The Shadow's .45s:
An Interview with Steve Karnes, Motion Picture Armorer
A special thank you to Mr.
Karnes for taking the time out to do this exclusive interview
about The Shadow's Silver Heat .45 automatics from the movie and
his experiences on the set!
Webmistress: Can you tell me a bit more about yourself
and how you got into the movie armory business?
Steve Karnes: I am a Weapons Armorer in the motion picture
industry. I have been working in the film industry for 12 years.
As an armorer I am capable of repairing the weapons on location
or converting real weapons to blank fire. We also have gun handlers
that only handle the weapon on location but are not qualified to
work on them. I ended up as a motion picture armorer through a long
route. My family owns a business the making firearms for government
and law enforcement agencies. I left the firearms business and worked
in aerospace for a couple of years then was laid off. I was recommended
by a friend to a motion picture prop house called Ellis Mercantile
and became their gunsmith until they closed in 2000.
WM: What does a movie armorer do?
SK: A motion picture armorer is someone that converts weapons to
blank fire, maintains them in working order, repairs the weapons
both on set and at the armory, and instructs actors in their safe
WM: How did you end up working on the 1994
Shadow movie? What was it like? (Bonus question: Can you recall
any funny or amusing stories from the set?)
SK: I ended up on the set of The Shadow because of a problem
they had on the Thompson Submachine Gun that Tim Curry was using
at the Ambassador Hotel in LA. I corrected the problem with those
guns and was asked to come back on stage at Universal for the bridge
scene. It was real a shock being on location, as it was my first
time on a show, to see how many people it takes to film a movie
on location. Also the saying "Hurry up and Wait" must have been
said by someone that worked on films before. One of the funniest
things was when we were filming on the bridge when the villain was
firing the Thompson, the drum went flying out of [the submachine
gun] as he turned around.
WM: Did you know anything about The Shadow
before you worked on the movie?
SK: I knew about the show as Ellis Mercantile, the prop house I
worked at, supplied some props and the machine guns for the show.
WM: Were you in charge of all the guns on
set and supervised their use?
SK: I was in charge of the Thompson Submachine Guns as they are
a restricted item requiring someone to be with them at all times.
The Prop Master or his assistant handled the pistols. As for the
supervising of their use, it was a team effort as we watched each
other's backs to make sure that everything was safe.
WM: Can you take me through the design process
of The Shadow’s .45s from beginning to end?
SK: The design concept was from the art department on what the writer
thought the pistols should look like, and they were refined during
production meetings with the Prop Master.
WM: The .45s were known as “Silver Heat”. Out of curiosity, who came up with that name and why were these
guns given a name?
SK: The name was the writer's idea and was given to them as they were The Shadow's guns and had to state that in the script.
WM: Why was LAR Grizzly chosen to produce
the .45s? Could the guns be manufactured in the props department?
SK: LAR Grizzly was only company that was making an oversized
1911 type pistol. The Prop Master then explained that what they
needed for a pistol and the .45 Win Mag was chosen. As a one off
item, LAR had to back date their pistols to a 1930s look. The frame
was extended forward to the relief cut on the slide. Then the slides
had 2 inches added to them to match the length of the barrel. Also,
they left off the lightning cuts that parallel the slide and installed
Colt 1911 sights. Afterwards they were polished and then plated
with bright nickel. A motion picture armory could have built the
pistols; they would have started with a Grizzly and modified it,
but that would have been more work than just making them new by
WM: How many pairs of the .45s were made for this movie? Do all of them work (i.e. fire blanks/bullets), or were some of them props?
SK: There were 2 pairs of real pistols that were converted to blanks
only. Also 2 pairs of rubber guns for stunt use.
WM: Were you happy with the way the .45s turned out, and the way they looked onscreen?
SK: The Grizzlies worked fine with mods made for blanks.
Most blank pistols work about 85 to 90 percent of the time. They
looked great firing. Too bad they did not use the sound from the
pistols. That was one of the loudest blank pistols I have fired.
WM: Did you get to meet Alec Baldwin? If so, what was he like? Did he like the .45s?
SK: I met Alec Baldwin on stage for the bridge scene. He
was a very serious and professional actor. He was very nice to the
crew; every Friday he would buy dinner for the crew as thanks for
the hard week's work. Alec Baldwin did not like [the guns] at first
as he had a problem with the .45 Grizzlies. As he fired on the bridge,
the pistols would stop firing. We did this shot three times until
I noticed that because of the size and weight of the pistols, it
was causing the nose of the pistols to drop and his thumb to hit
the safeties. Once I noticed that had happened, I instructed Alec
to place his thumb in a lower position and it worked great.
WM: What happened to the .45s after filming ended?
SK: The pistols are still owned by the Prop Master at this time.
WM: What other movies have you done other than The Shadow?
SK: I worked on Escape from L.A., Route 9, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, We Were Soldiers, A Man Apart, Charlie's Angels: Full
Throttle, S.W.A.T., Collateral, Cursed, xXx: State of the Union, and War of the Worlds.
WM: What project(s) are you working on right now?
SK: Just finished up the season ender of The O.C. and worked on some pieces for the new show called Over There.
WM: If there was a sequel to the 1994 Shadow movie, would you like to be apart of it again?
SK: I sure would like to do the sequel but it's not up to me. The Prop Master has the choice on who does the guns. It happens
that way I worked on Firefly the TV show but not the feature film [Serenity (September 2005)].