Former Marine drills Hollywood in weapons and tactics
Actress Shannon Lucio has just overpowered two rogue cops using everything from a pants belt to a shard of glass. She applied the “one mind, many weapons” technique taught to her by former Marine Sgt. Jon Barton, who was watching the action unfold as the cameras rolled inside a former shoe warehouse in North Hollywood on Sunday night.
Barton trained Lucio, who plays a CIA-trained assassin in an indie action feature called “Insert,” in various combat techniques and the proper way to fire handguns. Lucio wasn’t playing with toy replicas but was instead using a real Glock and a real Beretta that Barton had designed to fire by compressed gas rather than with blanks, which can be hazardous when fired at close distances.
It’s all part of a day’s (or night’s) work for Barton, 33, whose Hollywood company, Tactical Media Group, provides military training and equipment to film and TV producers looking to inject violent authenticity into their movies and shows.
The proliferation of action-packed crime dramas such as “NCIS” and the upcoming " Hawaii Five-O,” as well as movies with elaborate stunts and gun scenes, has created a cottage industry for former soldiers like Barton who can use their real-world combat experience to train actors in the proper use of firearms and in stage fights that resemble the real thing.
Although Hollywood has always attracted entrepreneurial veterans looking to trade on their technical expertise gained in the armed services, seven years of the country fighting two wars has produced a cadre of former soldiers seeking to become military advisors for film and TV.
“Since we’ve been at war so long, there are so many people out there and now there’s competition on every corner,” said Barton, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 10 years, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Watching movies and TV shows, I just felt there was nothing cutting-edge and there were no new weapons handling, no new tactics. I thought I could put a shot of adrenaline into working with actors and creating these military characters for the screen.”
The burly 6-foot-1 former infantry sergeant launched his incursion into Hollywood by working as an extra in the 2002 World War II film “Windtalkers” and later landed assignments as a military consultant on various TV series, including “Criminal Minds.”
He recalled once getting an urgent call from a line producer on the show when he was at Disneyland, saying actors needed instruction on how to properly kick down a door while carrying guns. A few hours later, Barton was on the set giving a demonstration so convincing he almost “took out” a cameraman.
The secret: “You have to commit violence in your action,” Barton said.
Simon Mirren, an executive producer of “Criminal Minds,” first met Barton on the set of the 2002 TV series “Without a Trace” and hired him to train “Criminal Minds” actors how to use weapons. “He brought a real authenticity to how people use guns because many of our actors hadn’t fired weapons before,” Mirren said of Barton.
Founded in 2008, Barton’s company has an office in Hollywood but uses a 20-acre ranch its leases in Moorpark for weapons training. The ranch includes a warehouse with $2 million worth of props, including military uniforms and an arsenal of machine guns, (pre-ban) assault rifles and military uniforms, and all manner of knives, scopes and lasers.
Purveying an arsenal for Hollywood can be almost as lucrative as winning a military contract. Barton says Tactical Media, which he financed through Veterans Affairs loans, private investors and company revenue, generated sales of about $3 million in 2009.
The company has 12 full-time employees, veterans with training in marksmanship, combat maneuvering and other areas. They include former U.S. Army Rangers, Navy SEALs and a former Special Forces guy who works as the company’s stunt coordinator.
Tactical Media provided four weeks of training to actor Aaron Eckhart, star of the upcoming sci-fi film “Battle: Los Angeles,” and similar training to Chris Hemsworth, star of the upcoming remake of the 1984 U.S. war film “Red Dawn.”
“The production was adamant that if Chris was going to be a Marine, he needed to be a good Marine,” Barton said.