ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – EXCLUSIVE: Gun handling on Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, appeared alarmingly “green,” “immature” and “lackadaisical,” according to sources close to the set who said they were horrified at times by some of what they saw.
They observed the conduct before a fatal on-set shooting accident that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead and wounded director Joel Souza.
One image taken behind the scenes on the halted film’s set, shown to Fox News Digital, shows 24-year-old armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed and two other women standing in a circle with a pair of Old West rifles and a revolver.
One long gun’s barrel is resting against the belly of one of the woman across from Gutierrez Reed as she uses her cellphone. The butt of the other is propped against her hip, barrel in the dirt. A third woman is holding the revolver by the end of the grip, with a tangle of wires in the same hand, barrel pointed down.
“People didn’t know the rules,” a source said.
The incident followed other drama on the set – including a spat over housing and safety concerns between a union camera crew and the production company so serious the veteran team walked off the job before the shooting.
Lane Luper, one of the cameramen who quit, described Gutierrez Reed’s armory crew as “three inexperienced people” in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s fine on a [low-budget production] to have inexperienced people, but your department heads shouldn’t be, or people handling firearms shouldn’t be,” he told the outlet. “It seemed like she was also under a lot of pressure to rush.”
The source asserted that a mix of cost-cutting measures in the hiring process and nepotism may have brought Gutierrez Reed, who was to be paid less than $8,000 for the movie, to the set.
Armorers are typically well-disciplined and many have military backgrounds, the source said.
But the 24-year-old is the daughter of famed Hollywood armorer Thell Reed.
Another purported “Rust” set incident, not caught on camera, involved someone handing Gutierrez Reed a revolver as she was sitting on the ground “playing on her phone,” the source said. She allegedly tucked it into her waistband without looking up.
“Stuff like that just seemed unprofessional and it does not create an atmosphere of safety or professionalism,” the source said. “When you find out she says her training came from her father, you think, ‘Oh she’s a hire because of her connections.’”
Jason Bowles, an attorney for the armorer, disputed the source’s claims Thursday.
“Hannah was very well trained by her father, Thell, who worked with her on sets from the time she was 10 years old,” he told Fox News Digital. “She did everything she could to ensure safety on the set.”
In a separate statement, Bowles said that “never in a million years did Hannah think that live rounds could have been in the ‘dummy’ round box.”
“Who put those in there and why is the central question,” he said. “Hannah kept guns locked up, including throughout lunch on the day in question, and she instructed her department to watch the cart containing the guns when she was pulled away for her other duties or on a lunch break.”
In an earlier incident on the “Rust” set, a background actor appeared unhappy with a rubber prop gun and asked if he could use a real one for an upcoming scene, according to an eyewitness account. A subordinate allegedly turned to get one, but Gutierrez Reed pushed back and the unnamed actor ultimately left with the rubber replica.
Search warrants released by the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department suggest a break from film industry guidelines for how to handle weapons while filming.
All guns on set, whether they are real, replicas, loaded or empty, are to be treated as though they are loaded with live ammunition, according to safety recommendations from the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (CSATF) and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).
The guidelines also note that “blanks can kill” and that weapons should never be pointed at another person.
According to the warrants, released last week by the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department, assistant director David Halls allegedly handed Baldwin a loaded .45 revolver during a scene rehearsal, telling him it was “cold,” or safe. The warrant adds that Halls said he was not aware that there was a real bullet inside.
With Baldwin rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver, and with Hutchins, Souza and another person huddled behind the camera, a live projectile fired out of the barrel, tearing through the cinematographer’s torso before lodging itself in the director’s shoulder.
Gutierrez Reed told detectives that she had checked dummy rounds in the weapon before a lunch break earlier in the day, according to the warrants. And she said that “no live ammo is ever kept on set.”
But Sheriff Adan Mendoza later said it appeared that a live bullet had been loaded in the weapon and that doctors pulled a projectile out of Souza.
“Alec didn’t know,” a person on set told Fox News. “It wasn’t his job to know.”
A film’s property master or designated weapons handler is tasked with “checking all firearms before each use,” the CSATF guidelines state, and unloading them when not in use for filming or rehearsals. They are also supposed to ensure the “control and distribution of all firearms on set.”
Gutierrez Reed’s lawyers said she did check the rounds beforehand with Halls. However, an actual .45 Long Colt round may have been mixed in with realistic-looking prop dummies – through what they speculate as a possible incident of “sabotage” or by other means – the attorneys added, acknowledging the departure of the disgruntled crew.
Last week, Santa Fe Sheriff Mendoza said authorities had uncovered a mix of dummy rounds, blanks and real bullets from the set. Gutierrez Reed had told detectives that there weren’t supposed to be any real bullets at the ranch, according to the warrants.
Blanks have a distinct appearance – with a crimped or plugged tip where the bullet would go on a real bullet. But dummies and actual rounds can appear identical or nearly identical, depending on the manufacturing process. Some have a hole in the casing, but others don’t.
Bowles, one of Gutierrez Reed’s attorneys, said Friday he could not immediately confirm which types of dummies were found on set and that an official determination would likely come later from the FBI or the sheriff’s department.
The hiring of an armorer typically falls under the purview of a film’s unit production manager or line producer, longtime filmmakers tell Fox News Digital.
But Gutierrez Reed was hired to do double duty as an armorer as well as an assistant property master, her lawyers have said, a cost-cutting measure that they argued left her overworked. Firsthand accounts affirm that she was observed in both roles on set.
The film’s line producer, Gabrielle Pickle, and unit production manager, Row Walters, both of 3rd Shift Media Inc., did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Pickle was also linked to disputes with the camera crew that walked off, according to Luper’s interview with the Hollywood Reporter. He accused her of reaching out to non-union camera operators days before the walk-off about discussing their “onboarding process.”
When the crew finally had enough, she allegedly threatened them.
“As we were packing our things, Gabrielle Pickle came to the camera truck,” he told the outlet. “She came straight to me, said to vacate the premises immediately, otherwise she’ll call security. And I said, ‘As soon as we’re done, we’ll get out of your hair.’”
At least four people handled the gun on Oct. 21 – Baldwin, Gutierrez Reed, Halls and prop master Sarah Zachry, court documents show. Authorities have focused on the first three, all of whom are cooperating with investigators, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department. In particular, scrutiny has fallen on Gutierrez Reed and Halls.
Halls’ attorney disputed the timeline of events laid out in the warrants in an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum on Monday and declined to answer questions about who handed Baldwin the pistol. The attorney, Lisa Torraco, did not respond to requests for comment.