- Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed one person and injured another Thursday, authorities said.
- Lucien Charles has been a prop master for 17 years and ensures prop-gun safety on TV and film sets.
- Here’s what his job is like and how he keeps the actors he works with safe, as told to Lauryn Haas.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Lucien Charles, a 49-year-old prop master from New York City about his career and safety on set. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve been a prop master for 17 years and I’m a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 52. I went to film school, moved to New York in 2004, found out about the union, and realized it was easier to make money this way than trying to find money to make movies, so I started working on movies and doing side projects when I was in my 30s.
I worked on “FBI: Most Wanted” before COVID-19. Right now, I’m working on a Morgan Freeman movie with Florence Pugh written and directed by Zach Braff. I’ve worked on the new “Sex and the City” season and the “Jigsaw” show on Netflix, which they’re shooting now with Giancarlo Esposito. Earlier this year, I did “The Last O.G.” with Tracy Morgan.
I procure the props for the actors so they can tell the story, may it be a watch or a wedding band. I also work on securing vehicles so they can drive cars. I get the license plates and registrations, and I have other duties like getting chairs out for the producers, the actors, and the director. I work with a crew, so I’m not doing all of this by myself. I also get props for the background, so if the actors are working on Wall Street, you’ll have briefcases, coffee cups, and newspapers just to set the scene.
I also work with weapons, and there is a training process
The training comes from the vendor weapon specialist who provides a gun-safety course, which the actors have to take. They teach you gun safety, how to handle a gun, and what could happen if you’re not paying attention to the safety of everyone on set.
Prop masters are the last person to hand an actor a gun, and the person who gives the actor a gun is responsible for it. You have to go through the proper procedures to show the actor if the gun is loaded or not, and if it’s not, if it’s plugged, when a piece of plastic or wood clogs the magazine. There are a whole bunch of scenarios, and a lot of stuff could go wrong.
People on the set being close to a prop gun is very dangerous. The blast of a prop gun can kill you, depending on the load that the gun has. Prop guns are designed not to shoot up for the projectile because they put a stop in the front, which is a certain size based on the load spring. That’s to give the gun a flare look and make it look like it got fired. If anyone is inches from this type of gun, that blast can kill you.
I’ve never experienced anything as tragic as what happened yesterday on the ‘Rust’ movie set on any sets I’ve been on
The woman who was killed must’ve just been too close to the blast, but it also depends on the weapon that Alec Baldwin had.
The type of gun ties into a lot of stuff. If you have an M4 and you have a full load, the blast is going to be a little longer. I don’t know the timeline of history for this story or what year they’re doing – that’s information I don’t have, so I don’t know what happened there.
All I can say is never point a gun at somebody when you’re firing, and everyone nearby has to be more than six feet away. Just have it slightly away from the person you’re supposed to be aiming the gun at. The guns also shoot off the shell, so you don’t want to be standing to the right side of the gun because the shell comes out hot and it could hit you on the face and burn you.
I’ve never been afraid on set because I always double- and triple-check weapons
If a gun is not firing in a scene, there are no bullets in there. If they have a revolver where you can see the bullets, I make sure it’s loaded up with dummy bullets. They have a whole band inside and you load them in front of the actor so they know what you’re giving them. I also do a lot of gun checks with my actors to show them an empty magazine and that there’s nothing in the barrel.