LOS ANGELES – Not so long ago, Hollywood honchos paid little attention to the accuracy of weapons use on the silver screen. For example, in 2001’s “Pearl Harbor” Cuba Golding Jr.’s character sprays heavy machine gun fire at a Japanese fighter flying between his battleship and another vessel – which means he would have been firing directly into his own ship.
And in 2003’s “Matrix Reloaded” in which the French guy's henchmen shoot at Neo with different types of rifles with different calibers, yet when lead character Neo (Keanu Reeves) stops the spray of bullets, they all happen to be 9mm caliber rounds.
That’s not realistic.
Today, attention to technical detail has become a much bigger priority for filmmakers.
“We've come to a time when the audience is demanding more and more realism in film and TV. Filmmakers understand this, and if they don't yet, they soon will when their movies bomb,” explained military movie advisor Tony Repinski. “Audiences are more engaged in movies where they feel they’re learning something new or getting an education. It’s important to show the most effective and efficient way of handling a weapon, transitioning to a second weapon, changing magazines and engaging a threat looks the best on screen.”
Action movie legend Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees.
“All of the stuff you do now needs to be second nature. We trained for months with the L.A. SWAT team, we really had to get our act together with things like how to breech doors,” he said in reference to his recent film, “Sabotage.” “And we felt a sense of respect for the people we were working with, we wanted to do them justice.”
And when it comes to military movies especially, more veterans are also being hired to oversee the technicalities on-set.
“It’s important to show the most effective and efficient way of handling a weapon, transitioning to a second weapon, changing magazines and engaging a threat looks the best on screen,” said Repinski. “Audiences are more engaged in movies where they feel they’re learning something new or getting an education.”
But even fantastic stories have an obligation to get it right.
“Even great films like ‘Die Hard’ were filled with inaccuracies, but that was a different time and that wouldn’t fly today. When I train actors, the one movie I reference is ‘Collateral’ (2004) and the back alley scene where Tom Cruise gets his briefcase back from the two gun-carrying thugs,” Repinski said. “You can see how Cruise uses his body posture to lure the bad guy in closer so he can effectively swipe his gun offline, then swiftly thumb his jacket aside to unholster his own gun and engage the target as soon as his barrel is clear. It’s smooth, it’s fast, and it’s how you get things done.”
Some experts also credit the advancing video game culture for improving tactical techniques in film.
“You have to look at games like ‘Call of Duty.’ They are very tactically accurate and very sophisticated,” said famed action movie writer/director, David Ayer, whose credits include “End of Watch” and “The Fast and the Furious.” “These days, audiences enjoy it when it is done right.”
But even so, there still has to be a fine balance struck between being errorless and entertaining.
“They spare no expense to create the most immersive experience possible, down to the minutiae,” observed Joel Lambert, who worked as the motion capture subject for the recent “Call of Duty” video games. “However, looking ‘real’ but not slowing down the action is the goal. It's along the lines of the impossible number of weapons the player can carry, or how quickly he can switch between them.”
And while strides have been made, Hollywood’s top priority is not to showcase believable marksmanship, but to tell a good story.
“There has been a push for accuracy in film; however actor training is a difficult subject. Live fire training carries inherent risks and an actor’s time is valuable and costly especially when that training is not being filmed,” added Mark Semos, the technical advisor on last year’s “Lone Survivor.” “The film industry is made of business’s whose goal is to make money. If their box office numbers or test audience scores suffer from a lack of authenticity, then they’ll make the appropriate moves to remedy the problem.”
Follow @holliesmckay on Twitter.