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Exclusive Interview with The Terminator’s Tommy Estridge!

With so much excitement building for the newTerminator film, let’s revisit the film that started it all. Terminator Genisys will surely have some amazing weaponry but let’s look back at TheTerminator’s weapons! TheArnoldFans had a sit down interview with T1’s prop manager, Tommy Estridge, who not only gave Arnold some of his first gun-firing lessons, he was also responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic weaponry!

Tommy Estridge: The property master’s in charge of all the stuff that actors actually use on the set. So like, watches, badges, the gun belts, name tags, the weapons and all that, everything – I’m in charge of all that. Safety, as it comes in regard to weapons, making sure that they don’t hurt themselves or hurt other actors or hurt the crew. That’s our thing. 

TheArnoldFans: What was your favorite weapon or prop that you personally handled that you wish you were able to keep?

Tommy Estridge: It would have to be the SPAS-12, the shotgun. It had just come out. It had been used for the movie and I’d seen some pictures of it, and it looked different from anything else that was available. Then I wanted the AR-18 because they had the folding stock and everything. Trouble was, no one had ever converted a full auto one to fire blanks, and it was a nightmare! I mean, sometimes, I’d be lucky to get off a BAM BAM, you know, all the ammo in there and it’d just jam.

TheArnoldFans: You have some great behind-the-scene pictures. How many pictures roughly were you taking. It looks like you did take quite a few.

Tommy Estridge: Not really that many. Most of the ones I took were Tech Noir and I was taking them for the production designer. He got me into the business years before that and I was just getting some shots of that. Also, for Coca Cola, they were promo things and getting them different shots of Coke signage and everything around there. And then, a few others when I had the time. I was there with my camera for the exploding tanker but most of them I was too busy to take pictures. I was just workin’ my ass off. Yeah, I didn’t have a lot of time to do much photography. 

TheArnoldFans: What were some of your best experiences or what was the most fun thing you can recall from being on that set? 

Tommy Estridge: We were at the police station; this that was after we had shot the future fight. And we’re at a steel abandoned plant, and it was an office building. It’s late at night, everybody’s tired, and we were get a little silly. I pulled the fire alarm. I didn’t know it was working because I figured it was something that the art department had built. It was blaring and we all had to stop and turn the damned thing off.

TheArnoldFans: What did James Cameron think of that? 

Tommy Estridge: I mean, he wasn’t happy about it but it didn’t take that long to turn it off.  

Tommy Estridge: The other thing is when Arnold was raiding the police station, he had the SPAS-12 and he was holding it out like this but it was very heavy and after so many takes he couldn’t fire it that way. So I rigged it so it would wrap around his wrist here, so he’s not really holding it this hard way so even I could pick it up. Because you’re holding the very back. It Was also a way, when we had to reload, he could just drop the gun and dangle there so they could switch magazines, so you had a double benefit. Another thing - in the police station, the concussion blew out some of the ceiling panels. They were dropping from the ceiling. He yelled Cut!  

TheArnoldFans: Tell me about the laser gun.

Tommy Estridge: The laser on it wasn’t self-contained. There’s a wire coming out which came out the butt of the gun and had a little plug on it. We cut a hole in his glove he was wearing here and run a wire up here through the back so what I would have to do was turn thing on and stand behind him with the battery pack and at a certain point, I would hit the button and the laser would come on.

TheArnoldFans: So you’re the laser man!

Tommy Estridge: Right! And I remember it had to be grounded a certain way but he would do it totally professional. He would just sit there and wait to do what he had to do. In the case of the 45 long slide, with the laser, that was a last minute thing deciding that you want to do that. And I tracked down a place called Laser Products in Orange County and explained what I wanted to do, I drove down there and took two 45s with me and I talked to the president of the company, told him what was wanted and everything, and he worked with me to design, to figure out what we could do. So one of them was that it was just a dummy laser. That was one we did everything with. The other one had real lasers on it, because in early days, they were putting lasers on guns. It was very big and it had a battery, so they rigged up this whole thing. Fortunately, we didn’t need the laser gun that soon - I think it was two or three days later. I had to rig it and drive it back over there again, pick it up. That’s the tricky thing: timing.

TheArnoldFans: Did the laser ever not work? 

Tommy Estridge: The laser sometimes didn’t work. The 45 always worked. That was a good one, although again, that was a crazy thing. Generally, when you see, or at least in that time, when you saw 45s being used, it was actually a 9 millimeter. It was on the same frame and everybody used the same 9 millimeter blanks, for no matter what it was. But because we wanted that 45 long slider, it was only available in 45 caliber. The prop house house got it, and they got it to work by using a blank space from a machine gun which was quite powerful. So you didn’t have a lot of time to stand around with it. It worked fine.

TheArnoldFans: What about where Franco Colombu as the Terminator comes in, and he’s got that gun? Did you get to play with that? 

Tommy Estridge: Well, that was the special effects gun. That wasn’t actually a machine gun. It was something that the guys made up; It had gas. It had propane tubes behind an igniter, and it would make the effect. So it was really more of a special effects thing. 

TheArnoldFans: We saw a great picture that you took, it was of Franco and Cameron, all holding the guns. Can you tell me about that day and what was going on.

Tommy Estridge: Okay, one thing I always tried to do when there was a big amount of weapons involved in the shoot, I take the directors and the actors out to a firing range. First, I’ll give them a demonstration, what kind of harm you can get or injury you can get from blanks. People say “oh, it’s a blank” - bullshit! I did a demonstration to show what can happen if you’re not careful, and then let them some fire some blanks and ammunition with the same gun, so they could get a feel for the kick of it. They think it’s same thing, “bang bang bang bang”, but there’s a kick. Your arm really moves!

TheArnoldFans: Did you think Terminator was gonna be a big movie, or a possible B movie? Did you have any faith in it, back in the day?

Tommy Estridge: Well, let me put it this way – that is the only script I ever read that I couldn’t stop reading. I mean, it read like a great science fiction novel.  You know, first off, I just read through the scripts and find out what was happening, then go through it and start making notes about what’s gonna happen. What’s needed, making continuity notes. Then I would try to sit down and have a meeting with the Director, and go through a the script with him. To see if he’s basically in agreement. It’s the director’s movie, and he has to be happy with that. Saying “I think you should have to do that,” We go through all that sort of stuff. It’s about getting the stuff, getting to the prop houses, in some cases, you may have to buy it.

TheArnoldFans: Don’t you just love the way Arnold says “Uzi 9 millimeter”?

Tommy Estridge: Uzi worked with us on this. At the time, the secret service had developed a special shoulder holster for the Uzi, and it was like top secret. We could not show pictures of how it worked or anything. Basically, it had a leather strap and it went around this part of the thing. But at the time, we could not show that. We had to be very careful.

TheArnoldFans: Do you recall what Arnold was like back then? Some say he was a prankster on the set. 

Tommy Estridge: No, not that much. He was very serious. I think he regarded this as a chance to somewhat break out of the “Conan” mold. I know, talking to him one time, he was talking how, I forget where he was, but he was going through the whole looking for them [characters Sarah and Reese], he was looking along, and he told me he had on his mind a shark. Swimming along, that was the mental image that he had in his mind.

Tommy Estridge: Most of the time, he was in some heavy makeup that sometimes, he would get made up and then they wouldn’t use him for like, six or eight hours! So he would just stay in his trailer, so he didn’t want to mess stuff up. Because if he started horsing around, they’d have to redo it. He was very easy to work with.

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