is the BARBARIAN LABS WRITEUP OF THE ISSUE.

 

 

 

 

Richard III

Richard III is now officially opened at Agecroft Hall. While it brings with it all the challenges of outdoor theatre (rain, insects, the occasional airplane or loud bar mitsva party down the block), it’d be hard to find a more appropriate venue for summer Shakespeare outside of one of the handfuls of period theatre recreations. Opening last night was sold out, and included a state Senator in the crowd as well as the usual healthy representation of RVA theatre professionals. EDITED TO ADD: We got a great review from Richmond Family magazine that specifically dubbed the final battle “Awesome”, so I’ll take that.

I’ll be the first to admit this show’s had some challenges, between budget for props, rehearsal schedule snafus, and weather interruptions during rehearsal, but I think they’ve pulled together a great production.

Here’s a few shots from dress rehearsal earlier this week. I need to get better with low-light action photography, and figuring out how to get the most out of my DSLR under those conditions, but at least some of these turned out well. You can see the sword I discussed previously – I had to do some repairs/improvements on the scabbard so it could hold up to Richard’s angry pacing, falls, and physical acting, but it’s working well now. I like that he’s the only one who’s sword isn’t cruciform.

Richmond Shakespeare, now merged with Henley Street and jointly putting on the Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft, was my first independently-gotten (not arranged through my grad program) fight direction client in Richmond, under then-visiting-director and now Artistic Director Jan Powell. Now they’re also my last. They’ve been great to work with over the years, and I think we’ll miss each other.

 

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Chekhov, Love, and Trust

On my way back now from an excellent, rejuvenating week with the National Michael Chekhov Association (NMCA), my second time attending their Teacher Intensive. The last one I went to was in Florida, and this was my first time up in Maine, where it’s hosted by the USM Gorham campus. Lovely area up here, plus a great group to play with. Not sure when I’ll make it back to finish my certification (I still need to do a capstone project) but I hope to see more of the same faces when I do, unlikely though that may be (we came from all over, including Canada and India). I had a blast doing a scene from a farcical comedy of [bad] manners (Blithe Spirit – still don’t really like the play but it did give us some fun scene work) with someone who’s done a ton of Commedia and physical theatre, and reminding myself what it’s like to perform live theatre (it’s been about a year), as well as the student and teacher aspects of the workshop.

With the imminent move to Wyoming, I was more than happy to join several of them after the closing dinner last night in an expedition to dip our feet in the Ocean. While I hope to get back up to the family (in-laws) place in Montauk some time in the coming year or two, it’ll be a challenge getting the family there from Wyoming, so this might be the last Atlantic dip for a while, and it just felt right.

So walking near the boardwalk in Portland, ME with good (if mostly new) friends, I spotted a man and a woman wrestling on the grass of a park in a way that made it not immediately clear if it was playful or serious. Not wanting to judge prematurely (I certainly played that way when younger and with the right friends – anyone remember the game “Wink”?) the other SAFD CT and I still instinctively veered across the street to keep an eye on things for a moment, determining it was playful just around the time the bicycle police rolled up. It brought up in subsequent conversation though the Mattis quote, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Here, put more eloquently (if less succinctly) is an elegant counterpoint to that paradigm.

The real question for those of us who regularly cross between the lands of theatre, stage combat, and martial arts, is if we can have it both ways. I want there to be a “Yes And” for this, as we like in improvisational theatre (which life basically is), but I know you can’t really live with one foot on each side of that fence, and sometimes you have to pay a toll when you cross the border.

This week I’ve got an editorial in the current issue of Friends Journal as well, the journal of the pacifist Quaker “Religious Society of Friends” I was raised in. It’s an edited (by them) version of a comment I left online a few months ago, but again reflects that boundary I regularly visit, a dual citizenship that has I think partly come to define who I am.

 

Wishing you all Beauty, Ease, Entirety, and Form, my friends.

Many 48hrs ago

With the local 48hr film fest rapidly approaching again (and no, I’m not planning on working any projects this year) I found that last year’s entry is now online, after being held back from public view post-contest while they used it to promote other projects. It was a pretty miserable, long, day of shooting, but I’ve gotta say the footage looks gorgeous, and it was the most ambitious 48hr film fest project I’ve ever seen attempted, let alone successfully accomplished. It won an audience award last year, but nothing from the judges.

