Yesterday on the set of the independent film Rust, Alec Baldwin, actor and producer for the film, fired a prop gun on set during production, which killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.
The incident occurred on the set of “Rust,” an independent feature that was filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular production location south of Santa Fe.
Hutchins, 42, was transported by helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she died. Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, where he is undergoing treatment for his injuries, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office.
No one was arrested in the incident, and no charges have been filed, the office said. Detectives were interviewing witnesses, and the incident remains under an “open and active” investigation, according to the Sheriff’s office.
“We received the devastating news this evening, that one of our members, Halyna Hutchins, the Director of Photography on a production called ‘Rust’ in New Mexico died from injuries sustained on the set,” said John Lindley, the president of the guild, and Rebecca Rhine, the executive director, in a statement. “The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event. This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our Guild’s family.”
Rust Movie Productions LLC, the production entity behind the film, issued a statement on Thursday night, saying that the cast and crew are “devastated” and that the company is cooperating fully with the investigation.
“The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones,” the company said. “We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with the Santa Fe Police Department’s investigation. We will be providing counseling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event.”
Halyna Hutchins grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, and worked as a journalist with British documentary productions in Europe. She graduated from the AFI Conservatory in 2015, worked on several short films, and was selected by American Cinematography magazine as one of the Rising Stars of 2019 before she was hired to be the cinematographer for films such as Archenemy starring Joe Manganiello, Blindfire starring Brian Geraghty and Sharon Leal, and Darlin’, which was written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh, who played Jadis/Anne on The Walking Dead.
When news of this incident began to spread on social media, many people expressed their anger, frustration, and disbelief that something like this could happen on a film set. Not surprisingly, one name repeatedly came up in conversation while discussing this incident.
In March of 1993, Brandon Lee starred in the lead role of Eric Draven in the comic-book film The Crow. As production of the film neared completion in Wilmington, North Carolina, he was filming the scene in which Eric walks into his apartment and finds his fiancée, Shelly (Sofia Shinas), being sexually assaulted by T-Bird and his gang, only to be shot by Funboy (Michael Massee) before he can do anything to try and stop them. From Lee’s Wikipedia page:
In the scene, Lee’s character walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped. Actor Michael Massee’s character [Funboy] fires a Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver at Lee as he walks into the room. A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges (with no powder or primer) to be loaded in the revolver for a close-up scene. (For film scenes that utilize a revolver where the bullets are visible from the front and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide the realistic appearance of actual rounds.)
Instead of purchasing commercial dummy cartridges, the film’s prop crew created their own by pulling the bullets from live rounds, dumping the powder charge and then reinserting the bullets. However, they unknowingly or unintentionally left the live primer in place at the rear of the cartridge. At some point during filming, the revolver was apparently discharged with one of these improperly deactivated cartridges in the chamber, setting off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet partway into the barrel, where it became stuck (a condition known as a squib load). The prop crew either failed to notice this or failed to recognize the significance of this issue.
In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be fired at Lee from a distance of 3.6-4.5 meters (12-15 feet), the dummy cartridges were exchanged with blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. However, since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him. He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he underwent six hours of surgery. Attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead on March 31, 1993 at 1:03 pm. EST. He was 28 years old. The shooting was ruled an accident due to negligence.
Not only did people point out the kind of reckless and irresponsible on-set behavior that resulted in the death of Brandon Lee, they made sure to point out the reckless and irresponsible behavior that has injured and/or killed cast and crew members on the sets of many other films and television shows.
Sarah Jones, camera assistant who was killed on the set of Midnight Rider when she was struck by a moving train. S.J. Harris, stuntwoman who died on the set of Deadpool 2 when she performed a stunt on a motorcycle and crashed into a nearby building. John Bernecker, stuntman for The Walking Dead, who failed to land on the mats that were to absorb his fall, and landed headfirst on concrete instead. Olivia Jackson, stuntwoman who was injured on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter by a motorcycle crash that placed her in a coma and resulted in her arm needing to be amputated. Brandon Sonnier, co-showrunner of the television series L.A.’s Finest, who had to have one of his legs amputated below the knee when a stunt car crashed into the area of the set where Sonnier and other producers were viewing the stunt on monitors. Conway Wickliffe, cameraman who was killed on the set of The Dark Knight when he leaned out of the window of a stunt car while shooting footage and the stunt car crashed. Marc Akerstream, stuntman who was killed on the set of the television series The Crow: Stairway To Heaven, when a special-effects explosion caused flying debris to strike him on his head. Uma Thurman, who was injured on the set of Kill Bill Vol. 2 when she was told by writer/director Quentin Tarantino to drive a stunt car that malfunctioned and caused her to crash into a palm tree. And too many other deaths and injuries to list here, deaths and injuries that never should have happened in the first place.
