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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 use.


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 LAR.


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)].


 

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