Actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Thursday after he discharged a prop firearm on the New Mexico set of Rust. The film’s director Joel Souza was also struck and injured by the same projectile from the discharge, but has since been released from the hospital.
Rust is a Western film set in the 1880s that stars Baldwin, Travis Fimmel and Jensen Ackles.
The story is about a 13-year-old boy who goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather after he’s sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher, according to IMDB. Baldwin not only plays the lead role, he is also co-producer.
Last week, we reported about the possible IATSE strike, which was averted, but just a few days before the accidental shooting many crew members including camera operators and their assistants walked off the Rust set due to safety issues, specifically gun safety issues, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds last Saturday after being told that the gun was “cold” (the term for a weapon that doesn’t have any ammunition, including blanks) two crew members who witnessed the incident told the Los Angeles Times.
“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.”
Before IATSE union members could leave the movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, several non-union crew members showed up to replace them, according to the Times. The shooting occurred approximately six hours after the union camera crew left.
The weapon was “set up” on the tray by the movie’s weapons specialist, or armorer, along with a Western-style gun belt used in the scene. The AD took the weapon from the tray and announced “cold gun” as he unwittingly handed Alec Baldwin a loaded weapon and told him it was safe to use.
Halyna Hutchins was sitting in front of Joel Souza watching the scene play out when the projectile struck her in the chest, the police said. Hutchins was transported to the hospital via helicopter and pronounced dead by medical personnel at University of New Mexico Hospital, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. Director Joel Souza was also struck by the live round and was transported to Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center by ambulance. He was discharged from hospital on Friday morning.
According to an affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County’s Sheriff’s Office obtained by the New York Times and Associated Press, The assistant director “did not know live rounds were in the prop gun.”
IATSE released this statement on its website:
“We are heartbroken and devastated to learn that one of our members, sister Halyna Hutchins, died yesterday from injuries sustained on set while working as the Director of Photography on Rust in New Mexico. Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna’s family, friends, and the Rust crew.
We are activating our partnerships across the industry to provide support and resources to our sisters, brothers, and kin.
Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something. If you feel unsafe on set for any reason, including harassment, send us a tip via the IATSE Safety Hotline at 844-422-9273 or using our safety info app.”
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USA TODAY obtained an email sent to members of IATSE Local 44, a union of prop makers and other craft persons who work within the entertainment industry, about the incident. The message said the prop gun from the Rust set was loaded with “a live single round” and that no Local 44 members were on set.
Alec Baldwin took to Twitter,
“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
A Twitter thread by film editor Marta Evry shows social media comments from union crew members complaining about suffering from practically every grievance that was supposed to have been addressed to avert the IATSE strike, including lack of pay, exhausting hours, and a failure from producers to provide a decent place to sleep.
This is not the first time someone was accidentally killed by a firearm while filming. actor Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts star Bruce Lee, was killed when struck by a bullet from a gun that was supposed to have just blanks, but had a bullet lodged in the barrel while filming the movie The Crow in 1993.
In 1984, actor John-Eric Hexum was “playing around” with a prop gun on the set of Cover Up: Golden Opportunity and died after putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger even though the gun was loaded with blanks. Blanks can be deadly if fired at very close range because they can still use paper or plastic wadding to seal gunpowder into the cartridge,
The weapons master or armorer is required to be on set whenever a weapon is being used. The Actors’ Equity Association‘s guidelines state, “Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test-fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.” Further, “All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.”
It’s very clear those guidelines were not followed on the set of Rust.
No immediate charges were filed, and sheriff’s spokesman Juan Rios said Baldwin was permitted to travel.
“He’s a free man,” Rios said.
Hutchins leaves behind her husband, Matt, and their 9-year-old son.
Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment industry in both Chicago and Los Angeles.