Readers of The Theatrical Firearms Handbook may recognize a few things – I included one still, and the many of the props I used in the book were also supplied for the film. The practical SIG ARs in the book were the ones rented for this gig – wish we’d gotten to play more with them actually, but the only shot that ended up appearing on film is the one in the hallway, despite them renting two of the rifles and buying a box or two of .223 blanks.

For the two-shot kill (seeing both characters in frame) I supplied a shell-ejecting airsoft, a prop I was pretty happy with but haven’t gotten to use much yet. Hoping I’ll be able to find more armourer & gun wrangler gigs even while in Laramie next year, but we’ll see how that goes.

 

In other news, choreo continues on Richard III with Richmond Shakespeare/Henley St Theatre. Getting to use a rarely-used prop there too, although I ended up doing some customization for it; I bought a pair of Maciejowski Bible style falchions ages ago, and so far they’d only been used as Goblin weapons in Dorkness Rising. They were originally two-handed though, and our Richard III, like many, has a crutch, so I needed a single-hand sword for him.

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Before

To make it a managable weight & balance I had to not only grind down the edges a bit more, but add a proper pommel for counter-balancing it. I had some scrap brass chunks left over from previous projects, so that seemed doable. Saw the forward falcata-like sweep of some of the historical examples, and to get at least a vague reference to that shape, decided to run with Richard III’s Boar heraldry as a motif.

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During

 

The actor then requested a thicker grip, so I did a leather wrap job on it, and it seemed to be working well enough for him this week. The show opens in a couple weeks, with most of the cast & director on break this week so they can open The Complete Works (Abridged) this weekend.

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After

 

Did a brief armored combat demo for a boy scout gathering this last week, as a very last-minute thing I got talked into to bail other folks out who had agreed to do a fight show but had no partner, plan, props, costumes, or experience. I’d already turned down the job a week prior because I didn’t think I could do a job I’d be proud of, but in the end it worked out fine… despite the fight partner who’d been the one who agreed to the gig wandering in a few minutes after the job was supposed to start, and doing it in his shorts & t-shirt (no time to change into the costume stuff I’d brought for him). Professionalism, folks; allow extra time to get somewhere you’ve never been before, and arrive early – especially when you’re going to have to do an otherwise unrehearsed job!

 

I’m sure there’s pictures floating around from that somewhere online, but haven’t seen any yet. Didn’t have time to get my later-era harness up and fight-worthy (it needs a few fixes) so went with the maille hauberk plus pauldrons and gauntlets and helm, which was enough to make them happy, and for many of them to want a chance to get a picture of themselves wearing it (they did)… and for them to be amazed at how heavy it is (to them). The good thing about it being an 8am gig was that it wasn’t too hot yet, at least. I remember some very hot summers in Camlann Medieval Faire’s one-size-fits-none armor a decade or so ago…

Revolver Wrangling

Had a new one come up for me during a couple night shoots this week; An actor was using a real Smith & Wesson .38, firing a few half-load blanks in a fun noir-ish scene that called for him to be threatening one person, then shoot another and come back to threatening the first. I staged it with him starting just offline, shooting off frame (where there were no people), then coming back online after the shot (knowing there were no more live rounds in it after that). Misfire on the first take – somehow the cylinder had advanced two spaces, skipping the chamber with the round and landing on an empty one. I’d heard some clicking sounds earlier though, and the actor had been fidgeting with it some, so I figured he’d done something to advance it a bit while I went out of the room to watch in video village. Tried again, same thing. This was being shot on 35mm, so at this point none of us are happy about it, and the actor insists he’d done nothing extra. Did a test-fire, and it worked fine. Tried anticipating his same consistent error, and putting the blank in two spaces ahead instead of the one it’s supposed to advance (firing double-action). Another misfire, and this time I noticed the cylinder wasn’t locked. Fishy, but we’re all worried about film, so I load all chambers and just tell him not to bring it back on line towards the other actor. I also told him not to pull the trigger while moving the gun, but I’m not sure that stuck (keep in mind this is 3am).

 

Another misfire.

