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I was imagining the other day that most war films and scenes are filmed with people faking shooting. Sometimes wars scenes are not even using blank rounds, like in Star Wars. This leads me to wonder if anyone has ever filmed a major movie without using blank rounds, in order to provide some bizarre level of realism. One wouldn't have to worry about acting or special effects to make it appear real, but it would probably be too dangerous and illegal for most. Still Film has a long and crazy history and the human race has seen many movies.

nail gun blanks Has a major release non-documentary, non-simple art film ever intentionally used used live ammunition to film a scene?

Of course, many documentaries have footage of live warfare, and possibly some avant-garde video art exhibits have done so, but I mean just what we might consider a regular movie with at least a TV, VHS, or Theater release.

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    What's a "non-simple art film"? – Napoleon Wilson Dec 25 '17 at 21:29
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    I saw this question and thought "there's no way a whole group of people making a film could be that stupid." Guess I was wrong. – IllusiveBrian Dec 26 '17 at 2:24
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    Does The Crow count as intentionally ? – Drag and Drop Dec 26 '17 at 10:06
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    @IllusiveBrian To be fair, using blanks instead of live rounds makes film depictions of shooting appear very unrealistic, especially up close, and there are examples where it could be done safely. Drives me nuts when you see an up-close view of an actor shooting at a firing range or the like, obviously using blanks - if there was ever a place where you could safely use live ammunition in film, that would be it, but they don't, and you get a wildly unrealistic close up of a gun firing as a result. – HopelessN00b Dec 26 '17 at 18:02
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    Wow, has a major film ever UN-intentionally used live ammunition to film a scene? – insanity Dec 27 '17 at 6:22
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Yes, there were some. To name at least one (the earliest I could find proof link about):

The Captive (1915)

DeMille’s obsession with realism backfired when an extra, Charles Chandler, was shot and killed by a gun used as a prop on set. Later on, Blanche Sweet confessed that DeMille encouraged extras to use real bullets instead of blanks to create more realistic battle scenes.

Source: Wikipedia

Also Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

While filming Rocky's shootout with the police, one scene called for Cagney to be "right at the opening" as machine-gun bullets took out the windows above his head. At this point in his career, Cagney had experience with the unpredictability of using live gunfire and he later recalled that either "common sense or a hunch" made him cautious. He told Curtiz to "[shoot the scene] in process," and as he got out of the way, "Burke, the professional machine gunner, fired the shots". One of the bullets deflected hitting "the steel edge of the window," and going "right through the wall" where Cagney's head had been. This experience convinced Cagney that "flirting this way with real bullets was ridiculous".

Source: Wikipedia

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    Though using blanks doesn't guarantee you won't kill anyone. Brandon Lee was famously killed with a blank, and Johann Ofner was killed with a blank at the start of this year. Even more dangerous is if you don't think blanks are dangerous, as apparently Jon-Erik Hexum may not have realised when he fatally shot himself in the head with one. – Jon Hanna Dec 26 '17 at 22:04
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    Brandon Lee was killed with a real bullet. @JonHanna – Mouvier Dec 26 '17 at 22:15
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    @Mouvier - while that's true, it wasn't intentionally in the gun's barrel, and the gun was being used to fire blanks, as that was what the directions for the scene being filmed called for. The same thing could have happened with any other foreign debris lodged in the gun's barrel, which is why proper inspections of your equipment before using it are absolutely essential. – Jules Dec 27 '17 at 0:28
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    @Mouvier - It was a slug from a real bullet, used previously that remained in the barrel, but it's wasn't a live round being fired during scene. Perhaps Brandon would tell me it's a fairly irrelevant distinction. – PoloHoleSet Dec 27 '17 at 17:37
  • The Afghan filmmaker Salim Shaheen routinely uses live ammunition on set. (Although low-budget films produced in Afghanistan probably don't qualify as major releases.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Jan 2 '18 at 10:58
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In the 1961 Kurosawa film Throne of Blood, actual archers shot actual arrows at the walls next to the film's main star. Any one of the arrows could have killed or seriously injured him.

enter image description here

The process is all described in this short documentary.

Also, there is another example with live firearms ammunition in a movie, but it's not quite what you were asking for. In the 1981 film Scanners, the filmmakers needed to make it look like a person's head exploded from telekinesis. The effect didn't look right when they tested it with an explosive inside a dummy's head. So they set up the dummy and then shot it from behind with a real shotgun. Here's a 12-second clip of that scene.

But since the gun was never seen, I don't think that's a real answer to your question.

