Alec Baldwin shooting incident calls safety on low-budget, rushed movies like ‘Rust’ into question

The accidental shooting incident involving Alec Baldwin that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead has called the conditions and potential corner-cutting on the movie “Rust” into question. 

Baldwin was rehearsing a scene for the movie on Oct. 21 that required him to cross-draw his revolver, which he was led to believe by assistant director Dave Halls was a “cold gun,” a term used to describe a gun that was safe to handle. However, somehow a live round made its way into the firearm. When it went off, Hutchins was hit with a fatal shot and the same bullet went into director Joel Souza’s shoulder, where it was later recovered. 

In the wake of the tragedy, several conversations are happening regarding the use of live ammunition and real guns on film and TV sets. Meanwhile, “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, one of the very few people who handled the firearm prior to the shooting, noted in a statement through her attorneys that a low-budget and pressure to go quickly by producers led to a lapse in safety protocols. 

With a budget of around $7 million, the Western “Rust” was no micro-budget indie. The previous best-picture winner at the Academy Awards, “Nomadland,” was made for less. However, given the current climate of filmmaking posed by the coronavirus pandemic, indie productions like “Rust” are indeed facing a lot of pressure to move quickly as restrictions lift and the theater market is hungry for things that will put audiences back in seats. 

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Alec Baldwin was involved in an accidental shooting incident on the set of ‘Rust.’

Alec Baldwin was involved in an accidental shooting incident on the set of ‘Rust.’
(Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images)

“Production is exploding, corners are being cut even more and budgets are being crunched down even more,” Mynette Louie, a veteran independent film producer told The Associated Press. “Something’s got to give.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was “some complacency” in how weapons were handled on the set. Investigators found 500 rounds of ammunition — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and suspected live rounds, even though the set’s firearms specialist, armorer Gutierrez Reed, said real ammo should never have been present.

Deadline reported earlier this week that film sets with a lower budget are often subject to lapses when it comes to the safeguards in place to prevent accidents like this. As studios and TV networks review these protocols in the wake of Hutchins’ death, the outlet reports that the sentiment among Hollywood insiders is that the existing safeguards are sufficient. However, it comes down to the enforcement and resources to implement them. 

“This was incompetence, inexperience and — I hate to say this — lack of caring about your job. If there’s a whole bunch of ammunition thrown together in a box, that’s not how it’s done,” Mike Tristano, a longtime professional armorer, told the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a projectile from the gun struck both director Joel Souza and director of photography Halyna Hutchins, killing the later.

The Los Angeles Times reported that a projectile from the gun struck both director Joel Souza and director of photography Halyna Hutchins, killing the later.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Indeed there were prior concerns about the safety of crew members on the set of “Rust.” In an initial affidavit, Souza told investigators that the morning of the fatal accidental shooting, a new camera crew was brought on after several previous workers walked off the set amid disputes over working conditions, including safety procedures. 

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The New Mexico chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union called reports of nonunion workers being brought in “inexcusable.” The union will soon vote on a new standards agreement covering 60,000 film and TV crew members — a deal reached with major studios after IATSE prepared for the first strike in its 128-year existence.

In a previous statement, “Rust” executive producer Allen Cheney disputed the idea that inexperience was to blame for the problems that occurred on the set. Cheney said the six producers on the film collectively had more than 35 years of experience in film and television. He called “Rust” a “union-certified production.”

Halyna Hutchins was a rising star in the cinematography world when she was hit with a projectile on set that ultimately killed her.

Halyna Hutchins was a rising star in the cinematography world when she was hit with a projectile on set that ultimately killed her.
(Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

The gaffer on “Rust,” Serge Svetnoy, faulted the movie’s producers for “negligence.”

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“To save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job,” Svetnoy said in a Facebook post.

Veteran prop master Neal W. Zoromski told The Los Angeles Times that he declined an offer to work on “Rust” because producers insisted that one person could serve as both assistant prop master and armorer.

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Investigators are still looking into whether criminal charges are in order for anyone related to the “Rust” production. However, it seems several industry insiders, including Gutierrez Reed, are pointing to the budget and protocols on set as one of the big contributing factors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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