The Black Dog poster that never was since Kevin Sorbo pulled out of the project

At the Gun Range with Meatloaf & Hercules

Back in 1997 I worked on a B-grade truck-driving action film called Black Dog, starring Patrick Swayze, Meatloaf, and Randy Travis. Here’s a link to an article I posted featuring behind the scenes stories from that production. But here’s one more story about the time I went to the gun range with Meatloaf, Hercules, and Randy Travis.

Patrick Swayze replaced actor Kevin Sorbo in the lead role very early in production, but not before our department hosted a “getting to know your gun” seminar for Sorbo, Loaf, and Travis at a local police gun range somewhere east of I-285, south of I-20.

This is that story…

Propmaster Ron Downing had scheduled a meeting to provide the star actors a show and tell with the weapons they would be using in the film. Prop Department members joining Ron was his Assistant, Steve George, 2nd Unit Propmaster Joe Connolly, and 2nd Unit Assistant, me.

Blank fires don’t feel quite the same as shooting live bullets, so this was both an opportunity to give the actors a better impression of what the guns would feel like in real life and to instill a deeper sense of gun safety.

The Gun Range

I arrived a little early, giving me time to observe people on the rifle range and noticed that one of the guns was incredibly loud.

Every time the guy squeezed off a round the air seemed to explode and every car in the parking lot jumped 16 inches into the air. It felt as if a linebacker had just ran past and slapped you in the chest.

One of the attendants explained that the shooter was using a rifle typically used out West for hunting Bighorn Sheep. You had to wonder how many pieces of bighorn sheep would be left over after getting hit by one of those bullets.

The Actors Arrive

Pretty soon our actors began showing up at the range.

Not only were we hosting the wildly popular television hero Kevin Sorbo, we also found ourselves greeting stadium-filling super rockstar Meatloaf and modern Country Legend Randy Travis. Mr. Sorbo and Mr. Meatloaf (“you can call me ‘Meat'”) arrived in regular vehicles but Randy showed up in his tour bus.

Ron’s weapons class went cleanly with only a moderate amount of testosterone.

The prop guys were all business about the weapons, intent on making sure that the actors understood how dangerous the things could be even if only firing blanks.

Meatloaf brandishing a pistol

Actor Stories

In between turns with the guns the actors swapped stories.

“Meat” talked about the times when he was touring Germany in the 1970s. He said that he would spend his off days in London, holed up in a hotel somewhere watching rugby matches. Interestingly, he wasn’t obesely fat as I’d imagined. He had a short, CEO-style haircut, was smoking a cigar and talking a lot about stock investments and golf.

Completely not the messy Chris Farley meets Jack Black image I’d always had of him.

Kevin Sorbo was self-effacing and listened carefully to the safety talk. It was evident that he was the most safety aware of the three. Probably all of those safety meetings on the set of Hercules.

Randy Travis is not a tall man like I’d always assumed. I caught myself staring down at him and didn’t do that again. He was wearing a T-shirt that showed off his biceps and some white sneakers. Despite his urban look he was still a cowboy at heart.

At one point he stepped away and went back to his bus, only to return to show us some period Western revolvers that he’d recently purchased. These were real cowboy guns and when he gave the barrels a spin they whirled around like tumblers in a precision German lock.

Live Bullets on the Gun Range

Once the training session wrapped up the actors departed for their hotels. Joe and I helped Ron and Steve load the weapons back into the van, then they left.

Finally, Joe and I began walking back toward our cars across the now-closed rifle range. We were escorted by an older looking DeKalb County officer who worked at the range as an attendant.

About halfway across we passed in front of a a weird metal sculpture sticking out of the ground. One of us asked the officer what it was.

Bad idea.

“Oh, this? This is a target!!” he called out before pulling his firearm from its holster and plinking away at the target using live rounds.

It was only 10 feet away.

It was made from angle iron. One long piece rose from the ground. At about head height another piece projected out toward us, with an iron plate welded at the end. The plate was tipped down toward the ground at a 45 degree angle, to deflect bullets toward the ground.

Between shots he explained that the angled plate prevented ricochets.

Joe and I were not listening. We were taking turns trying to stand behind each other, like a scene from a cartoon.

That officer needed to take a gun safety class.

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