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  • As with the Scanners effects, the Poltergeist house implosion effect was also helped along with off-screen shotguns. – Adrian McCarthy Dec 31 '17 at 21:49
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    Worth noting it wasn't just Throne of Blood that did this; having real archers fire real arrows used to be a common thing in Japanese cinema. If the script called for you to get hit with an arrow, you would (so I'm told) wear a block of wood under your clothes to take the impact, and pray that the archer hit the wood and not you. – F1Krazy Jan 1 '18 at 9:50
  • props, BrettFromLA. props. – DukeZhou Jun 28 '18 at 20:44
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    Holy cr*p. The man must've required a new pair of pants shortly after. – Marc.2377 Apr 3 '19 at 1:33
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"Act of Valor" (2012) featured extensive filmography which included actual bullets being fired as well as active-duty SEALs.

per: On Active Duty for the Movies (Real Ammo), The New York Times

“We’ve never had a film where the principals were active-duty SEALs,” said Bob Anderson, director of the Navy’s Office of Operations West, in Los Angeles, the liaison between the Navy and Hollywood. Or, for that matter, he added, a movie that used live ammunition in battle scenes.

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I was reading about this recently (yes, it's Cracked.com, but it's well sourced).

Not only was this not an uncommon way of getting bullet effects, the crazy didn't stop with guns - The Birth Of A Nation used live cannon.

From 6 Terrifying Ways Films Used To Achieve Special Effects, Cracked.com:

6 - Action Films Once Used Real Bullets

In today's films, shooting effects are usually achieved with blanks, tiny explosives called "squibs," and if that's too much trouble, a dose of computer magic. In Hollywood's early years, they didn't have access to such fancy tools, so whenever gunfights occur in early movies, there's a good chance that they're really shooting at each other. If you lived near a film set, we're guessing you stayed inside that day.

They did have blanks back then, but that only lets you appear to fire the gun. To simulate a bullet hitting a wall/window/etc. next to an actor, well, they simply had a guy shoot it. If you needed some artillery fire for a war scene, same deal. All of the cannon fire in 1915's The Birth Of A Nation (the classic film that paints the KKK as the good guys, because 1915) is the real thing -- the pyrotechnics to fake it hadn't been invented yet.

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In the 1985 Soviet war film, Come and See, live ammunition was apparently used in some scenes.

According to the film's Wikipedia article:

The 2006 UK DVD sleeve states that the guns in the film were often loaded with live ammunition as opposed to blanks, for realism. Aleksey Kravchenko mentions in interviews that bullets sometimes passed just 4 inches (10 centimeters) above his head (such as in the cow scene).

I didn't find a better source for the claim than that, but in the video below, the director, Elem Klimov, mentions "real bullets hissing over their heads" while talking about the film. (The video is in Russian, but there are English subtitles.)

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    +1 In the cow scene, Elem Klimov straight up shot and killed the real cow, which makes it pretty clear that the ammunition was real. – default locale Dec 26 '17 at 16:14
  • In Soviet Russia, film shoots you! – Ram Rachum Jul 6 '19 at 7:35
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Face/Off used live ammo in some scenes.
Per Face/Off - Beretta 92FS, The Internet Movie Firearms Database :

A bullet leaving a pistol

During the shootout in the funeral home, many of the guns are shown in close ups, except they are at different locations than the scene takes place. This is because they are non-blank adapted guns firing real bullets in front of a high speed camera, to capture the bullet in flight.

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  • P.S. I can’t find a source, but I also remember seeing a making-of for Face/Off where they talk about using live ammo with in a scene where dozens of automatic rifles (basically modern machine guns) were firing, where they wanted more realistic muzzle flashes. – Geoffrey Booth Dec 31 '17 at 5:19
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This is a great question. The Day of the Wolves, an early 1970's, low budget crime caper movie used live ammo at the Swansea ghost town location (but nowhere else during the shoot). Live ammo was used for the "training" scenes of the wolves (criminals) firing into disused buildings.

Live ammunition was also used during filming of the John Landis segment of the twilight zone movie (the one that ended in the terrible accident that killed three people), mentioned here and a crew member from the production also confirmed to me. The live ammo is apparently the reason that Spielberg (co-producer with Landis on the movie) no longer speaks to Landis.

From what I've been told, it also wasn't that unusual to use live ammo in low budget Filipino action movies, but we're not talking about folks indiscriminately firing at each other, just scenes where it's cheaper to see the effects of bullets in action filming from behind the gun than laying down squibs.

However, industry professionals in the US and Europe will be somewhat aghast if live ammo is used, which is viewed either as dangerous corner cutting or amateurish production ethics.

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  • There's no need to add "edited to fix" comments, that's what edit history is for. – Luciano Feb 18 at 9:48

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