Phony gun, real jail: NJ actor could face 5 years for prop firearm in film
What seemed like an amazing opportunity for an up-and-coming actor-comedian has turned into a nightmare for a New Jersey man who could face prison time for using a prop gun while filming a movie in Middlesex County.
On Nov. 16, Carlo Bellario of Toms River showed up on the set of an indie movie — "Vendetta Games" — in response to a casting call he had seen in a Facebook group, he said. He was tasked with playing a drug dealer's bodyguard, and the scene was being shot in a residential neighborhood in Woodbridge.
"I wasn't being paid, but I figured it was a good chance to get exposure and network," Bellario told New Jersey 101.5, adding that he was promised a credit on the Online Movie Database and a copy of the film.
The actor — who has appeared shows including as "Law & Order" and "Blue Bloods," and performs who stand-up comedy — said he was handed a what he was told was a prop gun. He climbed into the passenger seat of a vehicle, with two cameramen in the backseat and another actor driving, and they took off, he said.
The scene involved a staged shootout, in which Bellario was supposed to lean out the window of a car and pretend to fire at another vehicle, Bellario said. No actual shots were fired, he said.
After they finished filming the scene, the actors returned to the main staging area, Bellario said. Bellario tucked the prop gun into the waistband of his pants and chatted with other members of the cast and crew as they waited around to find out what they'd be doing next, he said.
Minutes later, Woodbridge police showed up and "we were surrounded by cops," Bellario said.
Apparently, nervous neighbors, believing an actual shootout was taking place in their quiet, residential neighborhood, contacted authorities, he said.
"They see a guy with a gun out the window, naturally they called the cops," he said, adding that he doesn't fault the police, as he believes they were just responding to the panicked calls from residents.
Bellario said he tried to explain that the gun — which a Woodbridge police report identified as an Airsoft pistol — was just a prop, but police still took him into custody.
The police report states Belaario — the only person arrested that day — did not have a permit to carry the Airsoft gun, and was also wearing the pistol in a holster. Both are in violation of NJ state statutes.
Under New Jersey gun laws, even fake weapons can be treated as real weapons. New Jersey law places no strict restrictions on the sales of imitation firearms — but like real guns, they must be stored in locked cases when transported.
In addition, Bellario said, he later found out that the small, indie production company also failed to obtain a permit to film the scenes in Woodbridge. Representatives of the production company have not returned calls seeking comment.
Bellario spent four days in Middlesex County Jail until his family could come up with enough money to bail him out, he said.
"The producer of the movie told my family that he would indeed bail me out but when he found out the bail was $10,000 he declined to help and left me there and left my family frantic as to how to arrange bail and get me released," Bellario said. He ignored my family's phone calls and subsequently my family had to lay out over $4,500 thus far for the bail bondsman and other expenses," Bellario said on a GoFundMe Page he established to help raise money to cover legal expenses. As of Monday morning, the fundraiser had collected more than $4,500.
In addition to the fact that he will now have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees, Bellario said he is also unable to leave the state until a court date is set, so he's losing money on gigs he would normally take on in other states.
On top of that, if convicted, the actor could face up to five years in prison.
Bellario said said his goal in making his story public is twofold. First, he hopes to raise enough money to cover the legal expenses.
Second, Bellario wants to make sure a situation like this never happens to another actor in the Garden State.
"As actors we all want to work and get ourselves exposure but we also need to hold the industry to higher standard as well," he said. "I want to make sure that other actors don't have this happen to them."
Police have not returned calls seeking comment on the arrest.
Kalen Erikkson, the first assistant director for the film, said he's aware of Bellario's situation. Following the arrest, he spoke to Bellario's girlfriend but was unable to help much, since his primary duties involved scheduling and he often wasn't even on the set. He believes the director, Andre Joseph, is working to help Bellario "get it sorted out." Joseph has not yet returned calls seeking comment.
"I definitely wanna see this work out. I feel terrible that this happened to Carlo," Erikkson told NJ 101.5.
The police report is below:
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.