Manhattan's SoHo neighbourhood is mostly filled with bored models and stupid-expensive boutiques. But on one grimy, absolutely ignorable corner is the entrance to a cavern stuffed with guns, rockets, cocaine and riot shields. This is where Hollywood locks and loads.
The Specialists LTD is a family business. Ryder Washburn, the current VP and son of the founder, has an easy demeanor that could be confused for boredom if he weren't surrounded by thousands upon thousands of entirely realistic, blank-firing weapons and crime paraphernalia; enough to take over a third-world country, if bullets actually came out of these things.
But even though they don't — these are all pure replica — Ryder treats a each machine gun and machete as though they were as deadly as their functional counterparts. When I visited his shop recently, I was immediately admonished for ignoring pretty much every single gun safety procedure the moment I picked up my first faux pistol. You never know. Ryder's a careful guy, which is why he tells me to stop filming certain replicas in his vault that the feds frown upon, and asks that we don't share the subterranean warehouse's address with anyone. I wanted to ask why, but I was wearing a cardigan and had already demonstrated complete gun safety ignorance, so I didn't.
The Specialists isn't just a holding tank conducive to Call of Duty erections; it's a miniature factory. Every single item in the shop — from the RPG launchers in the "vault" to the endless shelves of swords, grenades, bombs, kilos of fake coke and glocks in the sprawling basement — is manufactured in-house. The company employs a tiny army of craftsmen, creating synthetic moulds, operating advanced CNC milling machines, looking for spare parts in enormous bins — slowly, carefully assembling every conceivable kind of killing device. If something breaks, everything needed to whip up a spare is right there.
But why? Turn on your TV. If the show or film is set in New York and someone's holding a gun, it's almost certain that it came from The Specialists. If it's not set in New York, there's still a decent chance. The new Batman flick? Yup. Pretty much every single Law and Order, ever? Obviously. 50 Cent's a regular customer. Sci-fi fantasies? Why not — The Specialists create alien weapons that don't exist on any battlefield.
So aren't they worried about someone busting in and taking the goods? Wouldn't this be a pacifist bank robber's Shangri-La? "You could go to a Wal-Mart and buy a bright-coloured yellow water gun," Ryder explains, sedately, "spray paint it black, and have a slightly less quality equivalent of what we do. We keep the fidelity high for high definition movies and Blu-rays." An entire building necessitated by 1080p, housing fake arms built with deadly precision.