In Elizabethan times, an ordinance was passed preventing men from wearing swords to the theater. Apparently, in an age where dueling was commonplace, the crowd could become overly enthusiastic and join the cast on stage during a fight scene. Because much of the audience knew how to fight, choreography was vitally important to the success of the production. If the fight scene was not convincing, the actors could be mocked or booed off the stage.
Today, action scenes are ubiquitous in movies and television, yet relatively few people are versed in violence and/or the operation of modern weapons. This allows directors and producers a lot of latitude when it comes to action scenes. Mistakes and errors are usually glossed over by the rapid pace of the show—it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to look good. For this reason, misinformation about firearms or tactics are often passed on from visual media to the literary world.
In the following sections, we’ll explore how and why some of these errors are created, how writers can recognize—and avoid—them.
Another common Foley error is the “multiple clicks on empty” error. Some guns, even when empty, will “click” each time the trigger is pulled. These guns have double-action triggers, which means that pulling the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer. Conversely, single-action and striker fired pistols can’t do this, they will “click” on empty only once.
Unless your cover is made out of steel, it’s probably not going to stop a bullet. Actors have safely hidden behind all manner of objects: overturned tables, sofas, garbage cans, et cetera, none of which would hold up against pistol fire, let alone high-caliber rifles. For the most part, that thin aluminum desk is not going to be very good at stopping rounds. Those bullets are going to zip on through and puncture all your favorite body parts.
In all fairness, a lot depends on the angle of the bullet as it strikes a flat surface. The more parallel the trajectory of the bullet to the flat plane it strikes, the more likely a ricochet. Think about skipping rocks off a pond and you get the idea. What about garbage cans? If it contains normal trash, probably not. And car doors? A lot depends on the internal structure of the door. So, yes and no here.
Here’s the big clue. If you see sparks fly off the desk or garbage can, it’s probably movie magic. Most household items aren’t made of the heavy steel that would produce that effect.
Diving and Rolling
Please stop doing this, I’m begging you. Ok, whining over. There are two issues here. First and most important, no trained professional shoots while diving through the air. It’s hard enough to hit a target under duress. Now add movement under stress, hitting a target can be difficult. Hitting a stationary target while you are moving is also difficult. And we’re only talking about lateral changes. If you add motion in all three dimensions, hitting the target becomes very unlikely. Then, of course, there’s the landing—nothing could go wrong here. A belly flop onto the floor without both arms to break your fall. Try it.
Second issue. Diving or rolling into a room or through a door. Nope. Never done in real life. Sure it’s quick and low, but you tend to lose situational awareness when you do a somersault. Better to come into a room actively observing the environment. You can make assessments and decisions, change direction, and accurately engage targets. When you dive into a room the only thing you are really concentrating on is where you are going to land.
It’s easy to recognize the cartoonish violence of a movie like “The Matrix” and view the way the actors manipulate the weapons with a skeptical eye. The errors that slip into gritty movies, that try to portray reality, are the ones that slip into the literary world. To avoid these errors, try to handle the weapons in your story or find an expert to proof your action scenes. Don’t believe everything you see on the screen. It is, after all, movie magic.