 

Somehow, the action of him changing targets while firing double-action was adding enough rotational force to spin the chamber erratically in that fraction of a second that it wasn’t in chamber lock. Ended up doing a smaller insert of just the revolver firing, single-action and already on the (off-screen) target, which worked fine. Odd though – mechanical action of the revolver (not mine) seemed just fine otherwise, and it locked up fine both uncocked and cocked. Something about that sideways motion the actor was giving it, or a little flick he was doing or something. Anyone ever run into that before?

 

Because this was an indoor, closed set with limited space, only a few firearms, and no great armoury staging area, I ended up just wearing the props both nights so I could be there whenever they needed them, and take them whenever the actors were done. Worked well, although it meant I couldn’t run out to my car without making other arrangements. Might need to explore a better multi-gun version of this for future shoots, maybe based on a Molle chest rig or something.

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The shoot also included a brief scuffle that I hope will make some good demo reel footage next Fall, and a few nice gun handling touches; the plot point about a single round in the revolver being shown rather than expositioned to death, a quick chamber-check of a semiauto later, etc.

Also amazed me how trusting some actors are; hand them a real revolver loaded with dummy rounds, and they’ll just point it at their head without asking to be shown the rounds or anything. Honestly folks, you don’t need to trust your gun wrangler that much: I won’t take it personal at all, and it’s better to risk some other wrangler’s exasperated eye-roll than risk getting shot on set. As much as some politics has tried to lump God & Guns together, firearms safety isn’t something you should take on faith. There are plenty of Darwin Awards involving guns already.

 

Old things put out to stable

I dream of a time when not every job has to be a rush job, while I also suspect such a time may not come for decades… when old age will add its own sense of urgency.

In the meantime, that remains the status quo, whether it be a crossbow prop that gets used in a Robin Hood play (still want to do more on this when I have time) a Maciejowski falchion I’m modifying for a production of Richard III, a scene analysis for an upcoming Michael Chekhov workshop, or what have you. Doesn’t help that I’ve already packed all my props – and then had to un-pack several times to find items for several gigs, including film shorts and that Richard III with Richmond Shakes/Henley St. Theatre.

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Signed copies of the book remain available at $35 shipped within the contiguous 48 states – I’d rather not have to move my remaining copies – and props are still theoretically available to those willing to return them by shipping them to me in Wyoming.

I’ve been working my first opera – a pro-bono job for my daughter’s school – as well as musical, film and stage productions, a couple teaching gigs, and the ongoing packing saga, as well as attempted downsizing (eBay isn’t ideal, but it works).

While I haven’t had the luxury of time I’d expected during this Summer, I have been able to keep up better on Facebook and other social media, including noting the current trend towards stabilized footage. Not only has this included items of historical note, like the JFK assassination, but also plenty of fiction and cinema; things like Cloverfield, the torpedo/ship attach scenes from Star Trek and Star Trek: TNG, and more. It’s gone from a video camera and editing feature to a readily-available tweak for old archival footage.

 

 

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Any volunteers to post a stabilized Bourne Supremacy? Unlike Star Trek and Cloverfield, that would actually improve things…

Video Projects

First, just as a PSA; Fight Designer, LLC is in the process of packing up for the Summer. The props will be going into storage for a few months while the move is made to Wyoming – the eventual new home will have tons more space, which I’m very much looking forward to, but in the meantime there will be a cross-country move (with three kids and two cats, taking about five days probably) and a rental property of some sort (TBA) for a couple months, while the new construction is being (partially) finished (the basement level is going to be up to me to finish later). SO… if you want to rent something, let me know soon, so I can keep stuff out for you. I’ll happily make you a deal if it means you can hold on to stuff until I’m in my new home, the ship it to me there. Less stuff to move.

 

On a similarly PSA sort of note… or perhaps more informercial, but I prefer to think of it as just a quick podcast, this video I made yesterday has been getting a fair bit of love on Facebook already. It was inspired by an image and a paragraph in Chapter Two of the Theatrical Firearms Handbook, and I’ve been meaning to make it for a while now. Having finished, I can finally pack the rest of my 1911s and drink those damn beers.

