The gun used in a fatal shooting on a movie set in New Mexico earlier this week had been declared safe to use by a crew member just before it was discharged, court records show. The shooting happened hours after some workers walked off the job to protest safety conditions on set.
During a Thursday rehearsal for the Western film Rust, assistant director Dave Halls grabbed a prop gun from a cart at a Santa Fe movie ranch and handed it to lead actor Alec Baldwin, according to the records that were made public Friday.
“Cold gun,” Halls yelled, using a phrase meant to declare that the weapon didn’t carry live ammunition and was ready to fire.
But it wasn’t. When Baldwin pulled the trigger, he unwittingly killed 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her inside a wooden, chapel-like building.
A 911 call that alerted authorities to the shooting at the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe hints at the panic on the set, as detailed in a recording released by the Santa Fe County Regional Emergency Communications Center.
“We had two people accidentally shot on a movie set by a prop gun, we need help immediately,” script supervisor Mamie Mitchell told an emergency dispatcher. “We were rehearsing and it went off, and I ran out, we all ran out.”
The dispatcher asked if the gun was loaded with a real bullet.
“I cannot tell you. We have two injuries,” Mitchell replied. “And this [expletive] AD [assistant director] that yelled at me at lunch, asking about revisions. … He’s supposed to check the guns. He’s responsible for what happens on the set.”
Weapon turned over to police
Halls did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Associated Press was unable to contact Hannah Gutierrez, the film’s armourer — the person who oversees all weapons used on a production. Several messages sent to production companies affiliated with Rust also did not receive responses Friday.
The gun Baldwin used was one of three that Gutierrez had set on a cart outside the building where a scene was being rehearsed, according to the court records.
Halls grabbed the firearm from the cart and brought it inside to the actor, unaware that it was loaded with live rounds, a detective wrote in a search warrant application.
It was unclear how many rounds were fired. Gutierrez removed a shell casing from the gun after the shooting and turned the weapon over to police when they arrived, court records said.
Guns used in film productions are sometimes real weapons that can fire either bullets or blanks, which are gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but no dangerous projectile.
‘This is super unsafe’
New Mexico workplace safety investigators are examining if film industry standards for gun safety were followed during production of Rust.
The Los Angeles Times, citing two crew members it did not name, reported that five days before the shooting, Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two live rounds after being told the gun didn’t have any ammunition.
A crew member who was alarmed by the misfires told a unit production manager in a text message, “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by the newspaper.
The New York Times also reported that there were at least two earlier accidental gun discharges; it cited three former crew members.
Mitchell, the script supervisor, told The Associated Press that she was standing next to Hutchins when the cinematographer was shot.
“I ran out and called 911 and said, ‘Bring everybody, send everybody,’ ” Mitchell said. “This woman is gone at the beginning of her career. She was an extraordinary, rare, very rare woman.”
Director ‘gutted’ by shooting
Souza, the director who was shot in the shoulder, said in a statement to NBC News that he was grateful for the support he was receiving and “gutted” by the loss of Hutchins.
“She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better.”
Santa Fe-area District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said prosecutors are reviewing evidence in the shooting and do not know if charges will be filed.
Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in 30 Rock and The Hunt for Red October and his impression of former president Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, described what happened as a “tragic accident” on Twitter. The actor, who also serves as a producer of Rust, wrote that he is “fully co-operating with the police investigation.”
Hutchins’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, posted on social media to mourn his wife’s loss, ask for privacy for his family, and thank her friends and mentors at the American Film Institute, who he said “nurtured the success we had only just begun to see flourish.”
The institute’s conservatory cancelled cinematography classes Friday in response to Hutchins’ death.
About 200 people gathered at a pre-sunset memorial in Albuquerque for Hutchins on Saturday. They lit candles, held a moment of silence, read poetry and made brief comments including one testimonial to her artistic spark and generosity.
Production on the movie was halted.
Crew members had walked off set
There were signs of problems on the set of Rust before the shooting.
Seven camera crew members walked off the job Thursday several hours before Hutchins was killed to express their discontent with matters ranging from safety conditions to the quality of accommodations, according to one crew member who left.
The disputes began soon after filming started in early October, according to the crew member, who requested anonymity because he feared speaking up would hurt his future job prospects.
He said there were concerns about accommodations for the crew, as well as concerns that only minimal COVID-19 precautions were taken even though cast and crew often worked in small enclosed spaces on the ranch. He also said he never witnessed any formal orientation about weapons used on set, which normally would take place before filming begins.
“We packed our gear and left that morning,” said the crew member of Thursday’s walkout.
The Los Angeles Times and Variety also reported on the walkout. Rust Movie Productions did not answer emails Friday and Saturday seeking comment.
Gutierrez, the film’s armourer, is the daughter of a longtime Hollywood firearms expert. In a September interview with the Voices of the West podcast, she said she had learned how to handle guns from her father since she was a teenager.
During the podcast, Gutierrez said she had just finished her first movie as head armourer, a project in Montana starring Nicolas Cage titled The Old Way.
“I was really nervous about it at first and I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but doing it, like, it went really smoothly,” she said.