Fines have been levelled after series of safety failures on Rust set, which ended with actor Alec Baldwin discharging a live gun, tragically taking Halyna Hutchins’ life and wounding director Joel Souza.
New Mexico authorities have fined the producers, including Baldwin, a total of $139,793 (£107,019). They deemed that the incident, which happened on October 21, 2021, was avoidable and judging by the detailed report by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health & Safety Bureau (OHSB), it really was.
The document details the complicated and often messy hierarchy of a film set. There’s producers, line producers, assistants, masters… Guns, like any other items handled by actors in scenes, are considered props and they fall under the Props department’s care, but for guns, or any sort of weapons, you need an assigned Armorer or Weapons Handler.
Rust, a western, only had one, sole Armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. She was contracted to do only 8 days of the entire production as an Armorer and the rest as a Props Assistant. She was reporting directly to Sarah Zachary who was the Props Master as well as working closely with Gabrielle Pickle, a Line Producer.
According to the report, she told her supervisor on October 17, a mere 4 days before the fatal incident took place, that she was on her last contracted day as an armorer and “if there’s gunfire after this you may want to talk to the producers.” No such talks were held and Gabrielle Pickle even told Gutierrez-Reed not to train Baldwin or others on safe gun handling.
This means on the day of the incident, no one was directly responsible for the gun itself or gun safety on set. Dave Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin on the day of the incident, was 1st assistant director and safety coordinator who worked with Gutierrez-Reed on firearm safety.
A day before the incident, 1st Assistant Camera Lane Luper resigned, citing safety concerns. There were also two misfires of guns during the production, both on October 16. He sent a text to one of the producers, stating “During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose. So far, there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges and 1 accidental SFX explosive that have gone off around the crew between takes.”
The production stated that they never had any intention of having live rounds on set and said they ordered ammunition from a prop store in New Mexico. Dummy rounds must always be verified before using and are distinguishable from live rounds, but it requires someone to actually look at the rounds. The report doesn’t say how live rounds came to be on set.
Clearly, many things went wrong during the production of Rust and the fact that it all ended with a loss of a life is devastating. The document concludes that the producers demonstrated a “plain indifference” for safety concerns, but it’s equally troubling that there are no official, federal standards for firearms used on film sets.
It’s also worth asking why Alec Baldwin was aiming the gun at Hutchins and Souza. While it might look cool on camera, to have an actor point a gun directly at it or just past it, is it worth the risk if the gun has any kind of ammunition, whether it’s a dummy, which contains no propellant or explosive, or a blank which generates a muzzle flash and an explosive sound? In other words, one sounds and looks more real than the other.
So while the producers are clearly at fault for not ensuring there was an Armorer present and in charge of firearms during the entire shoot, the larger issue is that there aren’t proper standards for film sets to follow in terms of firearms and their safe use. It truly is like the wild, wild west out there and in this case, it cost the life of a 42-year-old woman.