I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the professional armorers at Independent Studio Services (ISS), where I was given access to the weapon vault and some of the most iconic guns in Hollywood history. At ISS, their talented gunsmiths not only keep the action rolling on film, but they also provide a complete machine shop with all of the proper permits and a crew capable of manufacturing anything that a director can envision. From the electric mini-guns seen in modern war movies to some really cool science-fiction-style blasters, ISS keeps churning out the hits.
With all of the history and inventory available at the vault, it would have been easy to write a book, let alone a magazine article. When I was discussing this article with the editor, I figured I'd include some of the "B-Roll" photos and information left over from the Terminator article that's running in the August issue of Guns & Ammo.
However, there are so many guns with so many stories, I couldn't resist, and had to go back. Thanks to Karl, the general manager, I was able to get some photographs and backstories on some of the guns that we figured fans of Guns & Ammo would appreciate the most.
Eastwood's Garand From "Gran Torino"
The "Get off my lawn" M1 Garand from the 2008 Clint Eastwood film "Gran Torino" is a real-life, Korean War-era M1. It's super clean, and hardly shows any wear at all. I asked Karl and Henry if it had been refinished, but they replied that it hadn't. They just looked long and hard to find a Garand that clean for the film. Karl told me that it had to be extra clean, as Clint Eastwood's character in the movie would have been obsessive about maintaining his firearms. This is one of those guns that had to fit the character, both in type and condition. This was my favorite gun aside from the Terminator's Plasma Rifle.
Heath Ledger's Flintlock from "The Patriot"
Heath Ledger's 2000 hit "The Patriot" has a special place in my heart because my Civil Affairs team, whom I was based with in Kuwait in 2003, watched it while huddled around a laptop computer the night before we crossed the berm into Iraq.
The musket Ledger uses in the film started life as a high-end American-made "kit gun," but that was before the magicians at ISS got their hands on it and turned it into a piece of art. Heath Ledger's character in the film was a sure-handed fighter who rarely missed. In real life, however, Ledger was just like the rest of us. He accidently dropped the rifle during a flubbed stunt, which resulted in the rifle being broken at the wrist. Luckily, armorer extraordinaire Harry Lu was on scene and repaired it almost as good as new. Harry recalled that they had to go with a repair rather than just replacing the rifle because it was such a unique piece that moviegoers would have noticed that it had been swapped out.
Another gun I discovered was a hand-built, non-firing replica of a classic Henry Yellowboy from the TV show "Bonanza." Up close, this hand-built "studio gun" honestly looks really bad. But the cool thing about it is that it not only represents the Golden Age of the TV western, but it also shows that comparatively, we are living in a Golden Age of guns. You see, the only reason that this replica exists is because there was no way the producers of the show could afford a rare, highly-sought-after rifle, like the Yellowboy, just to get beat up on screen. Karl said that, nowadays, they'd just buy a Henry reproduction for a fraction of the price of an original and be done with it, maybe just adding a little "wear" for effect.
Denzel Washington's 3rd Generation Smith and Wesson 4506 from the 2001 movie "Training Day"
I actually hated this movie, as it was a completely biased and ignorant hack job on my LAPD, but Denzel Washington was amazing in it, and I carried a Smith 4506 on patrol for a lot of years. In fact, I was the only "probationary " police officer at Rampart Police Station that had one in 1998. I asked my sergeant if I could go to the .45 transition school and he told me that I could only if I outshot him on the "bonus" course of fire. I smoked him, and one month later, I was strutting about with a 4506 in a Hoyt drop swivel holster on my hip.
Kiefer Sutherland's USP Compact
The USP Compact that Kiefer Sutherland defended the United States with as Jack Bauer in the series "24" is actually a fairly unremarkable little 9 mil compact. But the fact that Jack blasted so many terrorists with it makes me happy. As an aside, 9mm Luger, or 9X19, is the most popular round in blank-firing guns because the pressure makes it the most consistent as far as getting the loads to "tune" properly for muzzle flash and noise. Many iconic .45s have actually been modified to 9mm for exactly this reason.
So there you have it folks, Round One of my look at Hollywood guns. These iconic firearms don't even begin to scratch the surface of the inventory at ISS, I can't wait to show you the really far-out science fiction stuff in the vault. If you liked this and want to see a Part Two (hint, hint) give us some feedback below in the comments or on the Guns & Ammo Facebook page.