From The Movies – The Collateral Drill

“Collateral” is one of Michael Mann’s finest films. A good friend and I debate which is his best, and it always comes down to either “Heat” or “Collateral.” I’m more partial to “Heat,” but “Collateral” is a very close second. The movie details an assassin who hires a taxi driver to drive him around LA making hits throughout the night. One of the most famous scenes in the film is when the bad guy, named Fox and played by Tom Cruise, encounters two thugs who stole his briefcase. This gave birth to the world-famous Collateral Drill. 

two bad guys from colateral
Two threats present themselves, one carrying and pointing a gun immediately.

The scene details Fox taking down thugs quickly with five well-placed shots. The scene became quite famous because it’s fairly impressive and has an actor showing some truly impressive skills. The skill portrayed might not impress a Grand Master, but for the average Joe, they are pretty dang solid, which is what creates that Michael Mann effect. 

The Michael Mann Effect

Michael Mann creates an interesting mix of action and drama in his films. They are often beautifully shot, interesting movies that feature intense action scenes separated by well-executed dramatic scenes. The intense action scene is where the Mann effect comes into play. 

DeNiro and Kilmer firing and maneuvering in Heat.
DeNiro and Kilmer firing and maneuvering in “Heat.” (Warner Bros.)

He was really the first person to realize that proper, accurate, and skilled gun handling makes a difference. It lends a bit of credence to your film. This was one of the most notable times that a director hired firearms instructors to work with his actors. In 1981 he sent James Caan to Gunsite Academy to learn how to properly handle a 1911. Since then, he’s been pretty dedicated to making the actors skilled with their firearms. 

If you ever check out the behind-the-scenes footage of “Collateral,” you know our actor, Tom Cruise, did some intensive training. He worked with the LAPD SWAT and a private instructor that is also a SAS veteran to refine his gun handling skills. He got pretty sharp with a handgun at the LAPD range, and it shows. 

What is the Collateral Drill?

The Collateral Drill is merely a simplified box drill. A box drill is a complicated failure to stop the drill. The core concept is simple. You have two threats, and you need to put them down, preferably permanently and quickly. The box drill takes the failure-to-stop drill and modernizes it for two targets

Collateral cover garment clearing
He swats the bad guy’s gun away and simultaneously defeats his cover garment. (DreamWorks Pictures)

You fire two rounds into the chest of the first target, then transition to the next target and fire two rounds into the torso. Remain on the second target and transition to a headshot. From there, transition back to the first target and fire a final headshot on the first target. Boom, you’ve completed a box drill, aka the Collateral Drill. 

Our character, Vincent, uses this almost to a T. The last part of the drill is five rounds on two targets. After the two men are on the ground, he does fire a coup de grace into the second target. Technically he fires six rounds into two targets with two headshots, but only five of the shots are timed. 

Breaking Down the Collateral Drill 

Do you want to shoot like Tom Cruise? Well, good, it’s a noble goal, and it’s not that hard. Plus, the skills are fairly valuable and quite useful for concealed carriers and defensive-oriented shooters. Cruise is fast, but remember he’s no USPSA Grand Master, the skills he uses are all within the realm of the average shooter who is willing to practice. 

Let’s break this down into excruciating detail to get a better view of what Vincent is doing. He starts in a surrender position with his hands up, in more of a fake surrender than a real one. 

First, he knocks the thug’s gun out of his face with his arm, but then he clears his cover garment. He’s carrying concealed with an OWB holster. He uses his dominant hand to sweep his jacket rearward in a swift and fast movement. 

From there, he establishes a good firing grip on his weapon and draws it quickly. He’s extremely close to his target. Close enough that he doesn’t need to aim much to land shots. In fact, he’s too close to fully extend his arms.

He reverts to a close retention position and fires two rounds into his closest target. He then rapidly transitions to the next target. He leads the transition with his entire body and fully extends and assumes a two-handed firing stance. 

He then fires two rounds into the chest of the next target before transitioning to a headshot. It’s smooth and quick. 

How To Do It

We know what we have to do to run through the Collateral Drill, but how do we start? Personally, I started by doing it over and over but wasn’t seeing the time or smoothness I needed to succeed. What I started to do instead was to break down each and every part of the drill. 

clearing a cover garment
Clearing the cover garment is the tricky part.

I practiced clearing the cover garment over and over until it was smooth and done correctly. I then practiced establishing a grip. I tied the two together, cleared the garment, and established a good grip on the gun. Then I moved to drawing. Again I practiced over and over, and I linked each part of the drill together, one piece behind the other. 

Shooting from close retention
Firing from close retention is an interesting experience. Make sure your body parts are behind the gun

In a short period of time, I became quite quick and efficient at each skill. It was all done dry, rep after rep, for a couple of days of practice. I began implementing the Laser Academy for a first shot hit time but still worked through the entire drill. Eventually, when I felt comfy moving fast, I went live. 

transitions from target 1 to target 2
Transition with the eyes first, then the body and gun follow

Admittedly I started a bit slowly for safety’s sake and worked through it live. The added addition of actual recoil and the need for good shot placement made it a bit slower than the dry fire practice. However, once I went full speed, I was already tying with Cruise and often beating his time. 

two targets at the gun range
We’ll need two threats for the collateral drill

My advice is to break it down slowly and put it together piece by piece. 

But Why? 

To be fair, I started it just because it was a ton of fun. I had a goal to chase. However, it turned out to be excellent practice at just basic fighting handgun skills. Clearing the garment, drawing, close retention, target transitions, and more turned out to be great training and a good refresher for those skills. 

Give the Collateral drill a try, and let us know what you think below. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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