Photo courtesy of Tacgas.
You can’t fake operator. Breaching a doorway, talk over comms, even the way a rifle hangs on a sling — if done wrong — will max out the bullshit meter built into the members and veterans of our armed services.
Thankfully, we have Jim Staley and his company TacGas, which is on a mission to make tactical images and videos that are 100% bullshit-free.
Staley, a Recon Marine, scout sniper, and former Agency contractor, is the founder and CEO of TacGas, a media production company for the tactical and entertainment industries.
TacGas made its mark producing and capturing hyperrealistic and supremely accurate military simulations for its clients’ marketing and training needs.
The TacGas team directs action scenes for a General Dynamics video of the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW). Photo courtesy of TacGas.
The company’s client roster includes defense industry giants like Raytheon, General Dynamics, and L3Harris, as well as optics, gun, and tactical players like Vortex, SIG Sauer, and Polaris. Oh, and a little video game empire you might’ve heard of: Call of Duty.
The Forward Observer caught up with Staley and got a look under the hood of the media powerhouse. We discussed the company’s almost accidental origins, why the Uzi is still the world’s most advanced weapon on the planet in Hollywood, and why a family-style business is better than corporate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TFO: Even before you started TacGas, you were already a successful entrepreneur, yeah?
JS: Yeah, I’d started a company when I was doing my MBA program. I was doing a few online gear sales for the guys downrange called Deliberate Dynamics, and it started to take off. I was working overseas [as a GRS contractor], and I couldn’t really manage it as one person and being deployed, so I made the call to come back stateside and just do this business full time.
I started a training company in Utah at that point as well. We had a range, and I taught a lot of long-range stuff.
Photo courtesy of TacGas.
TFO: You had said on a Black Rifle Coffee Podcast (episode 86) that you wound up getting into the tactical media game almost by accident.
JS: At some point, a production company was using the range for a video and still photography shoot. They were trying to make a push into the tactical space. I was surprised by how little planning they had put in as far as the content they wanted to capture. The whole thing wasn’t done very well.
We decided to kind of dabble in this photography thing, and it kind of took off from there. [TacGas is] based around authentic tactical content, which some guys have tried to do. But we went pretty big on it pretty early and slowly started picking up more and more clients.
TFO: Is that kind of authenticity what you bring to the table for Call of Duty?
JS: It’s kind of the main, main thing that we’re known for. The Call of Duty team gives us conceptual designs for various personnel, and we cast the right people. We do photo shoots for them and help build out the kits and then send people out to LA to get scanned for the game — like their movements, gestures, and facial expressions.
We also built out a brand-new building in Salt Lake that we just moved into last year with a cage armory that’s going to be the new loading screen of the next Call of Duty. So that’s going to be kind of cool.
Behind the scenes of a shoot for a Polaris Defense video. Photo courtesy of TacGas.
TFO: Do you see TacGas getting into more on the entertainment side, like movies or shows?
JS: I just think we could bring what we do, this level of authenticity, this grittiness, to entertainment and film. I think it would be well received. I don’t think it’s any more expensive than they’re already doing. We’ve already done a lot of prop and technical advising. We just did an Apple TV show in New Mexico, and we did that SEAL show called Six that was on History Channel up in Canada.
The challenge is [production houses] just have a bunch of dudes that are Vietnam-era guys, incumbents that have been running props and advising a lot of these shows for so long. They’re the gatekeepers, and they don’t want any young blood in there.
So it’s like, the most advanced weapon on the planet is an Uzi because the Uzi is what they’ve got on the shelf. If we can get our foot in the door, and I don’t care whose T-shirt we’re wearing, we could bring a level of authenticity that would change how things are done.
Photo courtesy of TacGas.
TFO: You have to have a hell of a team to be crushing the work that you do.
JS: Like most veteran-based companies, we’ve tried to stay pretty true to our people. We have 21 full-time employees and a bunch of contractors — 75% to 80% are veterans. We kind of run a family-style business to a certain extent where we don’t do a lot of corporate stuff.
Our company motto is “dick on the table all the time.” If you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to own it. We tell each other what’s up, and then we move on. That’s abrasive for some people, but it’s been pretty good overall for keeping morale very high. We have a really good fucking team.
TFO: What about the talent you use for your photography and video work? Do you tap a lot of veterans for that, too?
JS: We bring out a lot of guys that don’t get to wear a gun belt for work anymore. They get to play dress-up, hang out with the boys, and essentially do a mission. Many of them come up to me and say, “You don’t know how much this helps me take a break, to hang out and call it work.” They’re like, “I’d do this for fucking free man.” It’s been cool to help them get out and do something that’s kind of bigger than their day jobs.
To learn more about TacGas and see its work, visit tacgas.com.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 print edition of The Forward Observer, a special publication from Coffee or Die Magazine, as "TacGas."
Matt Smythe is a former staff writer for Free Range American. He hails from the Finger Lakes region of western New York. An Army veteran and lifelong outdoorsman, Matt suffers from an inability to sit still. If he’s not in the woods, on the water, or busy with some sort of renovation project, he’s likely elbows-deep in restoring his ’67 Bronco. His work has appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal, the Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Southern Culture on the Fly, Revive, Midcurrent, Trout, and a handful of other non-outdoors-related magazines and literary journals.
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