Ogden special-effects house makes fake gunplay look real for movies and TV

The One Ring Studios’ work can be seen in “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” a neo-Western series screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

(Angela Martino | Sundance Institute) Kate Bosworth stars in "Bring on the Dancing Horses," directed by her husband, Michael Polish, an official selection of the Indie Episodic Pilot Showcase at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

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In the neo-Western TV series “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” the first episode of which is premiering online in the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, an assassin in black (played by Kate Bosworth) commits a string of bloody killings across a small Montana town.

The killings appear quite violent on the screen, with guns blazing and blood splattering — but thanks to the work of a special-effects house in Ogden, the scenes were perfectly safe for the actors and crew on the set.

“Sometimes it’s just easier for [an actor] to just hold a prop gun that is not capable of shooting anything,” said Matthew Finley, co-founder and visual effects supervisor of The One Ring Studios in Ogden. “The slide doesn’t even go back, and they just act like they shot [the gun].”

One Ring then works in post-production to make that faked gunplay look real. “We digitally make the slide go back, eject a shell, and [add] the gun blast, the muzzle blast, so that they can actually work in a faster and safer production,” Finley said.

The series’ director, veteran independent filmmaker Michael Polish, praised the work The One Ring created for “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” (The show is in the festival’s Indie Episodic program, and available for passholders to stream any time before the festival’s end on Jan. 30.)

“They’re always subtle with what they do,” Polish said. “They’re so good at what they do, you almost forget that they’re doing it.”

The question of gun safety on movie sets has been a prime topic recently in Hollywood, since the fatal Oct. 21 shooting on the New Mexico set of the Western “Rust.”

A revolver being used by the movie’s star, Alec Baldwin, went off with what was apparently a live round in the chamber. The bullet struck and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins; the film’s director, Joel Souza, also was injured. An investigation is ongoing, and numerous lawsuits have been filed by crew members.

“It was very hard for us, as filmmakers, what happened” on the “Rust” set, said Felipe Zamora, co-founder and CEO of The One Ring Studios.

Without commenting specifically on the “Rust” set, Finley noted that “a lot of times, on films or TV shows, they’re trying to move quickly — and quick doesn’t always equal safe.”

A day after the shooting in New Mexico, Alexi Hawley, show runner for the ABC police drama “The Rookie,” announced his show would ban “live” guns from the set — and use only Airsoft guns, with muzzle flashes added by computer graphics in post-production.

And Dwayne Johnson, perhaps the biggest movie star in Hollywood, declared in November that he would stop using real firearms on projects out of his production company, Seven Bucks Productions. Johnson said he would use only rubber guns on his film sets, and would enforce that rule with any studio that wants to work with him.

Finley said that when Johnson made that announcement, The One Ring offered to create the visual effects for his next movie for free. “If he ever responds to that, we’ll see,” Finley said.

(The One Ring Studios) Michael Finley, co-founder and visual effects supervisor at The One Ring Studios, a movie post-production house based in Ogden, Utah.

(The One Ring Studios) Felipe Zamora, co-founder and CEO of The One Ring Studios, a movie post-production house based in Ogden, Utah.

The One Ring has been in business for the last two years in Ogden, but Finley and Zamora each have more than a decade’s experience in visual effects.

Zamora grew up in Mexico, and at age 8 constantly replayed a VHS copy of “Back to the Future Part II” because he was fascinated by its look. “I remember just watching it again and again and again, to see how they did all the effects,” Zamora said.

For Finley, it was seeing “Jurassic Park” when he was 7. “I wanted to be a paleontologist and dig dinosaurs,” Finley said. “Then I saw this movie that actually showed them come to life, and I thought, ‘That’s kind of powerful. I want to be able to do that.’”

The One Ring is part of a movement among movie post-production companies to get out of Hollywood. It’s a shift that’s been kicked into a higher gear by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 showed people in Hollywood, Zamora said, that “you don’t need to be there, present. Because of COVID, everyone had to hide in their own houses, and a lot of them decided to actually leave L.A.”

They chose Ogden, Zamora said, because “we both are family men. You can have a life, enjoy your kids going on hikes. The people, the pace, the safety, the schools. It’s just beautiful, too.”

Some in the industry still think they need to stay in southern California, he said. “There’s always going to be a place for the meetings for breakfast, or the meals, or the parties. … But the real work, the work that we do, we can actually develop from [Ogden], as long as [our internet provider] allows.”