The armorer, Nick Jeffries on the new Joe Johnston film talks about his experiences on the set
At the heart of any good action film are its weapons and the man that trains the actors on the safety and proper usage of those weapons are obviously an integral part of any action film's process. Then, if you consider a period piece such as The Wolfman, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today, June 1, the armorer Nick Jeffries is an even more vital part of the production. Jeffries is no stranger to working with period weapons, as he has worked on period action films such as Defiance and last year's blockbuster Sherlock Holmes. I recently had the chance to speak with Jeffries over the phone about his work on The Wolfman and here's what he had to say.
First of all, for our readers who might not know what an armorer is, can you describe your job and maybe how you got into this line of work?
Nick Jeffries: Yeah, certainly. As a film armorer, we supply the weapons that are needed in the film and we stand by on the set to supervise on the health and safety of their use and also the practicality and the timeline of the artistic action that is happening with them. That's basically what we do and as to how I got into it, I served as an apprentice when I was 16 as an armorer, then went into the army and went all around the world and now, for the last 10 years, I've been on film sets. That's basically my history.
The last few films you've done were period films with these antique weapons. Is that one of the perks of the job, getting to work with some of these older weapons?
Nick Jeffries: Yes. I think one of the perks is the circumstances that you get to work in on set. I can't think of any other thing where you would get the chance to work in these circumstances, but film gives you the chance to do that. The Wolfman was great. I spent a whole year with The Wolfman in the year 1891. The whole period was amazing. Then last year I spent two-thirds of the year on Prince of Persia. It's just exciting to get opportunities like that.
These are older weapons that aren't really around anymore. Do you have to recreate these weapons or do you get them for collectors? Can you talk about that process?
Nick Jeffries: We have a very large stock on set. We also know people that if there's anything that we particularly need, then we can go out and find auctions that we can work with, but we had the basic core of what we do that we keep in stock. Most of the weapons are in our stock and then we had some from individual collections that fits in the timeline, those kinds of things.
For The Wolfman, was there any weapon in particular that you had a hard time getting a hold of?
Nick Jeffries: Not particularly. The weapon that we had the biggest, I suppose, discussion with was the double rifle, John's (Anthony Hopkins) rifle. That was the biggest issue that we had. We opened up quite a discussion about whether it should be double-barrel or single-barrel. The problem is we had was it was a script was written by an American and it was absolutely first-rate but some of the options he originally came up with, an Englishman would never even consider them. We had to go through and see what an Englishman would've owned.
You said part of your job was training the actors how to use these weapons. Can you talk about your work with Benecio or any of the other actors in the film?
Nick Jeffries: Yeah, I worked with everybody, Bencio, Emily, Anthony, all of them. I'll get the gun out and fire it and they'll ask me questions. If they're actually firing the gun, we'll look at the health and safety, seeing where they're going to fire it, when we load the gun, when we unload it, looking at the camera angles, but I'm also interested in how they hold the gun and how they walk with it. It's a thing that shows the time that they're in and also the character that they are. Are they familiar with guns? Are they unfamiliar with guns? All of that we work on all of the time, and when they've done the scene it should look believable and it all should work as an 1891 person.
With more modern films you can fill a gun with blanks but for a movie like this, is there a specific process you have about how to actually make the gunfire look authentic like it would've looked in 1891?
Nick Jeffries: Yes, we would have long discussions with (director) Joe Johnston on many of the scenes as to what looks best on camera. For each weapon I would have six or seven charges, some flashier, some smokier, some bigger, some smaller and we would just keep adjusting that for every shot, to try and make it as realistic as possible but also, obviously, to show exactly what Joe wanted it to come across as.
Can you also talk a bit about some of the research you have to go into for a film like this?
Nick Jeffries: Yes, of course. First of all, I have to look at the year. If I know the year, we know what should and shouldn't be available in that year, so you know what was made, what was issued. There's a part in the film where John says, "He's pointing a Medford at you." That was something we had a particular discussion about because he originally said Martini Henry, but a Martini Henry only has one shot so the statement doesn't have any effect. However, we're three or two and a half years into the Martini Medford, which creates this burst like a bolt-action, so we can reproduce this and shoot five people down in a line. We're looking at those kinds of things as well, to say in 1891, this stuff is available and this stuff isn't. As long as we've made our point that you couldn't buy that for another two years, and you understand that fact.
You worked on Sherlock Holmes, which I really enjoyed, and I know they're getting a sequel together right now. Are you going to be working on that film as well?
Nick Jeffries: I very much hope so. At the moment, I'm on Captain America: The First Avenger, but I would be very sad to miss the next Sherlock Holmes film. It was a really fun job with some great guys, as was The Wolfman. Sherlock Holmes and The Wolfman were really nice jobs with brilliant people. Captain America: The First Avenger is the same thing and it's really been fun, but I would still hate it if that stopped me from doing Sherlock Holmes 2 because they are good friends and do good work.
You guys are gearing up to shoot Captain America: The First Avenger in a month or two, aren't you?
Nick Jeffries: Yeah. We've got a few months and it will be quite a long shoot, I think. There will be a lot on it.
What kind of work have you started to do on that already?
Nick Jeffries: Oh, we're just into preparation at the moment. We're just deciding how Joe wants to go on certain things and just making sure everything works and all that kind of business. It's still just being worked on, really.
This will be your second film working with Joe Johnston. Can you talk about his process as a director and why you enjoy working with him?
Nick Jeffries: I just like his style. I just like the way he makes things look. He's friendly and he's very inclusive of everyone on the set. It's a team effort and he's a big team player and that's nice. He gets everyone involved and that's great. At the end of the day, he's just a nice guy. He's just great to work with and everybody works just that little bit harder to make it look good for Joe. He's a good director and an excellent person.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who hasn't seen The Wolfman in theaters about why they should pick up the DVD?
Nick Jeffries: I think the DVD has so many different things, all the behind-the-scenes, that should be excellent. A lot of footage was shot and it's really interesting. I think anyone who enjoys The Wolfman will enjoy the behind-the-scenes. It was a great roller coaster which should be great for any fan of the film.
Excellent. Well that's all the time I have, Nick. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with Captain America: The First Avenger.
Nick Jeffries: Thanks Brian.
The Wolfman is now available on DVD and Blu-ray today, June 1.