How many gun accidents does it take for a film production to take firearms safety seriously? According to new reports, the answer is something north of three. Multiple news outlets report that Alec Baldwin’s shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was the fourth such incident on the set — and at least one crew member had quit in protest of the dangerous conditions:
New information is coming to light about the fatal shooting on the set of Alec Baldwin’s latest movie, “Rust,” as the film’s assistant director speaks out for the first time. @Miguelnbc reports. pic.twitter.com/XqLFqc32hb
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) November 2, 2021
All eyes have been on the set’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who had only worked as the armorer on one film prior to leading things on “Rust.” As she becomes one of the main focuses of the investigation into the death of Hutchins, a new report from the Los Angeles Times indicates that crew members were concerned about her work and that other accidental discharges had happened prior.
The outlet reports that a total of three incidents involving guns being fired accidentally happened prior to the incident involving Baldwin on Oct. 21. One involved Baldwin’s stunt double firing a blank round after he was told the gun he was holding was “cold,” an industry term meaning that there were no projectiles in the firearm. This is similar to what assistant director Dave Halls told Baldwin on the day of the shooting, not realizing that a live round was in the gun he handed the actor before declaring it “cold.”
The outlet reports another shooting involved a woman in the props department. She was handling a gun and accidentally shot herself in the foot with a blank round, according to Lane Luper, the A-camera first assistant on “Rust.”
Attorneys for Gutierrez Reed claim these reports exonerate their client:
They also explained that she has never had an accidental discharge herself, but they admitted that at least two had taken place on the set.
“The first one on this set was the prop master and the second one was a stunt man after Hannah informed him his gun was hot with blanks,” they said.
Maybe, but it’s unlikely a jury will see it that way. The armorer is supposed to be involved in all such weapons transfers and safety checks. If Gutierrez Reed was cut out of those loops, the first such accident should have led her to assert her authority.
This information entirely contradicts the picture painted by Baldwin and others about the accident, however. Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that Baldwin was telling “paparazzi” that it was a “one-in-a-trillion episode”:
Hollywood loves nothing more than a good war story, a tale of the difficult conditions that a cast and crew face, the daring chance a director took to get the take, the film made on a shoestring budget that becomes an unexpected hit.
But this was no war story; this was every filmmaker’s worst nightmare. A “one-in-a-trillion episode” is how Baldwin described it to paparazzi who’d tracked him down Saturday, a week later, in a small Vermont town.
“There are incidental accidents on film sets from time to time, but nothing like this,” he told the photographers Saturday. “We were a very, very well-oiled crew shooting a film together and then this horrible event happened.”
Three instances of negligence in firearms handling make this more than just a 1:1T event, however. It paints a picture not of a “very, very well-oiled crew” but of an incompetent and negligent organization that apparently refused to recognize that its luck was about to run out.
Gutierrez Reed and Baldwin aren’t the only principals in this homicide to start the public spin cycle. Dave Halls, the assistant director who reportedly called “cold gun” when handing the firearm to Baldwin, now wants Hollywood to “re-evaluate its values“:
The assistant director for the Western flick “Rust” is speaking out for the first time since the on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, calling on the movie industry to “reevaluate its values” after the fatal gaffe.
However, David Halls did not address details of the incident — or respond to previous reports that he was the one who handed the “hot gun” used in the deadly shooting to actor Alec Baldwin.
“Halyna Hutchins was not just one of the most talented people I’ve worked with, but also a friend,” Halls said in a statement.
“I’m shocked and saddened by her death,” he said. “It’s my hope that this tragedy prompts the industry to reevaluate its values and practices to ensure no one is harmed through the creative process again.”
One “value” Halls might want to evaluate is checking the firearm thoroughly first. According to the LA Times, Hall admitted to police that he didn’t check the rounds in the pistol before declaring it a cold gun, a point raised in the Today segment above as well:
Crew members on the set of “Rust” believed that the lead bullet that fatally wounded cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Thursday was supposed to be a dummy round, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday and a Los Angeles Times interview with a crew member who was in the Western set’s church at the time of the shooting.
According to the affidavit, first assistant director Dave Halls told investigators that he did not check all the rounds in the gun before it was handed to actor and producer Alec Baldwin — a major breach of safety protocol. …
Dummy rounds can be used in shots where the camera is pointed down the barrel of a gun, because they appear almost identical to a real bullet. But dummies typically have a small hole drilled into them or there is an indentation showing that the primer at the rear of the casing has been punched and is inert.
According to the affidavit, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed — who was in charge of overseeing gun safety and usage on set — said on the day of the incident, she had ensured that the ammunition intended for production were “dummies” and did not include “‘hot’ rounds.”
According to the affidavit, Gutierrez Reed also told investigators that live ammo was never kept on set. Investigators said Wednesday that they recovered roughly 500 rounds of ammunition from the set — a mixture of “blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting were live rounds,” according to Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza.
That responsibility falls on Baldwin as well — and for that matter, on director Joel Souza too. At least according to other Hollywood figures, any use of an actual firearm — dummy loads or unloaded — should only come when the set is cleared in the direction the muzzle will face. Pulling out a real pistol and pointing it at people is supposed to be a violation of established industry safety protocols, not to mention an incredibly stupid thing to do all on its own. Baldwin shouldn’t have begun that rehearsal until all personnel were cleared, and Souza should have never allowed it to take place.
All of this makes for a great civil case for a wrongful death lawsuit, which is all but assured of success at this point. Does it make for a criminal case of negligent homicide? The sheriff’s office and DA will have to make that call, but it certainly has the elements of such a charge, even if it might be tough to prosecute in this instance. If nothing else, the Rust disaster demonstrates the inexorable impact of hubris.