I’ve already had a couple  requests for more podcasts along these lines. If you’re interested, feel free to chime in with any questions or requests, although props stuff may be hard while I’m in transition. As for the book, the e-book version should be coming out soon as well, for those who have an overriding fear of paper-cuts (but not of prop firearms). I’d had some great feedback personally, but would love a few more Amazon reviews too if anyone has the time and inclination.

 

I also re-did my demo reel recently to include a snippet from TURN (my six seconds of fame for the year, I suppose, and my first “swordmaster” credit on IMDB) and at least some still grabs from Lincoln, The Abolitionists, and other projects from my time here in Virginia – as well as JourneyQuest, which I had missed before.

 

My third Robin Hood has now closed, and I’ll give a post-mortem on the props for that later since I was trying out a few new things. Detroit with Cadence (in partnership with VA Rep) has a little time left – mostly I was designing blood effects and advising on a few pratfall-type gags on that one; no real fights. Great cast.

With the semester done and grades in, there’s just a couple one-day gigs left in town before I move, with a possible Rapier & Dagger  SAFD Certificate intensive as well if we can pull that together in June. Contact me if you’re interested in that.

 

-Kevin

 

 

 

Props Projects

Catching up on some more sharing here… first, just a couple examples of what sort of basic customization I sometimes do on existing props. Denix makes the double-barrel wood and cast-metal prop replica “coach gun” shotgun, and it’s a staple of sorts. Not perfect for every project, but nice to have on hand. Sometimes it’s close enough it can be modified to work, though. I had one rental late last year that wanted a “J. Purdy & Sons British side-by-side engraved full sidelock shotgun” for the show Book of Days. Those things can look pretty fancy, but the basic shape is the same, so I was able to spend some time with a Dremel and get one of my Denix props looking a bit more the part:

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That’s actually a work-in-progress shot – it ended up with a bit more than that, but you get the idea.

 

Another drawback with the Denix models is that while the interior diameter of the barrels is right for putting dummy or spent 12ga shells in it, there isn’t the wider area at the chamber to accommodate the extra brass of the base, or the lip. On my sawed-off one I ground that out for a recent gig, to the point where it could fit dummy rounds and still close. Granted, it’s not perfect – being not designed to chamber anything, there’s also no extractor, so getting the rounds back out means getting a stick and poking them through from the other side, generally, but it’s still an improvement. I also dirtied it up a bit, as I’ve never heard of a mint-condition sawed-off. The barrel now looks a bit more like it was hacksawed, and there’s a bit more weathering on it.

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One other area where I’ve been tinkering when I can is in prep for an upcoming Robin Hood gig at a high school. They’ll be using aluminum swords, and wanted a mace or axe for the villain, as well as some bows. While I have a bunch of swords that work well for this, build off old leftover blade blanks from the Prince of Persia movie and use previously for another Robin Hood and many youth classes, I didn’t have the other items yet. I’ve got nice wood longbows but I’m not going to rent those out for school kids to dry-fire repeatedly, so I made a few PVC bows that still go through the motions but are cheap, durable, safer (probably only a few pounds draw weight) and could even end up being used as a melee weapon against the aluminum swords perhaps.

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Obligatory crappy selfie showing bow drawn

 

I also didn’t have any aluminum axes or maces, so I made an aluminum head to put on a spare handle for one of the Cold Steel trench hawks. Might paint the handle if they want. Thinking we’ll pair this with a buckler perhaps, since blocking with a quillion-free weapon can get a bit dicey.

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…and when I have more time, I’ll post a how-to and review of the DIY cloaks I made for the Beach Bash rapier & cloak workshop, for any sewers out there. They were a lot of fun to play with, and I only had one rip – not too surprising, as it was one made from fabric that had been sitting in my parents’ attic for about 37 years, having been bought at a customs auction some time in the mid-70s.

 

Beware the Ideas of March

I’ve been negligent on the blog, if justifiably so. Workshops every weekend last month; SETC one weekend, the Cincie Cease & Desist stage combat workshop the next (website’s out of date), LightsUp! Youth open house at Center Stage in Richmond the next (teaching four youth stage combat classes), then assistant coordinating and teaching at the VA Beach Bash last weekend.

