Tue, December 07, 2021

international

Alec Baldwin fired prop gun that killed one crew member, says he is fully cooperating with investigation


Actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and injured a director on a film set in New Mexico on Thursday after discharging a prop firearm, officials said.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call reporting a shooting on the set of the Western "Rust," according to a news release. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, was pronounced dead at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque after being transported via helicopter. Director Joel Souza, 48, was transported by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, and later released. Production has halted, according to the Associated Press.

Baldwin, 63, said in a pair of tweets sent Friday morning, "There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."

The sheriff's office stated that its investigation remains "open and active."

"No charges have been filed in regard to this incident," the office said. "Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives."

The incident occurred at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular filming location near Santa Fe. Baldwin discharged the prop firearm while in character, authorities said.

"We know they were either preparing to film a particular scene or in process of filming a scene, and that's when Mr. Baldwin discharged the firearm," Juan Rios, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, told The Washington Post. Rios said detectives are investigating how many prop firearms were on the set, how they were handled and what projectiles were discharged. The sheriff's office expects to have more information early next week.

Firearm experts, writers and producers have wondered aloud how the incident on the "Rust" set occurred. While some producers insist on using prop guns with blanks to closely capture the sound and look of a real gun firing, others have been calling for them to be banished from film sets, saying that computer-generated imaging offers a safer alternative.

"There's no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore," tweeted director Craig Zobel, whose credits include the 2020 film "The Hunt" and HBO's "Mare of Easttown." "Should just be fully outlawed. There's computers now."

A regular gun cartridge is a shell casing holding a propellant powder. When a normal gun is fired, the propellant is ignited and the bullet attached to the front of the shell casing is activated. The blanks used in prop guns generally have a material such as paper, cotton or wax attached to the front of the shell, inserted to hold in the gunpowder.

Bill Davis, a Georgia-based weapons expert who owns Tactical Edge Group and has worked on hundreds of film and television productions, told The Post that while blanks are not designed to kill, they still can if the injury is as serious as "a contact wound to the skull or a carotid artery."

According to Davis, the safety protocols in place on nearly all sets do a great job protecting the actors and crew. He said the prop guns used on set are either in the custody of an armorer, someone who specializes in firearms on a production, or the props department.

"If you follow the rules, you're going to have a nice, safe day," he added.

Davis questioned whether such standard safety measures were in place for "Rust," a film he is not working on. Weapons from the time period during which Westerns are generally set are some of the "most dangerous guns to use on set" because they do not have gas restrictors in their barrels."

"Any gun guy who is worth their salt would have said to any actor, 'Do not point the gun at any living thing,'" he said. "We don't point guns at people and that's exactly what happened here."

Lesli Linka Glatter, president of the Directors Guild of America, said in a statement Thursday that the union was "incredibly saddened to hear of the tragic passing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, and the serious injuries sustained by DGA director Joel Souza."

Fran Drescher, president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, its national executive director, issued a statement Thursday saying they would "continue to work with production, the other unions and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again."

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents thousands of Hollywood crew members, including Hutchins, wrote in a public message to membership that its leaders were "heartbroken and devastated" to hear of her death.

"Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna's family, friends, and the Rust crew," IATSE continued, sharing resources for members to report feeling unsafe on set.

"Rust" was set to film on location in October and November, according to a news release from the New Mexico Film Office. The movie follows a 13-year-old boy and his younger brother in 1880s Kansas who are left to care for themselves following their parents' deaths. The boys go on the run with their estranged grandfather, played by Baldwin, after the 13-year-old is sentenced to death for accidentally killing a local rancher.

Hutchins chronicled her experiences on set over the past week on Instagram, posting images of the ranch's sweeping terrain and vibrant sunsets. She also shared a photo of the cast and crew, as well as a video of her on horseback. "One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off," she captioned the video, followed by a smiley face.

Born in Ukraine and raised on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, Hutchins received a degree in international journalism from Kyiv National University and worked as an investigative journalist, according to her website. She eventually started producing narrative features and, in 2015, graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory. In 2019, Hutchins was named one of American Cinematographer magazine's Rising Stars.

In an interview with the magazine, Hutchins noted that her time at AFI helped her discover how she wanted to work as an artist: "One thing I learned is that cinematography is not something you do by yourself. It's a group (project)," she said. "You need to develop your own vision, but the key to a successful film is communication with your director and your team."

Stephen Lighthill, AFI's dean of cinematography who also serves as president of the American Society of Cinematographers, issued a statement Friday describing his former student as a "bright, talented, determined cinematographer."

"She had a big career in front of her and a supportive family to share her success with," he said. "Her death is a reminder that production should never be dangerous, but often is, and we must all work to fix that. The American Society of Cinematographers and all her AFI family mourn her loss, and those AFI fellows who attended with Halyna are most devastated."

Adam Egypt Mortimer, a director who worked with Hutchins on the film "Archenemy," described her on Twitter as "a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film." He wrote that he was "so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set."

Actor Joe Manganiello, who starred in "Archenemy," tweeted that he was in shock. "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," he continued. "My heart goes out to her family."

Hutchins's friend Elle Schneider, a director and fellow cinematographer, said on Twitter that she was "sick and devastated" by the news.

"Halyna was shooting the Western RUST when she died," Schneider wrote. "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."

Fisher, who stars in "Rust," shared a photo of herself embracing Hutchins and, in the Instagram caption, recalled her "intense focus and ... vibrant command of the room." The actress noted that in the cast and crew photo, which was taken and posted online in solidarity with IATSE workers, she wanted to make sure Hutchins appeared "front and center, seeing as there are so few non-male directors of photography."

Before the fatal shooting, Baldwin posted an Instagram photo of himself in costume with what looked like a fake wound on his stomach. "Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it's exhausting," wrote the actor, who is also producing "Rust." The image was deleted early Friday.

Baldwin, an established A-lister who has appeared in films ranging from "Working Girl" to "The Departed," achieved another round of stardom by starring in Tina Fey's NBC sitcom "30 Rock." He earned two Emmys for the role, and another for parodying Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live." Much of Baldwin's prominence in recent years also comes from periodically appearing in tabloids, as well as for repeatedly quitting and returning to social media.

Actress Patricia Arquette tweeted that she is "praying he's getting support from family and friends because this is every actors worst nightmare."

Other prop-gun incidents have resulted in deaths on movie sets. In 1984, 26-year-old actor Jon-Erik Hexum died days after accidentally shooting himself in the head with a prop gun on the set of a TV show. He was pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum revolver when the gun fired a blank cartridge, authorities said at the time.

In 1993, actor Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, died after actor Michael Massee shot him in the abdomen on the set of the film "The Crow." The prop gun was supposed to be loaded with blank and "dummy" rounds but was somehow loaded with a .44-caliber bullet, police said. A prosecutor in North Carolina, where the movie was being filmed, said the shooting was caused by the crew's negligence, not foul play.

Lee's sister, Shannon, tweeted on an account bearing his name that "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," she continued. "Period."

By The Washington Post · Jaclyn Peiser, Sonia Rao, Timothy Bella

Published : October 23, 2021

By : The Washington Post