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Home of the screenwriting book 'Writing The Science Fiction Film'

Zip Gun


This is a zip gun or “improvised firearm” to give it its proper label. Actually it’s a zip shotgun if we’re being pernickety. The barrels are made from iron bedposts and the charge is made of pieces of lead from curtain tape and match-heads which somehow are ignited by a couple of AA batteries and a broken light bulb.

MacGyver eat your heart out. On May 21, 1984 two of the inmates of a prison in Celle, Northern Germany, having manufactured this little beauty and then demonstrated its effectiveness by letting fly at a pane of bullet-proof glass, took a prison guard hostage and escaped by car. Amazing! The ingenuity of human beings when confronted by a situation that has them (almost literally in this case) up against a wall never fails to astound me.

Zip Gun

Now then, for any writers out there that are seeking inspiration this shouldn’t really need any explanation. However, if you are struggling though, think about these questions:

  • How did they know how to make it?
  • Where did they get the bedposts from?
  • How did they saw them to length? And how were they not heard and discovered?
  • Where did they get stuff like batteries and a light bulb from?
  • How did they calculate stuff like velocity, range, expansion etc?
  • Where the hell did they get shotgun cartridges from?
  • How did they not just blow their bloody hands off?

I see this working in a couple of places. Obviously there’s a great set-piece scene here for the ‘fun and games’ section in Act 2B of your screenplay, one of those ‘trailer moments’ you need to have. Two guys, sneaking around making this gun without anyone else knowing what they were up to, using the prison network to procure the various items they needed but without raising suspicion about what they were making – especially to the prison kingpin.

But there’s also a neat opening scene here where our hero is backed up against a wall in a no-win situation and he cobbles something like this together and shoots his way out of danger, ‘saving the cat’ on the way ;-) and something like that would be great to set-up this unique set of skills our hero has that would then pay-off big time later on in the movie as we reach our gripping finale.

So that’s enough, use the prison manufacture as a writing exercise if you want – it might unstick you from your current predicament – but stop reading now and get writing.


One Comment

  1. StoneD

    Where the hell did they get shotgun cartridges from?

    It doesn’t shoot shotgun cartridges, the battery sparks the light igniting the match heads and the pressure from the match heads burning/exploding forces the lead pieces out