If you’ve ever seen a gun used in a movie and wondered why it was chosen for a particular scene, I can tell you. I’m one of those people literally behind the scenes. I work as a liaison between an armorer, a prop master, or a prop house and specific gun manufacturers on Hollywood sets. My mission is to get the right product into the right scene, and to have the gun seen in a good way.
So when my job takes me to the set of a TV show or film, I know I’m going to see some great actors using some cool guns. But the people I’m really there to see—the armorers and prop masters on the project—have to make sure everyone on set is safe, and to make sure that that not only does everything look accurate, but that everything works the way it should.
Guillaume DeLouche and Dave Fencl have two such jobs, and I caught up with them recently to talk about the latest installment of the blockbuster “Fast and the Furious” franchise, “Furious 7.”
Earning over $65 million on its April 3 premiere, and close to $150 million on its opening weekend, “Furious 7” is the most recent chapter in the series of films that have generated over $3.1 billion in box-office revenue worldwide.
DeLouche was prop master and Fencl was key armorer for both “Fast Five” and “Furious 7,” but the two have been working together since meeting during production for “Swordfish” in 2000. We first talked about what they do before they even start a project of this size.
“Even though we’re seven movies in, we do a lot of research and have a lot of contacts with different law-enforcement agencies,” said Fencl. “We want to make sure we use the proper gear.”
“We try to get items that will please the audience, will flow well, and that will function flawlessly with all the various stunt sequences. We also need the guns and other gear to make sense for the period, the geography, and the background of the characters,” said DeLouche. “And, with Paul Walker, it had to pass his quality control. Paul was an accomplished shooter and tactician. He handpicked every item for himself.” (Walker died in a car accident on November 30, 2013.)
Given that this film is the seventh in in the series, you expect to see at least some familiar faces. I asked if the same could be said for the guns.
“Yes,” said DeLouche. “Hobbs’ (Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock) Smith & Wesson Model 629 custom .44 Magnum is back and it has a one-of-a-kind holster. We built it ourselves using two different Safariland holsters. But Vin (Diesel) always gets a bigger, better shotgun.”
Anyone who is fan of the series will recognize Hobbs’ gun from previous films. But there are some new guns in the film as well. Walker’s character has seen some significant changes from his days as an FBI agent.
“Paul transitioned from Sig 226s and Glock 22s to a S&W 1911 E-series for his carry piece, fitted with Crimson Trace’s excellent laser grips,” said DeLouche. “Though he also uses a Sig (taken from a bad guy), he carries a backup Glock 23 in a chest rig, and a Glock 18 in a drop-leg. For the final battle we see him prep an LMT custom AR .308, and an H&K MP5K.
“All of Jason Statham’s stuff was new and fun. It had to be very exotic and have a European terrorist flair, like those groups in the 80s his character would have hunted down, so we gave him an Accuracy International Sniper Rifle that we made into a takedown, a CZ Scorpion, an IMI Micro UZI, and a SIG 556 Commando with grenade launcher,” said DeLouche. “In his lair, as he prepares, you see an even more impressive array of weapons.” These include a Serbu Super Shorty, a SIG P228, an HK MP5 K, and a suppressed Ruger MKII.
On a project this large, and with so many behind-the-scenes people who have firearm experience, how do prop masters and armorers make those choices about what gear to use and what guns to choose?
“I have meetings with the director and offer some options provided by ‘Point Blank Props,’” a company owned by Dave Fencl, said Delouche. “We then figure out what the action sequences are and how the guns will be used. Then we budget everything and start acquiring and building.”
“And in the end, a lot of the time, that’s not really up to us,” said Fencl. “It could be the director, or the production designer, or the actor who will have the final word. It’s our job to show them what’s correct and to supply them with what they want.”
Delouche and Fencl are dealing with real firearms that are highly modified to fire blanks. That means they have to make each gun do something it was never designed to do. From restricting the barrel and replacing the standard ammunition with blanks, to making full molds of others to later be cast in several different mediums, the two have skills of an armorer, a gunsmith, and a range master—and could probably teach a pretty great crafting class on the side.