Monday September 28th may have been the best day of my life. By the end
of that day I had truly become a man. This is just part of that story;
the day would begin with Chick-Fil-A and machine guns and end with
boxing and beer. I’m the new Hemingway.
Before this week I had never fired a gun. Not a real one, anyway. I had
fired paintball guns and cap guns and water guns, but never a gun that
shot a bullet. And certainly not a gun capable of spraying out hundreds
of bullets in a fraction of a minute.
That all changed on Monday when, as part of a group of filmmakers and
journalists at Fantastic Fest, I traveled to Astro Shooting Village,
about 45 minutes north of Austin (on the way we stopped for Chick-Fil-A,
the delicious Christian chicken. Truly a perfect meal before shooting
guns). There I was allowed to play with a huge array of automatic
weapons the likes of which only military folks and movie villains
usually get to fire. Fuck starting with a .22 – I dived into guns with
We were a big group. Folks like Kevin Kelly and William Goss of Cinematical were there, as well as filmmakers like The Human Centipede director Tom Six and House of the Devil director Ti West. There was a large group of Japanese folks – the stars and director and FX director of Robogeisha made
the trip. Seeing these two tiny Japanese girls (one of whom, by the
way, had been doing incredible pole dancing at some of the Fantastic
Fest parties) firing deadly weapons was utterly delightful.
The instructors at Astro Village were a mixed group of military and law
enforcement. All of the military had been in ‘The Sandbox,’ as they
called it, and some hinted at dark stories (“The Iraqi people are
great,” one of them said to me. “But they’re shit with gun safety. They
killed more on their own side because of it.” Another talked about how
he was zero for two when it came to patching wounded up in the field).
All were decked out in full gear: flack jackets, grenades, extra guns
and ammo, medical kits, knives. It was like they were ready for the
American Insurgency to begin at any minute.
But I shouldn’t paint these guys as crazy rednecks. Some were crazy (“I
sleep with three guns,” one told me. “A shotgun under the bed, a
carbine on the wall and a pistol under my pillow. I don’t make friends
easily.”) but they were all really nice, really helpful guys. We had
been warned that safety was paramount, and that if we pointed a weapon
at one of them we would be shot. But none of us so much as got yelled
at; they were actually sort of sweet. I don’t know if these hardened
gun nuts would rather have me say they were crazy or sweet. Somehow I
suspect they don’t want to be known as sweet.
As they gave us all the big safety speeches we heard the cracks of
gunshots from the next range over. There was just a berm of earth
between us and the other shooter, but the guys assured us we were safe.
It was all geometry, they told us, and ricochets and stray bullets from
that range could not hit us. That didn’t make me feel any better as I
heard the whizz and whine of a ricochet fly right over my head – every
single one of us in the Fantastic Fest group half ducked, finally
hearing at close range a sound we only knew from the movies. It was
My first gun was the AK-47. I chose all my guns based on a simple
principal: I wanted to fire guns I had seen in movies or video games.
AK-47 is the gun, the weapon used in regional conflicts across
the globe and in every first person shooter. As my first gun experience
it was transcendent. I was scared walking up to the firing range,
unsure of how the gun would kick, what it would feel like, if it was
possible that I could shoot my own face with this thing. And when I
tapped the trigger and let loose a spray of targetless bullets I was
exhilarated, transported. I was become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.
After firing an AK I understood how people in movies could let loose
entire clips and never hit the hero – that fucker shot everywhere but the
target. The first bullet sent the muzzle climbing to shoot at the sun,
it seemed, and attempts to adjust for that were always too much. I was
shooting too low and too high, never remotely getting near my target.
I also shot an HK-16, which I was told was pretty much the new M-16.
That gun had some firing pin problems, but the shots I was able to
squeeze out were wonderful. Next was a UMP, a really easy submachine
gun. That gun shot .45 bullets and had a nice three shot burst setting.
The Army wants you to shoot three bullet bursts, as they think anything
more reduces accuracy. The instructors kept trying to get me to do
three bullet bursts, but I find them easier to regulate on my Xbox
controller. In real life I would empty the mag in half a second while
intending to only fire three bullets.
Next was the G36 assault rifle. One of the main weapons in Call of Duty 4,
the G36 handled like a dream. I had my eye to the sight and my nose
filled with the powerful scent of gunpowder as the rifle spat out
bullets in a way that felt much more controlled than the crazy AK. I
don’t know if the guns were getting better or if I was, but after
shooting four guns I was starting to feel like maybe I had the hang of
Me, Kevin Kelly and Will Goss looking dangerous.
Then I went for the combat shotgun. The instructor had a name for this
one: The Zombie Killer. It could have been called the Shoulder Killer,
since the fucker kicked like nobody’s business. But it also exploded
like nobody’s business. It was the most satisfying gun to shoot because
you fucking felt it and everybody heard it (by the way, speaking of
feeling it – there’s nothing like the weird bursts of pressure that you
feel standing next to someone shooting an automatic weapon. Each shot
is felt concussively in your body cavity). And I was best with it,
actually putting a hole dead center in the head of target. Take that,
you zombie fuckers.
At the end of the day, when everyone had shot their allotted ammo, the instructors got together and formed a 12 man fire squad. They wanted to display massive firepower and would advance upon the target while opening fire with everything they had. This being a Fantastic Fest event, Tim League had something up his sleeve: Osama bin Laden targets. After the hundreds of rounds of ammunition were spent, we were able to go pick up the torn up targets as souvenirs.
Driving home I was exhausted and and full of glee. It had been a long
day – we were at the range for about three hours – and it had gone from
punishing sun to pouring rain again and again, but the elements only
added to the fullness of the experience. Fantastic Fest is so many
things – an amazing film festival, a great place to meet and network –
but above all it’s an incredible experience. For me Fantastic Fest is
about balancing the movies and the events, finding the exact right
center between seeing great films and doing incredible new things with
great people. I think Werner Herzog would dig Fantastic Fest because
it’s not just about sitting on your ass watching movies, it’s about
having experiences that inform and enrich your life.
The day wasn’t over – I would get an autograph from sleaze genius Jess
Franco later that night, then engage in a debate and boxing match in
the same ring where Dr. Uwe Boll would fight Fantastic Fest Father Tim
League – but those are stories for another time.