Gunshot reactions - say hello to my little friend
Updated: May 26
Many factors have to be taken into consideration when reacting to a gunshot in a fight scene for the big screen, TV or other productions. This article is ideal for someone who wants to understand the basics.
Are you thinking about becoming a stunt performer? This is for you.
"Say hello to my little friend."
It's that famous quote from the movie Scarface starring Al Pacino, a movie that is jam-packed with gunshots and good reactions.
*Spoiler alert (if you haven't seen the movie).
At the end of the film, Tony (Al Pacino) knows that he won't survive, so he decides to get as many bad guys as possible before they get him. He takes a grenade launcher-equipped M16A1 and shoots many before he is taken down too. Find out more about the movie here.
Reactions to a bullet shot are clearly explained by Andreas Petrides, a Stunt Coordinator, founder and instructor for the British Stunt Academy. Andreas explains, “wherever the bullet shot hits you, that should be the first reaction point. It’s like being punched.”
Look and learn from Andreas in this video. Click here...
The church scene in The Kingsman was a master class in shooting, fight timing and filming. I was lucky to be part of it with Colin Firth who, in that scene, truly was an unstoppable murder demon.
Gangs of London
Recently, I doubled the actor Colm Meaney on the Sky Atlantic series ‘Gangs of London’, an ultra gruesome thriller.
In a scene in episode one, I took a bullet whilst under the watchful eye of Stunt Coordinator Jude Poyer and Director Gareth Evans.
*Spoiler alert - Colm Meaney's character (Finn Wallace) is shot by a youthful assassin and he lies choking in his own blood. (Did he die? I won't tell you anymore because you need to watch the series). Click here...
The gun-type matters when reacting to a shot...
Prop guns used in movies can be real guns that have been loaded with blank ammo or a highly detailed replica. Normally, a weapons master oversees the use of weapons in a fight scene.
Of course, the gun-type matters when reacting to a shot. An assault weapon is designed to be deadly, four times more effective than a handgun.
Sound effects, shell ejection and flashes from the muzzle of a gun can be added after the filming with the use of CGI. The flash and smoke can be blended or feathered and the noise of the shot can be much louder. There are three stages of sound when a gun is fired - the blast, impact and crack.
What happens when a gun is fired at the human body?
This is important to know because the reaction of the body needs to be as realistic as possible.
The speed of a bullet from an average handgun travels at approximately 900 miles per hour. The body absorbs the momentum of the bullet and causes an expanded cavity, that damage can harm other organs even if they hadn’t been the target point. With a shot to the head, the victim normally loses consciousness and there is less suffering whereas a shot to the abdomen, back, groin or neck can sometimes give a delayed death depending on where the victim is hit. Whether a bullet is fired at a body from a rifle, hand or machine gun, it’s obviously going to cause damage. All those factors have to be included in the choreography of the scene.
It was definitely instant death for me in this scene in 'Angel has fallen' with Gerrard Butler and Morgan Freeman. I play Agent Simms and I am driving the president towards a roadblock.
So far, we've discussed the gunshot reaction comes from the point of entry and with the speed of the bullet travelling into the body, it is like reacting to a punch. We know that the reaction is effected by the type of gun but what other considerations are there when taking a gunshot in a performance?
Choreography: A gunshot sequence or just one shot in a performance, is normally in a scene involving two or more people and as part of a storyline. A fighting scene needs to be choreographed so there is structure, impressive action and with health and safety in mind. The fight scene should look effective and realistic. The angle of the bullet hit will make a difference to a reaction and timing is very important. In most cases, improvising could be dangerous and look messy. When actors are involved in the scene, not just the stunt performers, they need to know exactly what is going on and what is expected of them. The ability of the stunt performer and actor has to be a large consideration when choreographing fight scenes.
This leads me nicely to the topic of rehearsals:
The reactions to gunshots involve jerking movements and snap reactions so it's really important that all performers warm up their bodies before they start the scene. Believe me, you don't want to be getting whiplash from taking a shot as a stunt performer. You also need to practice the fall after the shot and in most instances, a crash mat is used with clever filming angles.
Much like we mentioned about the muzzle of the gun reacting after a shot is fired, CGI can be used with regards to blood splatting etc after filming.
Alternatively, actors or stunt performers can wear 'squibs' which are blood packs under their clothing. The squibs can be set off remotely or by the person who has it on their body. For maximum effect, the clothes that are worn should be of a thin fabric and for skin wounds, sometimes nose and scar wax is used with fake blood or blood gel.
In conclusion, the key factors for taking a bullet shot are:
Type of gun used
The angle of the gunshot
"This time the mission is a man...".
In the intense and emotional film 'Saving Private Ryan' where ‘the mission is to save one man’, the gunfight scenes are really impressive. Take the Omaha Beach scene for example where we see soldiers being shot under and on top of the water. Check it out, click here.
Look at the different reactions of the stunt performers and actors when they are caught up in some spectacular gunfight scenes in the top 10 gunfight movies.
I hope you found this article useful. If you want to discuss script breakdowns or other future projects, contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07770934916.