Talks & Interviews — May 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Arms supplier Mike Tristano: I’m the guy to call for any project that needs weapons

Try opening up Google Images, and searching for Mike Tristano. Most of the pictures you would find are the photos of various guns.

That is no wonder since Tristano is arguably the most famous supplier of various arms and weapons related props to the entertainment business.

Tristano and his “Mike Tristano & Company” worked on countless films of all budgets, music videos, TV series, reality shows, Cable TV projects, short films, and God knows what else.

Tristano also directed more than 10 movies himself, some of which (The Flesh Merchant, Cyber Seeker, Body Count, Never Look Back) became cult.

However, Tristano himself admits that his plans are to continue to expand his weapons inventory and weapon-related prop collection, and continue working onmovies and TV projects.

Below is an interesting interview that Tristano gave exclusively to BZFilm, where veteran weapons supplier recalls how he started in the business, tells about his work with Adult industry, and reveals how he expands his already impressive collection of various weapons.


Mike, you are said to be an expert consultant and technical adviser for several periods of military history. Was this something you wanted to learn yourself, or it was “part of becoming” Mike Tristano that is known today?

I’m considered to be a Historical Expert and Technical Consultant for several specific historical periods: “The Golden Age of Piracy, 1650 to 1750”, “The Old West and Indian Wars, 1865-1915”, “The roaring 20s – Gangsters and G-Men” and “The Vietnam War”.

Those are the periods that I specialize in because of my particular personal interest in those historical periods, and because of the extensive collections of weapons and props that I have acquired for use in movies and TV shows set in those periods.

I try to be well versed in Military History from most historical periods throughout history, and to have the weapons and accompanying props for every period as well, because you never know when some one will call you for a project set in a specific period of history.

How does one become a weapons supplier for the film? How hard is it to get into this specific niche of work? What would you suggest to those who are willing to start this kind of profession?

It is very difficult to get into the business of being an Armorer in the Entertainment business today and be really successful at it. I got into the business 25 years ago when the licensing wasn’t so restrictive and expensive to get. I built up the Arsenal of over 1,000 weapons that I now have, over the years in the business when weapons were more readily available and cheaper to acquire.

Also, there was much more work in the 1980s and 1990s, and even the early 2000s. Now, a large majority of the work has gone to other countries and overseas, thanks to the unions here in the states making it too expensive to shoot film and TV projects here in the US.

How competitive is your particular sphere of work? Does “Mike Tristano & Company” limit itself to only movies or your service apply to other areas as well?

There are not that many companies that have our extensive weapons inventory and military historical prop selection, so we don’t have that much competition.

I work on movies, TV series, music videos, reality TV series, Cable TV projects, shorts, Military Contract work, and others. Pretty much any project that needs weapons, I’m the guy to call.Nobody can beat my deals or the quality of the weapons and service that my company provides.

One thing in particular that is interesting to me – where do you get all your impressive weapons inventory that you supply for the movies?

I have been constantly adding to my weapons inventory since I started the business over 25 years ago. I am always going to gun auctions, gun shows and antique weapon sales to acquire new firearms. I think that our inventory of Western period firearms is one of the best in the business, with a lot of original period weaponry that no one else has.

The same for our “Golden Age of Piracy” inventory and 1920s gangster era weapons. Of course, modern era films and contemporary weapons are always the majority of our work and rentals, and we have an excellent inventory of those as well. If a client is looking for a specific weapon, and if I don’t have it, I can usually find it for them.

Mr. Tristano, your bio says that you are the only “true” non-union supplier of movie weaponry and armorer services…meaning that most of the people who work in this niche are parts of companies, and do not work independently like you?

When I say that I am he only ‘true” non-union supplier of movie weaponry and armorer services”, I am referring to the fact that I have the only non-union weapons company in the Entertainment Industry.

I am an independent company, with about 8 professional armorers and special effects people working with me, and we work on both union and non-union shows. The majority of projects that we work on are non-union independent movies, TV projects, music videos and reality TV programs.

I have always believed that independent movies are the most interesting and creative projects to work on, and I always try to give independent producers and directors the best quality weaponry and Armorer services that they can get – equal to any A-level movie.

