by Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald, published on November 24, 2009|
It does not take long into a conversation with Brian Kent to figure out that he is not easily star struck.
A veteran of more than 50 film sets, the 60-year-old has taught numerous actors the finer points of shooting guns as a movie armourer for nearly 25 years.
So perhaps it's not surprising that he casually drops into a conversation how he will be spending two weeks in Kananaskis Country working on something called Oliver's Arrow, starring somebody named Leonardo DiCaprio.
Oliver's Arrow is one of the many secret names for Inception, the top-secret, mega-budgeted sci-fi film that is operating in the mountains under tighter security than a G-8 summit.
But Kent didn't have to be sworn to secrecy. In the weeks before he was due to head out for a 10-day stint, he acknowledges that, much like everyone else, he doesn't know anything about the film. "I have no idea," he says.
Of course, Kent doesn't always have to know what the film is about. In his own words, his job as armourer on any set is to be "responsible for anything that fires and the safety of that gun firing."
Kent is not the head armourer on Inception, a film that has been cryptically referred to as a "contemporary sci-fiactioner set within the architecture of the mind." But the mind boggles at the possibilities of what might be "firing" on set. Featuring DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard and a hulking, concrete building perched in the mountains, one could imagine the temptation to be distracted would be high.
Kent doesn't think so.
"I don't get star struck," Kent says. " That went away years ago."
After all, Kent was the one who took actor Brad Pitt to the Longview ranch of Alberta film industry mainstay John Scott to instruct the actor in the harder-than-it-looks art of running and shooting at the same time for the film Legends of the Fall.
"My stepdaughter was 13 and was all excited about it," says Kent with a laugh. "I said, 'He's only an actor. It's no big deal. I just taught him how to shoot.' "
On Kent's Wall of Fame at his Inglewood gun shop, Pro Line Shooters II, there are pictures of Pitt, Burt Reynolds, Thomas Haden Church, Alfred Molina, Tom Selleck and Robert Duvall, who he casually calls "Bobby." He once questioned Kevin Costner about the size of a bullet hole Duvall blasted through a wall for the film Open Range.
"I said, 'Kevin, that's way too big,'" Kent said. "He said, 'Brian, it's a movie.' So I said, 'Just as long as you knew it isn't right, it's your movie.' But I learned that a long time ago. Your job is to alert them if something if glaringly wrong. You fight the fights you have to win and don't fight the fights you don't have to win."
Born in Drumheller, Kent admits he had no intention or desire to enter the film industry. In 1985, the producers behind the short-lived NBC action show Stingray needed someone to look after a gun on set. At the time, Kent was renting out some guns to a production company. His name was given to the show's producers and, a few hours later, he found himself immersed in movie magic for the first time.
"We shot down at the Lafarge plant," Kent says. "We smashed a car into the plant and blew the car up. It was fun stuff. So we went until five in the morning, I went home and got three hours sleep and went to work again."
The jobs kept coming and Kent continued collecting guns and other props. Soon, he had amassed an amazing collection.
As the jobs continued to roll in, Kent found himself overseeing more and more complicated productions. On the set of 1994's Legends of the Fall, Kent was head armourer and oversaw the gun requirements of more than 800 extras a day, plus the main cast. He also worked on the set of Paul Gross's sprawling First World War epic Passchendaele in 2007, a film known for its realistic war scenes.
"There was lots of guns, lots of action and lots of problems with the mud," he says. "Every night we had to power wash the guns and oil them, 130 or 140 guns a night. When everybody else got to go home, my crew were still there power-washing and oiling guns."
Still, even a seasoned veteran like Kent can't hide his excitement over an early encounter with a hero. When asked about all his experiences on the sets of films, he carefully selects one of the many photos from his Wall of Fame. The excitement that was missing when namechecking Pitt, DiCaprio and Costner suddenly appears in Kent's face.
It was from his second production, 1987's Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. He proudly shows the picture of a towering James Arness, the iconic actor who has played Marshal Matt Dillon for five separate decades in the series and TV movies.
"The first star I was really concerned working with was this man here," Kent says, holding up the photo. "It was the second one I did. I grew up with Gunsmoke when I was a kid. He was the first major actor I ever met and he was fantastic. He was such a gentleman, so professional. The whole crew was. It was just a dream to work with. I fell in love with working in the movie industry."