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Mixed in with that has been some final edits on the book, which is now coming out actually a couple weeks earlier than planned (yay for being on top of things!), fight choreo for a few shows (Getting Away With Murder has now closed, Clybourne Park opens next week at W&M, Detroit just had a few production meetings so far and Robin Hood starts soon), some rental gigs (including some customizations I hope to make a separate post about soon), and my five classes I’m teaching this semester (four for credit, one for an SAFD certificate). Add to that some planning for next Fall (picking textbooks, online audition screening for scholarships, and soon looking at houses & schools in Laramie), the usual family stuff, and the life things that happen (like a bunch of work on my bicycle) and it’s been a bit busy.

One of the bits of gossip I got at the Beach Bash, from an Irish stuntman (worked on Vikings amongst many other projects) who I met on To Have & To Hold, was that tH&tH might actually come out next Fall. Would love to see that finally. That was where I earned my SAG card, doing about a week’s worth of ND Stunts.

 

So it’s been a great month of meeting stunt & stage combat friends both old & new, playing with both people & toys, and doing creative work. Short on sleep perhaps, but when you’re freelance that’s better than the alternative by far, and I’m extremely lucky to be getting to do what I love for a living. More actual content soon perhaps, but that at least gets us caught up and reminds folks I’m still alive and [usually fake] kicking!

 

Mixed genres in non-fiction

First things first: The book is now available for pre-order: http://www.focalpress.com/books/details/9780415733984/

It’s a bit cheaper on Amazon and Barnes & Noble than on the publisher website, and the marketing department apparently decided it would move at a higher price than we’d originally talked about (I’ve been trying to keep price down with things like B&W illustrations only, for example), but it’s still I think priced fair comparable to other stage combat texts.

Now to the other theatrical firearms and weapons use… in real life.

For those who haven’t been following the news, there’s a conflict going on in the Ukraine that feels like something out of the Taymor film Titus, or one of the many mixed-era Shakespeare stagings that many of us have worked on, and it may be increasingly the new face of civil conflict in our age of increased centralization of wealth.

Just look at some of these images:

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(AFP image)

Yes, that’s a trebuchet.

They are using other siege designs as well, including a slingshot shooting the modern version of Greek Fire:

…just like every medieval siege scene shot in the past two decades, it seems. Note the home-made plywood shield that walks by in that one too.

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There’s plenty of footage of riot police with shields doing a shield push, making a testudo, and other familiar formations, while protesters improvise shields out of tables and other scrap, and attack with a mix of clubs, rocks, improvised flame weapons, etc. If police ever get the order to open fire it’ll be a bloodbath quickly, and don’t think for a second they couldn’t (physically – not sure about emotionally, politically, and almost certainly not ethically although some of them do get put in clear danger). So far they’ve been sticking to less-lethal munitions and melee weapons:

A bit of a summary of the conflict here, with more compelling images.

In the meantime, the government (with necessary corporate assistance) is tracking, digitally flagging, and contacting everyone in the protest zone who has a cellphone. Technology works both ways – I’m sure some of these events were partially organized through social media, and they’re certainly being documented heavily through consumer electronics, but as long as the systems they run on are cooperating with or under the legal sway of the governments, some of that is subject to change at a moment’s notice.

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Many of us in stage combat or film stunts have been called upon to stage conflicts that made sense to both modern technology and period language and sensibilities, or for dystopian future visions of society that could blend the medieval and the modern, and in the past it’s been an exercise in creative problem-solving. I think that’s about to change, just as the truth we see now cannot help but be viewed through our theatrical lenses, be they tinted by

the barricades of Les Mis,

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“Let others riiiiiiiiiise to take our plaaaace…”

…or 300

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This is where we will make our stand…

…or the opening sequence of Gladiator,

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“People should know when they’re beaten, Maximus.” “Would you? Would I?”

…or WWZ,

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…or 1984.

Sometimes life imitates art, and that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes I hate it when I get things right.

News.com.au has a good gallery of images and is the source of most of those above: Here.

Edits to add:

Apparently there’s some straight-up SCA or re-enactor armor being fielded as well.

More on the weaponry being improvised, including these medieval images:

FreeCompany ArcherMore crazy images Here, and yes, the protesters do have some firearms as well. It’s just going to keep escalating, apparently.

OpposingShieldFormations

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