To me, being an Armorer in the entertainment business is about giving producers and directors the best looking and performing weapons, the best gun battles, and the best Armorers in the business, to get what they want on film, and for a price that they can afford on the budget that they have.

You’ve worked with international military intelligence, did freelance weapons advising, K&R consulting and executive security, before coming to the U.S. and establishing your company. Would you please tell in detail where you’ve worked abroad, and what were your duties there?

I left home, which was New York City, when I was quite young to work with the government for four years, and then after that I freelanced as an independent weapons adviser, security consultant and private contractor, working all over the world for another ten years.

I worked extensively in Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia, and Europe. That’s about all of the detail that I can into about my background.

Does your company provide services to films/productions that are made outside of the United States? Say, in Europe, Asia or Middle East?

I used to work regularly on films shooting outside of the US during the 1990s, but after 9/11, transporting weapons internationally became very tough and very complicated. Right now, I’m just working on films and TV series shooting here in the United States.

Among your many movie credits as an arms expert and weaponry supplier there are also hardcore porn films, like “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge”… wouldn’t such “credit” badly affect the reputation of your company? How does that fit into the list of mainstream films you worked on?

I have provided weapons and special effects for many Adult films over the 25 years that I have been working in the Entertainment business. I treat every customer the same and give them the same high quality service and weapons, no matter what kind of project they are doing.

The Adult Film business is portrayed by the news media as sleazy and evil, which could not be further from the truth. I have found most Adult Film companies to be very professional and honest to work with, and I have never had an Adult Film company bounce a check on me or try to not pay me, which is more than I can say for some of the so-called “mainstream” companies.

I don’t believe that working with Adult Film companies has ever hurt my reputation, and if a potential client doesn’t like the fact that I have several Adult Film companies as clients, they can look elsewhere for weapons and Armorers. I don’t discriminate about who I do business with just because of the subject matter of their project, unless it is a project where people or animals may be injured or worse.

Working on Adult Films is very much like working on mainstream films, and there are a lot of crew people and performers who work both mainstream and Adult – they just don’t talk about it. I have a lot of friends and clients in the Adult Industry, and they’re all great people.

You’ve done some writing and directing work. In your earlier movies you’ve worked with such B-movie legends as Robert Z’dar, Joe Estevez, Charles Napier… what was your most vivid experience as a director?

I was writing and directing a lot of low-budget films all through the 1990s and early 2000s, which was an era that was sort of a “golden age” for B-movies. I really enjoyed writing and directing, but I did it as a sideline. I never did it with the intention of making a full-time career out of it. The weapons and special FX business was always my first priority. The main reason that I liked directing was because I really enjoy working with actors.

Robert Z’dar and Joe Estevez were both wonderful to work with. I had Robert in two of my films, and Joe in five of them. They were part of a kind of “stock company” of actors that I created, all of who were good friends of mine, that I hired all of the time, and that I really had a lot of fun working with.

Most of them are what you would call B-movie legends, like Don Stroud, Richard Lynch, Neil Delama, Michael Christian, William Smith, Vernon Wells, Christopher Mitchum, Frank Zagarino, Michelle Bauer, Ashlie Rhey, Wings Hauser, Lisa Comshaw, Martin Kove, Miles O’Keeffe, and the late Charles Napier.

I was also lucky to have a couple of A-list actors, Burt Young and Charles Durning in one of my films as well. I remember one day being on the set of one of my films, “Never Look Back”, and getting ready to direct a scene with Burt Young, Charles Durning, and Charles Napier in it.

My script supervisor told me that I had a nice low key directing style. I turned to her and told her that you really don’t need to “direct” a scene with actors of this caliber in it, you just need to tell them what you want from the scene, and they’ll just give it to you. And they always did!

Do you have any plans of, maybe, changing your film career into a different direction, or you will remain to work in your weapons related niche?

Right now, my only plans are to continue to expand my weapons inventory and weapon-related prop collection, and working on as many movies and TV projects that I can. Historical period films and TV projects are always my favorites to work on, but I just love being an Armorer and weapons expert on all types of movie and TV projects. To me, it’s the best job in the world!

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