There Were Reportedly A Lot Of Problems On The Set Of “Rust” Before The Prop Gun Shooting That Killed Halyna Hutchins
It’s been a couple of days since the horrible on-set fatal accident that took the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and put director Joel Souza in the hospital, and now details are coming out about how things were messy on set days leading up to the shooting. The movie Rust, which stars Alec Baldwin (he’s also a producer), Frances Fisher, Jensen Ackles, and Travis Fimmel, began filming on October 6 in New Mexico. And The Los Angeles Times reports that on the day of the accident, about a half-dozen members of the crew had enough of the shitty working conditions and walked off the set. They had many complaints including relaxed and sloppy safety protocols. One camera operator reportedly complained to the production manager about the lack of gun safety on the set, but nothing was done.
As we sadly know, on October 21 at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alec Baldwin fired a single shot from a prop gun handed to him during a rehearsal and the live round hit both Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza. (The industry term “live round” means that the gun was loaded with some kind of material including blanks.) The L.A. Times says that Alec was preparing to film a scene where he pulls a gun out of his holster when it misfired. At the time, a B-camera operator was on a dolly with a monitor, and Halyna was looking at the monitor from behind the camera operator’s shoulder, and Joel was behind Halyna. The live round hit Halyna near her shoulder before hitting Joel in the clavicle. Halyna was airlifted to a hospital where she later died. Joel was taken to the hospital by ambulance and was released the next day. But that wasn’t the first time a prop gun accidentally fired a live round.
On October 16, Alec Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two live rounds from a prop gun after being told that it was “cold,” which is movie set talk for a gun that doesn’t have any ammunition in it, including blanks. So that’s a humongous red flag, which was reportedly ignored. One crew member says that production pretty much shrugged over the prop gun misfires because they were in a hurry to finish the 21-day shoot.
“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” a crew member said. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”
A colleague was so alarmed by the prop gun misfires that he sent a text message to the unit production manager. “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by The Times.
Deadline adds that the producers of Rust had a hard time finding a head armorer (the person in charge of the prop weapons). A number of armorers turned down the job because the movie’s reported $7 million production budget was too low and there were a lot of firearms to deal with. TMZ says that Hannah Reed took the job of head armorer on Rust and it was only her second time being head armorer. Her first time as head armorer was on a Nicolas Cage movie and she said in a podcast interview that she wasn’t sure she was ready for the job but things went smoothly on that set. Hannah is the daughter of veteran Hollywood armorer Thell Reed.
Just hours before the shooting, seven members of the camera crew walked out over the long hours (12 to 13 hours a day), safety conditions, the long wait for their paychecks, and the long commute (they had to drive around 60 miles from Albuquerque to Santa Fe since producers were too cheap to get them hotels nearby). Halyna, who had been advocating for safer working conditions for the crew, stayed on set and was “tearful” when the camera crew left. The camera crew, who were all union members, were quickly replaced with local nonunion crew members so that filming could continue.
CNN says that Alec was handed a prop gun by assistant director David Halls who got it from the head armorer. When handing the gun to Alec, David allegedly yelled “cold gun.” Bryan Carpenter, a Hollywood armorer, tells CNN that at least two people should make sure the gun is really “cold” before it’s declared as “cold.” And a prop gun with a live round in it should never be used during a rehearsal.
Carpenter added that while it’s acceptable for some actors to want to get a feel of a weapon during rehearsals, it’s crucial to ensure the prop guns are not filled with any rounds. He noted that weapons on sets should be confirmed “cold” by two people to avoid such tragic incidents.
The Santa Fe County Police Department and The New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau are both investigating this. The production company behind Rust is also doing their own internal investigation, but well, since they cut corners on production, they’ll probably cut corners on the investigation too.
Entertainment Weekly says that because of this horrible incident, ABC’s The Rookie has banned “live” guns from the set and will only use nonlethal airsoft guns and add in CGI’d muzzle flashes in post-production. Eric Kripke, the showrunner of Amazon Prime’s The Boys, tweeted that he will also never use guns with blanks on any of his sets again. Really, all movies and TV shows should just CGI that shit. And if they don’t have the budget to CGI a gun, they should just make the actor do a finger gun while making a “pew pew pew” sound. We promise to “ooh” and “ahh” every single time.