This is before we even get into the physical, verbal, and sexual abuse that cast and crew members regularly encounter on sets for the films and television shows where they work. Earlier this week, Ruby Rose told the world about the physical and emotional abuse they experienced on the set of The CW series Batwoman that left them with physical injuries that made it difficult to do their work as the title character before they were forced out of the role and left the series altogether. Entertainment reporter Maureen “Mo” Ryan has written numerous articles about the abuse that has occurred on the sets of several CBS shows, like Bull and All Rise and NCIS: New Orleans and Hawaii Five-O, while also making sure to remind everyone that this kind of abusive behavior isn’t limited to just one network, but is an industry-wide problem caused by far too many people who use their positions of power to take advantage of whoever they want and remain untouchable while doing so.
People who work in the film and television industry, who either knew Halyna or knew of her, expressed their condolences on social media, while also making it clear that what happened to her and to Joel Souza must never, ever happen again.
My thoughts are with Halyna Hutchins’ friends and family, and I’m hoping that Joel Souza and Alec Baldwin are with the ones they love and receiving the best care possible. What a horrible situation.— Phil Nobile Jr. (@PhilNobileJr) October 22, 2021
There’s no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore. Should just be fully outlawed. There’s computers now. The gunshots on Mare of Easttown are all digital. You can probably tell, but who cares? It’s an unnecessary risk. https://t.co/pVWJp766EY— craig zobel (@craigzobel) October 22, 2021
My heart breaks for the family and friends of Halyna Hutchins - this is just horrifying and devastating news.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) October 22, 2021
Everyone who has witnessed the safety protocols/safety meetings/barrel checks that go into a prop gun being used in a production is screaming HOW in the fuck did this happen.— June Diane Raphael (@MsJuneDiane) October 22, 2021
In my younger days I often mistook stupidity as bravura filmmaking, using real chainsaws, firearm without proper safety measures.— Timo Tjahjanto (@Timobros) October 22, 2021
DO NOT ever go there. Even with the most strictest of rules and regulation something bad can still happen.
Watch over ur fellow crew & cast. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻
Six or seven years ago I was in the VFX trailer at #Supernatural watching one of the talented artisans digitally put a bullet in a gun in an insert shot. The technology has been there for awhile. Today was tragic but also avoidable.— Danielle Turchiano (@danielletbd) October 22, 2021
I still have a small scar from shrapnel from a prop gun that was fired on set. They are no joke. I was lucky, this is an absolute tragedy. https://t.co/hRCmAaSI85— Remy Hii (@RemyHii) October 22, 2021
I don’t see any reason why 20th century blanks should be used anymore. There are all sorts of ways to fake gunshots convincingly and nobody who’s not in the industry would know the difference.— Mad Scholar Strikes (@mattzollerseitz) October 22, 2021
Halyna was shooting the Western RUST when she died. Women cinematographers have historically been kept from genre film, and it seems especially cruel that one of the rising stars who was able to break through had her life cut short on the kind of project we've been fighting for.— 𝖊𝖑𝖑𝖊 𝖘𝖕𝖎𝖉𝖊𝖗 🕷️🕸️ (@elleschneider) October 22, 2021
There was one night on The Punisher when the armorer(also working 12-14+ hours a day) was handing out like thirty fully loaded automatic rifles with “blanks” and i was like wow we have to trust all of these strangers with our lives #IASolidarity— thomas Jr. 🛠 IATSE STRIKE! (@t_NYC) October 22, 2021
And guess what happens when they do scenes with guns? Every take they have to reset the guns. Rushing the overworked and exhausted one or two @IATSE armorers working 12-14+ hour days to reload the guns as fast as possible, where they hand them off to.. actors with no training— thomas Jr. 🛠 IATSE STRIKE! (@t_NYC) October 22, 2021
Has never been a single moment that I didn’t trust my fellow @IATSE members in the Special FX department with my life. They would set up building-size explosions right next to us. I trust them with my life. And yet ANYONE I trust can make a mistake while working 12-14+ hours pic.twitter.com/TOWLo3L2LR— thomas Jr. 🛠 IATSE STRIKE! (@t_NYC) October 22, 2021
The point is really that any gun on any set is treated as if it is loaded. For rehearsals they have plastic guns. The reports that a real gun was used during a rehearsal and fired by a cast member is a perfect example of the blatant disregard for crew health and safety @IATSE— thomas Jr. 🛠 IATSE STRIKE! (@t_NYC) October 22, 2021
And yes often time they would use the more dangerous/louder half loads in guns for the larger explosive effect from the barrel. They would do that, the more dangerous thing, because it’s much *cheaper* than adding that effect with CGI— thomas Jr. 🛠 IATSE STRIKE! (@t_NYC) October 22, 2021
p.s. They add the muzzle flashes in post now anyway, and they can even cycle the slide and add a shell ejection in VFX. Having live blanks on your set is not worth it. No show or shot is worth risking people’s lives.— David Slack (@slack2thefuture) October 22, 2021
But because this prop gun had a plugged barrel, that means all the blast — 1/2 the gunpowder required to propel a bullet beyond the speed of sound — comes out the SIDE of the gun.— David Slack (@slack2thefuture) October 22, 2021
It blew a hole in the paper and lit it on fire.
