Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Palpable Ignorance

     Sometimes we don't know what we don't know.  Sometimes we don't want to.

     The fatal shooting on the set of the film Rust has provided a long train of examples of this.  They fall into two categories:

     One is obvious to anyone who has much experience with firearms at more than the most casual level: a lot of people in the film, news and related businesses have no clear idea of how firearms function, what the various parts of a revolver are called, and what they do.  From reporters who don't know enough to ask enlightening questions to pundit who launch off on tangents to an Assistant Director who apparently called a gun cold when he didn't even know the name of the spinny thing where the cartridges go, there's a lot of ignorance, much of it masquerading and knowledge.

     That lack of knowledge is one of the ways tragic accidents are enabled.  If you don't know how the thing works, you have zero business handling it in real life -- or telling other people how it ought to be handled.

     The other flavor of ignorance is about acting and the visual recording* of fiction.  Acting is a form of play, akin to the impromptu scenes and scenarios that children create with a few toys and costumes, with toy vehicles or dolls.  It's not "for real," but it can be very serious -- and a professional actor has to make it look real.  There's a lot of trust involved; the stereotypical acting exercise has one person deliberately falling backwards into the arms of one or more people who they cannot see, and relying on those people to catch them before they come to harm.

     Actors stage blood-soaked, deadly scenes -- and then the shout comes, "Cut!" and all the casualties get up and swarm to the Craft Services table for a snack, joking and gossiping.  The bottle broken over an actor's head is safe(ish) sugar "glass" or (more likely) a modern safe-breaking plastic; the baseball bat one actress bashes another with is painted foam rubber.  Nobody dies dead on a movie set.  Actors expect that.  And "actor time" is expensive; everyone else can be replaced, but once a part has been cast and there are scenes in the can, the production needs that face, that body, that way of moving.  You want the main actors in their role and concentrating on it, not bored, tired or cranky (or, heavens forbid, stoned).  You really don't want them injured -- especially since scenes are often shot out of narrative order, all the shots at one set or location get done before moving on to the next.  So the leads are pampered; lighting and camera angles are set up using same-size stand-ins with the same complexion and hair color as the actor.  This is not because those actors are inherently special, it's because they're costly if not impossible to replace.  It's a rare movie star who does much in the way of setup or even stunt work.

     Actors come to the set expecting everything will be laid out ready for safe play.  They expect everyone will go home safe after the day's production is done.  They are, in fact, about as responsible as kids with cap guns, dolls and toy trucks.  Every day, actors on stages, sets and locations do things that would get them or others arrested, injured or killed if done in the real world -- and they expect to do them safely.  They can't flinch or balk.  They are expected to trust.

     Add those two (or is it three?) kinds of ignorance together, plop in a generous dollop of distaste for the actor involved, and you get to where we are today, or where I was this morning, watching an online interview in which a reporter who didn't know what questions to ask was interviewing attorneys who were not present at the scene about precisely what happened, and getting replies as muddled at her questions while scurrilous comments about the actor, director, armorer, politicians and Hollywood in general scrolled alongside.

     You can't fake a working revolver that has to have the parts moving; you can fake the cartridges when the camera is looking into the muzzle, but whatever you use for that has got to provide the projectiles nestled in their chambers in the cylinders.  The simplest way is to load real bullets into empty brass, with either discharged primers or none at all -- and the only way to check for safety is with a close, detailed, intelligent inspection of every cartridge in the cylinder.  It's a job for a specialist -- the set armorer or gun wrangler.  If you're not a "gun person," professionally or on a hobby basis, you won't have the least idea what to look for.  Most actors are not shooters; there are a handful of exceptions but in general, they're about as likely to have detailed knowledge about guns as a demographically-comparable group of plumbers or accountants.  Sure, in a film with guns in it, their job is to look like they know what they are doing; and in a film about nuclear physics, the actors have to look like they understand that, too.  Nevertheless, they can't help with the Manhattan project.

     It's easy to sneer at people or classes of objects you don't like.  It's easy to dream up reasons why they are despicable.  It's a lot more difficult to realize that bad outcomes are not always a direct result of inherent badness or dislikability.

     We know who pulled the trigger, but past that?  Someone brought live rounds onto a movie set.  Someone loaded a live round into the revolver.  Someone who was responsible for checking did not check it properly.  Who are those someones?  I don't know, but I have confidence that local law enforcement will find out, if anyone can.
* A lot of people still say "filming" and a lot of productions do go to film in the first generation.  Others spool right to digital storage.  I'm hoping nobody is shooting on videotape these days, but it's not impossible.  But at some point between the set and your screen, these days it is stored and transmitted as bits.  So I'm going to use the generic term "visual recording."  Sound may come along, or it may get dubbed in later; sets and locations are full of extraneous noises and we'd probably all be surprised at how much dialog is looped in later, along with all the Foley work, other effects and music.


Dr. Coyote said...

You mean Alan Tudyk can't really fly a real spaceship IRL?
Crushed, crushed I am!

I will be so glad when the investigations, trials, etc. are done and this whole kerfluffell is over. OTOH, it has given me some clear criteria for a long overdue cleaning out of my regular-read blog bookmarks.

Pigpen51 said...

You would be amazed, or probably not, at how many people I have had angry when I have said that Alec Baldwin is not the first person that should be pointed at as far as being responsible for the tragedy on the set. How many say that he should have checked the gun, the 4 rules, etc.
I have just begun to say that until we have all of the facts released by an investigative authority, that we can't trust any report from some social media or television entertainment reporter. Everything that I have seen so far has been second hand and speculation.
Until charges are filed, the hatred of Hollywood is not fair, just like it was not fair that the left allowed their hatred of the McCloskey's in St.Louis for having guns when the BLM marchers walked past their home.
One of the most cherished principles of American justice is that we are considered innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers. Hopefully, in this case, that will be allowed to play out. The most important thing we should not lose sight of is that like most negligent shootings, this tragedy was avoidable, and hopefully, changes will come that will make is so that movie sets will become safer in the future.

rickn8or said...

I'm just waiting for the inevitable calls by The Usual Suspects that in order to ensure safety on movie sets, the rest of us must give up our guns.

Antibubba said...

Hollywood's list of rules regarding firearms usage on the set make our oft-recited "4 Rules" look like utter carelessness in comparison. As they should, since the 4 rules must be repeatedly broken to ensure realism. There hasn't been a fatal shooting on an American movie set since 1993, until now. So many rules had to be broken for this to happen. I suspect people were getting careless, breaking rules here and there without consequences.

Someone will be charged. It may not be Baldwin; but as one of the producers he is culpable in part.