Happiness is a Warm Gun
On the set of my second movie, Victim’s Song, we had a gun. It was a prop gun. It only fired blanks. That being said it was loud as hell and had a muzzle flash. So I wanted to make sure people didn’t play with it.
I should back up.
When I was in college I bought a gun off a fellow student for thirty bucks. It was an old Colt .45. Standard-issue for the American military from 1911-1985. No clue where this kid got it from. He actually brought it to school and we made the transaction in class. I should at this point mention that the gun no longer fired. Something internally was broken and the clip was missing. For me it was just a prop gun.
I was a huge action movie fan back then. John Woo’s The Killer and Hard Boiled were huge inspirations. Most of my college videos revolved around people wearing sunglasses and slow-motion gun battles. They had titles like Payback and A Prayer for the Guilty. I had started with dollar store guns. Using single-frame shots of a candle flame through hole in black paper to impose muzzle flashes over the fake guns. By the time I got my .45 I was painting muzzle flashes directly onto the footage one frame at a time using Photoshop the Avid. And I needed a lot of them. Everyone shot everyone. There were few survivors.
I was young. I was impressionable. And back then I was more into directing cool shots than developing story. I only thought about the images I was going to get. People were doing flips and dives and shooting. Always shooting.
But it was this specific purchase of the Colt .45 where I realized just how sexy a gun was to everyone else. The day I bought it everyone else in class asked if they could hold it. I figured why not. I took kindergarten. I know how to share. And so the gun was passed around the room like a slut at a frat party. Everyone had their hands on it. After awhile I felt a little weird. Like, hey, stop playing with my gun.
Flash forward a few years. I was out of college now. Making my first feature, Misdirected. I had grown out of action shoot-’em-ups and moved on to comedy. But lo and behold, the .45 was a prop again. And once again, cast and crew alike, no one could keep their filthy mitts off this freaking gun. Spinning it on their finger. Holding sideways (gangsta-style). It was everyone’s favorite toy. And once again I had to take it away from them.
Flash forward a few years. I’m now on the set of Victim’s Song. A crime drama this time. So of course there’s a gun. But the .45 wasn’t going to cut it this time. I needed a functional weapon that could fire blanks. This time I bought a legit blank-firing prop gun off a website. That day on set I made an announcement that only myself and the actor who needed to fire it were allowed to handle the gun. No one else was to touch it. It wasn’t to be played with. Fake or not, it’s still a gun, and it’s not a toy. Everyone nodded like they understood. Still, more than a few hands drifted to the weapon over the next hour; stopping just shy of actual defiance, always weary of my gaze.
The actor only needed to fire the gun once. We shot two takes for safety. Then we were done. Because the heat from the gun was so great that it caused the barrel to seize. I couldn’t wrestle it open after that.
Later I would realize just how many scripts I wrote that contained a gun. I suppose it’s pretty basic. A gun equals drama. Take two people, toss a gun into the room, something’s going to happen. Maybe they don’t shoot each other. Maybe it’s about, what do we do with this gun? But something’s going to happen. It’s not a hammer or a burrito.
I realized that a gun was not only instant drama, it was cheap drama. I decided to dedicate myself to writing movies that didn’t involve guns. Hard as it might be. I can do better.
It wasn’t meant to be a statement about anything. Just simply a test to elevate my storytelling past the simple crutch of a gun.
And half a dozen scripts later I can confirm that I have failed. Failed. Failed. Failed.
I mean shit. That’s hard.
Some were impossible to get around. Crime drama pretty much implies gunplay. But even my comedies had them. Most times I didn’t even make it to page 10. Even now, being as aware as ever about this, the current character-driven script I’m writing about children has a gun in it. Come on!
But I still have my goal. Some day it’s going to happen.
What started as a simple writing test to improve my writing has evolved for me personally. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized I’m no fan of guns. I don’t think they should all be outlawed but I’m very aware and very concerned with the glorification of guns. Especially as a problem-solver. America has become an easily manipulated culture of guns.
It makes me very sad to see the thousands of Americans die every year by gun violence. So many being accidents where children were involved.
It takes me back to college. When a room full of intelligent adults with varying backgrounds and perspectives all just wanted to play with a gun. And I was no better. Apparently I’m still not.
I blame TV.
Looking at you, the News.