Prop guns are guns. Full stop.
And because these are, in many cases, real guns firing blank round with 1/2 or 1/4 load, they tend to jam and misfire. Which means you frequently wind up with an actor or prop master frantically trying to unjam the thing so you can keep shooting. Not a recipe for a safe set.— David Slack (@slack2thefuture) October 22, 2021
And remember how IATSE crew members have been demanding reasonable rest and longer turnarounds? Stuff like this is one of the big reasons why. Thread. https://t.co/DdA44pzJ1l— David Slack (@slack2thefuture) October 22, 2021
We instantly agreed about shooting with vintage anamorphics; her AFI training and her skill with the math of LUT settings gave us the best texture I’ve found yet in shooting digital. pic.twitter.com/kyQgUmVr4S— Adam Egypt Mortimer (@adamegypt) November 22, 2020
Being Ukrainian, she had a strong sense of a non-American approach: on the occasions when I threw away the plan on paper to try something brand new in the moment she’d get very excited and say “Oh we’re shooting it like a European movie.”— Adam Egypt Mortimer (@adamegypt) November 22, 2020
I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set. She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/vcdFqHsGA0— Adam Egypt Mortimer (@adamegypt) October 22, 2021
I am gutted and just so mad right now. No shot, no scene and no movie is worth the loss of life. #RIPHalynaHutchins— Rachel Morrison (@morrisondp) October 22, 2021
I often get pushback when I demand completely disabled, non-firing weapons on set, but this is why. Mistakes happen, and when they involve guns, mistakes kill. No gun ever needs to fire on set. Muzzle flashes are the easiest & cheapest visual effect. Why are we still doing this? https://t.co/vT9QRwyYKY— Megan Griffiths (@thecinechick) October 22, 2021
I’m stunned. I went to AFI with Halyna. She was funny, and a bad ass, and a mom. I never expected to ever see her name like this. https://t.co/5eWyiDBTex— Christina Strain (@christinastrain) October 22, 2021
I’m in shock. I was so lucky to have had Halyna Hutchins as my DP on Archenemy. An incredible talent & great person. I can’t believe this could happen in this day and age… gunfire from a prop gun could kill a crew member? What a horrible tragedy. My heart goes out to her family pic.twitter.com/W479ch56Js— JOE MANGANIELLO (@JoeManganiello) October 22, 2021
There’s nothing I can add that hasn’t been said better by others already, but I still want my voice counted among those calling for accountability in the loss of Halyna Hutchins. We must guarantee the safety of everyone on set at all times.— (((Drew Z. Greenberg))) (@DrewZachary) October 22, 2021
Every terrible person on social media is about to try and turn a terrible workplace accident and tragedy of errors into a culture war football. Let's all do our best to not take the bait.— Vermizack Pejorative (@MuseZack) October 22, 2021
Shannon Lee, sister of Brandon Lee, and who runs the Twitter account dedicated to him, offered her condolences as well.
Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on “Rust”. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period. 💔— Brandon Bruce Lee (@brandonblee) October 22, 2021
If it wasn’t crystal-clear before how important workplace safety and professional conduct both are on the sets of every film and television series, and why the IATSE have been protesting and making their voices heard so that below-the-line crew members will stop being overworked and mistreated, it should be crystal-clear now. Halyna Hutchins being killed and Joel Souza being injured shouldn’t be required to make people understand and to make them give a sh-t about any of this. As this investigation continues and eventually reveals how this happened, the person(s) responsible for what happened and who failed to make sure that the set of Rust was absolutely safe must be severely punished. I’m too f-cking saddened and infuriated by this to use fancier and more respectful language. And I can’t even begin to imagine how heartbroken, upset, and traumatized Alec Baldwin and all of his colleagues from Rust are feeling right now. A woman is dead, and she died while doing her job because someone didn’t do their job to make sure that the equipment being used on set wouldn’t be fatal or hazardous for the cast and crew. Too many people are now feeling overwhelmed by anger and grief, while also knowing that Halyna’s death and this entire situation will be used as a joke by others for whom empathy is an unfamiliar concept.
No one should lose their life or their peace of mind because they make movies and television for a living. No one.
May Halyna Hutchins rest in peace, and my condolences to her family and friends.
Image sources (in order of posting): Getty Images, Instagram