Director Chad Stahelski of the John Wick franchise has seen gun-related tragedies on set first hand. He certainly wasn’t present on the set of Rust in 2021 when actor Alec Baldwin accidentally discharged a prop firearm that had somehow been loaded with live ammunition, resulting in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. That incident, still being litigated today, kicked off a huge national debate on firearm safety, responsibility and procedures in Hollywood film, but the issues exposed by the Rust shooting have been around forever. Chad Stahelski knows this in a very personal way–his career as a stuntman and body double got started around the same time he filled in for star Brandon Lee after the latter was killed by a prop gun misfiring blanks during the filming of 1994’s The Crow. Stahelski has understandably been against the use of real guns on set ever since, something he reiterated in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Asked about the Rust incident in the interview, this is how Stahelski responded:
What happened on Rust … I wasn’t there, but the accidents that I’ve been around, seen or been part of have always been human error. It’s never mechanical. So, let’s just talk about firearms. Back in the day, when it all started, they came up with blanks. A blank is a bullet without the projectile, but they couldn’t put you and me in the same shot, 5 feet apart, and one of us pull the trigger. The concussive force coming out at the end of the barrel would be enough to shatter your skull. Accidents like that did happen and people died because of it. But in the past 10 years, they’ve come out with electronic guns, plug guns where it is impossible for anything to come out of the barrel and total CG. That’s the way we do it. That technology is out there for everybody.
This is significant, given that Stahelski is now one of the most high-profile directors working in the action movie world today, with the John Wick series being both critically acclaimed and highly successful at the box office. In fact, those who have opposed tighter regulation of guns on movie sets, or the use of solely nonfunctional prop weapons, have often claimed that instituting stricter rules would potentially rob audiences of gun-heavy movies such as John Wick. Well, Stahelski says otherwise. However, he also goes on to note that the biggest problem in studios voluntarily embracing or being mandated to change their practices is the built-up economy that surrounds the use of prop weapons in Hollywood–the prop houses, armorers and supply houses that will fight such changes tooth and nail. As Stahelski put it:
My feeling is that there’s no reason to have a live firearm on set. We can create cities and spaceships and Godzilla and all these things. We have the technology to do the same with firearms. But, for the last 100 years, Hollywood’s been using real firearms. And for prop houses, armorers or supply houses to switch over, it would make their entire stock of real firearms useless. It comes down to the fact that it would cost certain people a great deal of money to switch over. No one wants to say that, but that’s the real reason. You don’t need firearms. The alternative is just going to cost you more money.
And at the end of the day, that’s where we are in Hollywood today–it’s still cheaper to use real guns, so the real guns remain. But perhaps more studios will follow Stahelski’s example in the future, in the name of safety.