James Duff was some eight takes into the scene when he was shot at for the first time.
Wearing black ski masks and armed with airsoft guns, Duff and another actor were filming at a bar in Crawfordsville, Ind., for a low-budget film called “10 to Fire,” a local production about a dystopic future where everyone is armed.
But unbeknown to the mostly volunteer actors on set, a worried citizen had called 911 to report an armed robbery in progress at the Backstep Brewing Company, a bar that’s just blocks away from Crawfordsville’s police station.
Duff was walking backward out of the bar with the airsoft gun in hand when the officers arrived, in a confrontation captured in a tense video by a police body camera.
“Drop the gun!” one of the officers yelled, drawing his weapon and firing off a shot when Duff did not instantly comply.
The shot missed Duff’s head by about two inches, he said. The police officer continued to yell at Duff to drop the gun and get on the ground.
“We’re doing a movie,” Duff told him.
“Excuse me?” the officer replied, continuing to point his gun at Duff and urging the other actors to stay inside the bar.
The story of the on-set mishap Sept. 26 has ricocheted out of this town of 16,000 northwest of Indianapolis and around the world, after the bodycam footage from the officer who discharged his weapon was released this week.
No one was injured in the shooting; but Duff, a 48-year-old concrete and construction worker acting in his second movie, says he hasn’t felt the same since. He remembers the bullet whizzing by his head, “a big breeze.”
“They didn’t even give me a chance,” Duff said in a phone interview Wednesday, more than a week after the shooting.
Duff said he can’t get the episode out of his mind when he is awake and has been having nightmares where he replays it in his sleep.
“I woke up Thursday morning screaming my head off,” he said. “I think about it all of the time.”
The police said Duff failed to release the weapon immediately — video shows him attempting to take off the mask before he drops the gun. Duff said he had just been trying to determine what was going on. He said he was handcuffed for about 10 minutes, and interviewed by detectives at the police station.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Joseph Buser announced Monday that no one would be charged in the incident.
It was hardly the first time a movie production was confused for real life.
In 2010, a film crew shooting a hostage scene in a Long Island convenience store was raided by 20 officers, though the actors were able to identify themselves before shots were fired.
In Pittsburgh the same year, the filming of a horror movie left a hotel room splattered with a blood-like substance, empty bottles of booze and even a piece of fake scalp, resulting in a police investigation into what the chief later joked was the most gruesome crime scene he’d ever scene.
And a film roll from a 1990 cop comedy, “Loose Cannons,” which depicted Dan Aykroyd standing over a body, drew suspicion after being found in a Calgary landfill by a worker decades later.
In Duff’s case, the situation was compounded by a few factors: The crew had not notified the police about the filming. The airsoft guns had been clipped of their identifying orange nozzles. And Duff exited the building by himself, with the crew still filming inside, hidden from police.
“It was an easy oversight, but it was a critical oversight,” said Steve Hester, a former community college custodian who is directing the film. “We were basically only a block and a half away from the police station. We weren’t thinking.”
He added: “I had a policeman tell me not to make things look so real and I told him then I needed to quit my job, because that’s my job, making things look real.”
Footage shot that day by the film crew captures the scene inside the building. After Duff exits to the street, walking backward, shouting can be heard outside. He appears to turn around, the gun still in his hand, before the officer’s shot is fired. The actor playing the other bandit curses and goes to pull off his mask.
“My first thought was a firecracker went off,” said Philip Demoret, co-owner of the film company and the second bandit in the scene. The crew has been inundated with interview requests the last few days, Demoret said.
“I think I need an agent,” he said.
Duff says he plans to finish the filming of “10 to Fire” in the hopes of furthering his new acting career.
“I’m hoping someday it will go somewhere; maybe someday I’ll hit Hollywood,” he said. “Hopefully, if I continue to be the bad guy, the next script notifies the police department.”
Crawfordsville Police Chief Mike Norman said similar situations could be avoided with better communication with the police.
The film is scheduled to be released in the town next year.