What Went Wrong On The “Rust” Set?

On Oct. 21, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot and director Joel Souza was wounded on the set of the film “Rust” after actor Alec Baldwin fired a real gun used as a prop. There were several issues on the set that could have been avoided.

The armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was responsible for overseeing all weapons on set. On Gutierrez-Reed’s first film, “The Old Way,” several crew members complained about the way she handled firearms. She did not announce the arrival and usage of weapons onto the set, and in one instance she fired a weapon without warning the cast and crew.

Assistant Director Dave Halls faced complaints about his behavior on two episodes of “Into the Dark” in 2019, when crew said he showed disregard for safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics use. Safety meetings were short and Halls complained about having to have weapons cleared before use. That same year, Halls was fired from working on the film “Freedom’s Path” after a firearm went off on set, wounding a crew member.

Why were two crew members who have shown disregard for weapon safety in previous films hired for a film which would involve guns? 

The production of “Rust” began during a strike by members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. There were several reasons for the strike: low or no pay, absence of a medic during set construction, lack of accommodations and poor COVID-19 and gun safety on set.

Gun safety was an issue, with complaints mentioning that two prop guns had been fired unintentionally three times. In one case, a woman shot herself in the foot with a blank round. However, the production did not launch an investigation into those complaints.

On the day of the shooting, seven unionized members of the camera crew walked off-set, and they were replaced by four non-union members.

Why were crew members not better taken care of? Why were so many safety measures disregarded?

On the day of the shooting, three guns were retrieved from a locked safe and placed on a prop cart by Gutierrez-Reed. Only one of them could fire live ammunition. This gun was briefly checked by Gutierrez-Reed, who handed it to Baldwin and announced that it was a “cold gun,” which normally means that the gun has no ammunition in it.
Hutchins and Souza were behind a monitor, repositioning a camera. They were two feet from the muzzle of the gun and neither were wearing any protective gear like safety goggles or noise-canceling headphones.

Baldwin, who was rehearsing a scene which involved him pointing a gun toward the camera, began to talk through his actions. He removed the gun from the holster and fired it at the camera, striking Hutchins in the chest and Souza in the shoulder.

Why would a gun with live ammunition be used for a scene rehearsal, rather than a prop? Why was the gun not thoroughly checked to ensure it was really a “cold gun?” Why was anyone on that set anywhere near that gun without some sort of protection on? And if the scene only involved Baldwin pointing the gun at the camera and not firing it, why on Earth would he pull the trigger?

As you can tell, I have several questions about the mistakes that brought about Hutchins’ death. While just one thing going wrong on a set with a live weapon can spell disaster, so many things going wrong is outrageous. As someone who has used a firearm before, I understand the level of precaution that needs to be taken, and this callous disregard for safety horrifies me.

The shooting has sparked debates about the use of live guns as props, and for good reason. Shannon Lee, whose brother Brandon was killed by an accidental shooting from a prop gun in 1993, has called for prop guns to be banned, saying that “with all the special effects that are possible and all of the technology, there is no reason to have a prop gun or a gun on a set that can fire a projectile of any sort.” I agree. We’re past the point in film technology where we can fake a muzzle flash, so why are we still putting people in danger by waving loaded guns around? And if filmmakers think they need a weapon for the aesthetic value, why not take all safety measures available?

Categories: Opinion

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: