Armorer Bryan Carpenter agrees. He also manufactures real and fake guns to rent for film and TV productions through his business Dark Thirty Film Services in New Orleans. Having worked as a private military contractor, he also trains actors to use those weapons. He believes modified real firearms always look better than using computer generated visual effects.
"And the audience appreciates it," he says. "Take movies like Heat or Saving Private Ryan or Lone Survivor and all of these very gritty, visceral movies that invest the audience into action ... you feel like you're there."
He says that's because shooting blanks looks realistic. "Now, can [visual effects] maybe eventually catch up to that? Maybe so. And if it does, then I'll be the first one to say, hey, anything that you can do safer, that's just as good? By all means, let's do it."
Van Sickle says there's no need to outlaw real weapons on set as long as everyone follows long established safety protocols. He says anyone on set can ask to inspect weapons. Before the lawsuit was filed, Van Sickle said based on what's been reported, he believes the well established protocols didn't seem to have been followed on the Rust set.
"You can't just outlaw stupidity, unfortunately," he said. "But if we can ensure as an industry that we all stick to the rules that we have all agreed to when we attend that safety meeting right after call time—if we can all follow those rules, which we have been for decades, everybody goes home safe."
Armorers interviewed for this story emphasize the kind of accident that happened on Rust's set is extremely rare. But Van Sickle admits there are no licenses or certifications required for those handling guns on sets.
"There is no school, per se, for armorers," he says. "Ninety percent of what we learn is through an apprenticeship program. You have to work with someone who has been doing this longer than you have."
That's another reason why, he says, following the protocols is so important.
"It's not our call, it's their call"
Cinematographer Eakin and others say those guidelines are not enough: "Human error is always going to happen. But we can take the deadly weapon out of it and bring that risk down to zero," Eakin explains.
As long as there are real guns on sets, prop master John D. Bert says productions might start with writing uniform safety standards into their contracts. And he suggests other changes.