Brownstein: gun safety a serious topic for Montreal stuntmen

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“Even with all of these measures in place, I still had so much apprehension about an abnormal accident occurring on set.”

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Robyn McNicoll jumped off buildings and bridges, was plunged into raging rapids, survived a mock hanging, and found himself behind the wheel for car chases through crowded city streets, but little scared this veteran Montreal stuntman more than film and television action involving a gun play.

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Over the course of her 35-year career, McNicoll has shot and been shot several times with propeller pistols, but due to strict safety rules on set she has managed to avoid any type of injury.

McNicoll, like most people in the trade, was shocked to learn of the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the western Rust in New Mexico. Alec Baldwin, the star of the film and one of its producers, was rehearsing a scene in which he removed what he believed to be a “cold pistol” – one without live ammunition – from its holster when he discharged himself, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

“My jaw dropped when I heard about this. I just couldn’t believe it. How the hell could this happen? I don’t know why there would be live ammunition in there, ”said McNicoll, who has doubled for Catherine Deneuve, Amy Madigan and the late Margot Kidder over the years. “The security measures surrounding guns are so strict on our sets, especially with guns. The stunt coordination services have gun handlers, gunsmiths, and they are the only ones allowed to touch them. And whoever is going to use guns… we’re shown how to handle guns and safety latches, and we’re always told if the gun is cold before using it.

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“We are supposed to be able to fully trust the system when it comes to verifying guns. But even with all of these measures in place, I still had so much trepidation about an abnormal accident occurring on set. I’ve played an assassin shooting guns and been shot and killed so many times onscreen, and there’s always a little trepidation with these scenes, even though the guns are never pointed at you and that nothing ever happened tome. “

Even with all the procedures in place, McNicoll concedes that she is still “hyper vigilant” on the security measures and “checks them two and three times” before doing a stunt.

“I never trusted anyone from any angle, which is probably why I always walk around,” she said. “It’s about paying attention and talking to everyone about stunts, especially those who handle guns. If I was ever on a set and even suspected it was dangerous, I would be out of there in a flash. “

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“In the props I used, they were never able to put live ammunition in the guns,” says Montreal actress Ayisha Issa.
“In the props I used, they were never able to put live ammunition in the guns,” says Montreal actress Ayisha Issa. Photo by Dario Ayala /Montreal Gazette files

Montreal actress Ayisha Issa enjoys doing many of her own stunts, including those involving firearms for which she has extensive training.

“In the props that I used, they could never put live ammunition in the guns. They wouldn’t work or fire at all if they did. Either way, I would never load any guns myself. And the guns should all be cleaned thoroughly before they are handed to me, ”said Issa, Gemini Prize winner for Unit 9 and one of the stars of the CTV / NBC Transplant medical series.

“There is always a risk, but this (rust) accident, while looking like a fluke, is a shocking reminder of what can go wrong,” Issa added. “Still, I can’t think of any other safety precautions that any set I’ve been on could take to prevent this. There are so many steps taken to prevent accidents.

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“We have never had a live tour on any of our sets,” explains stunt coordinator Jean Frenette.
“We have never had a live tour on any of our sets,” says stunt coordinator Jean Frenette. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette files

“Totally incomprehensible,” said Montreal stunt coordinator Jean Frenette. “I was shocked to learn of (Hutchins) passing. I can’t believe there was such a lack of protocol. There are never any live games on the set. It doesn’t make any sense at all. “

Frenette began her on-screen career as a stunt performer in Montreal 40 years ago and later became a stunt coordinator and action director on productions across North America. He has worked with firearms on dozens of movies and TV shows, always without incident.

“We’ve never had a live tour on any of our sets,” said Frenette, who has just finished production of the prequel to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary as well as two streaming series, Jack Reacher and See. “There are also different levels of white, where there is a different flame going out but nothing else. And, of course, you never point your blank gun at anyone. I don’t understand how (Baldwin) pointed his gun at people on set. This is the gunsmith’s job, and the stunt coordinator and assistant director must also take care of it.

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Frenette pointed out that there are now also very effective CGI visual images and sound effects that can easily mimic the look and sound of a discharged gun.

“If you don’t follow the book and the producers try to cut corners to cut costs, that’s when accidents can happen,” Frenette said. “Maybe that’s why the film crew (Rust) moved away from the film before the accident. It’s very sad, but it shouldn’t have happened.

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  1. Alec Baldwin talks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, NM, after being interviewed about a set on the set of the movie Rust on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Thursday 21 October, 2021. Baldwin fired a gun at the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza, officials said.

    Alec Baldwin heartbroken in gun crash, issues reported on set

  2. A distraught Alec Baldwin lingers in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, NM, after being interviewed about a set on the set of the movie Rust on the outskirts of Santa Fe, the Thursday, October 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a gun at the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza, officials said.

    Alec Baldwin seen consoling the family of slain cinematographer as problems mount

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