“Negligence and Unprofessionalism” Blamed for Death on Alec Baldwin Film Rust

New reporting suggests failures on the part of the assistant director, the armorer, and those who hired them

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 23: Wynema Chavez Quintana holds a sign calling for better safety ...
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Safety on Set

In the days following last Thursday’s fatal shooting on the set of the movie Rust, a trickle of new information has filled in details on the conditions that allowed actor and producer Alec Baldwin to accidentally fire a prop gun that killed director of photography Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico.

Several crew members had been uneasy about or had walked out over lax safety standards and poor working conditions on set prior to the deadly incident, the Los Angeles Times reports. Baldwin’s stunt double had apparently already had two accidental misfires after being told the gun was “cold” (meaning the weapon contained no live ammunition) the Saturday before the fatal shooting. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush,” a crew member told the LA Times.

The day of the shooting, production was running behind both because they had to hire a new camera crew to replace the crew that had quit, and they only had one camera to work with, Souza told a detective from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in an affidavit for a search warrant, as published on Deadline. According to the affidavit, before the rehearsal of the scene in question, assistant director Dave Halls grabbed one of three prop guns that had been set up and left on a cart by the armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. Halls handed the gun to Baldwin, yelling, “cold gun” to indicate there were no live rounds inside. Baldwin, who was supposed to draw his revolver and point it at the camera lens, was explaining how he was going to do so when he somehow discharged the gun. Hutchins was shot in the chest and Souza, standing behind her, in the shoulder.

Souza said that firearms are handled by two crew members: Gutierrez-Reed, who checks the weapon before handing it to Halls, who then checks again before giving it to the actor. Souza said he was not sure the gun was checked again between lunch and rehearsal of the scene. Per the affidavit, Halls didn’t know there were live rounds loaded in the prop gun when he gave it to Baldwin.

Halls was the subject of complaints about a disregard for safety protocols and instances of unwanted physical touching during two productions in 2019, CNN reports. Sources told CNN that Halls neglected to hold safety meetings — and when he did, he didn’t take them seriously — and didn’t consistently tell the crew when there was a firearm on set.

Rust was only Gutierrez-Reed’s second production as head armorer, per TMZ. Gutierrez-Reed, the 24-year-old daughter of veteran armorer Thell Reed, said on a podcast last month that her favorite part of her job was “showing people who are normally kind of freaked out by guns how safe they can be and how they’re not really problematic unless put in the wrong hands.” She also revealed that she “almost didn’t take” her first job as armorer on a Nicolas Cage film in August because she wasn’t sure if she was ready. The prop master who supervised her on that film told the LA Times that Gutierrez-Reed was “exceptional” and “professional.” The Daily Beast reports that Gutierrez-Reed, on her first job, allegedly gave a gun to an 11-year-old actress without checking it properly.

According to the Daily Beast: “Sources on the Rust set have insisted the fatal accident was a result of failings from top to bottom, starting with the production’s low-budget and cost-cutting measures.” The film, which reportedly has a budget of $7 million, is financed by Bondit Media Capital, an indie film financier known for funding lower-budget productions.

In a Facebook post published Sunday, the gaffer (or chief electrician) on Rust, Serge Svetnoy, claimed that the tragic shooting was caused by “negligence and unprofessionalism.”

“I’m sure that we had the professionals in every department, but one – the department that was responsible for the weapons,” wrote Svetnoy. “There is no way a twenty-four-year-old woman can be a professional with armory; there is no way that her more-or-less the same-aged friend from school, neighborhood, Instagram, or God knows where else, can be a professional in this field.”

“To save a dime sometimes,” he continued, “you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job, and you risk the lives of the other people who are close and your lives as well. I understand that you always fight for the budget, but you cannot allow this to happen. … It is true that the professionals can cost a little more and sometimes can be a little bit more demanding, but it is worth it. No saved penny is worth the LIFE of the person!”