explainer

'The whole set became unsafe.' What we know about the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Two weeks ago, reports emerged about a shooting on the set of the film Rust.

As details started trickling in, it was confirmed that a prop gun had been discharged, killing the film's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding the movie's director, Joel Souza. 

It was later announced that the producer and star of the film, Alec Baldwin, was the one who fired the gun. 

In the days since, further details have come out about the incident, the prop gun, and those involved. 

Here's everything we know about the fatal shooting on the set of Rust.

What happened?

On October 21, Alec Baldwin was in character, rehearsing a scene for his new Western film, Rust, that involved him shooting a gun on set. 

The crew had just returned from lunch, and according to an affidavit obtained by Insider, assistant director David Halls told police that he did not check all the rounds in the barrel of the prop gun when he returned to set.

Halls told police that when the film's armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed "showed him" the prop gun used by Baldwin, "before continuing rehearsal, he could only remember seeing three rounds".

Halls "advised he should have checked all of them, but didn't and couldn't recall" if Gutierrez-Reed "spun the drum" of the gun, before handing it to Baldwin and yelling "cold gun!" - an industry term meaning a weapon is not loaded with ammunition, including blanks. 

When the actor fired the prop gun, he struck two people: Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza. 

Halyna Hutchins, 42, the film's director of photography, was shot in the chest and flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she later died. 

Joel Souza, 48, the film's director, was shot in the shoulder and wounded; transported by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center to be treated for his injuries. He was later released.

Police have since shared Hutchins was sitting in front of Souza watching the rehearsal play out when they were struck, and both of them were hit with the same bullet.

In the affidavit, Souza said he remembered Hutchins "complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection" before she "began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground."

He also "explained that he was bleeding from his shoulder and he could see blood on Halyna," while camera operator Reid Russell "remembered Joel having blood on his person and [Hutchins] speaking and saying she couldn't feel her legs." 

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Souza also shared the incident wasn't filmed, because they were working on setting up the camera for the scene. 

According to the affidavit, the assistant director who handed Baldwin the gun "did not know live rounds were in the prop-gun", as it was "set up" on the tray by Gutierrez-Reed.

In a news conference on Wednesday reported by The New York Times, investigators confirmed that a lead projectile was fired from the revolver. 

They also found around 500 rounds of ammunition on set including blanks, dummy rounds, and what they suspect to be live ammunition.

The sheriff declined to comment on how the live ammunition ended up on a film set.

The Rust film set at Bonanza Creek Ranch. Image: Getty. 

What is a prop gun?

The term "prop gun" refers to nonfunctioning guns, cap guns and fake guns made of wood, plastic or rubber. The term can also refer to real guns modified to fire blank cartridges.

When used in films, blank cartridges are filled with gunpowder and lack the deadly bullet - which is usually replaced with cotton or paper wadding. 

The force of firing a prop gun is just as intense as a real gun, providing the shooter with real recoil. At close range, they can cause injury or death.

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Shortly after the incident on the set of Rust, investigators confirmed the gun used was in fact a "prop firearm". It has since been announced it was a .45 Long Colt revolver filled with a lead projectile.

Accidental fatal gunshots on movie sets are rare, but they have happened before. 

In 1993, Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce and Linda Lee, was killed by a prop gun wound on the set of The Crow

The prop gun that killed him was not properly checked before the fatal incident, meaning the projectile tip of a dummy round was accidentally lodged in a gun chamber and then propelled out of the gun by a blank cartridge, shooting Lee in the abdomen.

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. In this episode, we find out just how dangerous a movie set really is. Post continues after audio.

How has Alec Baldwin responded?

Since the incident, Alec Baldwin has released a statement and been in contact with Halyna Hutchins' husband, Matthew Hutchins.

"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," the actor wrote in a statement on last Friday.

"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."

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No charges have been filed against him.

Who was Halyna Hutchins?

Halyna Hutchins was the director of photography on Rust

The 42-year-old Ukrainian filmmaker started out as a journalist in Europe before beginning her filmmaking career in Los Angeles.

Shortly before she died, she uploaded a video of herself on set.

"One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off," she captioned the post.

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Her husband Matthew shared a statement with Insider last Friday.

"I don't think there are words to communicate the situation," he said.

"I am not going to be able to comment about the facts or the process of what we're going through right now, but I appreciate that everyone has been very sympathetic.

"I think that we will need a little bit of time before we can really encapsulate her life in a way that is easy to communicate."

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On Saturday, he asked for privacy and directed financial support to AFI, to establish a scholarship in his wife's name.

The couple have a nine-year-old son together.

'Troubling practices' during Rust filming.

No one has been charged in the fatal incident, but multiple media and social media reports have raised concerns about safety protocols on the set of the low-budget movie and have described a walk-out by several camera operators and their assistants just hours before the accident.

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In one of the most troubling, TMZ, citing unidentified sources connected to the production, said the gun handed to Baldwin had previously been used by crew members for target practice off-set, using real bullets.

Reuters could not verify the report and police in Santa Fe did not respond to inquiries on Sunday.

Among the concerns reported by crew members were other incidents involving prop guns.

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than a week ago, Baldwin's stunt double accidentally fired two rounds from a prop firearm after being told it was "cold".

A colleague was so alarmed by the misfires that he sent a text message to the unit production manager saying, "We've now had three accidental discharges. This is super unsafe," according to a copy of the message seen by the Los Angeles Times.

Rust Movie Productions said last week that although they "were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down."

According to court documents, the prop gun was handed to Baldwin by the film's assistant director, Dave Halls, who has more than 20 years' experience in the business.

Film producer Aaron B Koontz, who worked with Halls on two previous movies but was not involved in the making of Rust, told the Los Angeles Times that Halls was a good manager.

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"Dave is extremely efficient, and he's very good at keeping the pace going and just moving at the speed that you have to move at in order to make your days," Koontz told the newspaper.

However, special effects technician Maggie Goll, who worked with Halls on the 2017 Hulu television series Into the Dark, had a different view.

"He did not maintain a safe working environment," Goll told NBC News.

"Sets were almost always allowed to become increasingly claustrophobic, no established fire lanes, exits blocked... safety meetings were non existent."

Also involved in the probe is the movie's chief armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who three months ago, made actor Nicolas Cage storm off-set.

According to The Wrap, Gutierrez-Reed was repeatedly accused of breaking basic safety protocols by crew members on the set of Cage's film, The Old Way.

Cage walked off set screaming at the armourer after she fired a gun without warning for the second time.

"Make an announcement, you just blew my f**king eardrums out!" Cage yelled before walking off in a rage, the movie's key grip Stu Brumbaugh recalled.

Brumbaugh recalled telling the assistant director: "She [Gutierrez-Reed] needs to be let go." 

"After the second round, I was pissed off. We were moving too fast. She’s a rookie," he added.

Brumbaugh also detailed a series of complaints that were made about Gutierrez-Reed, including that she walked onto the set with live rounds or blanks without announcing it to the cast and crew.

She also walked around with pistols tucked under her arms that were pointing back at people and allowed firearms to be aimed at people. Another crew member has confirmed these allegations.

In a YouTube video - which was removed on Friday after being widely shared - Rust actor Jensen Ackles spoke about working with guns on the film at a Supernatural fan convention earlier in October.

"I've got a 6am call tomorrow to have a big shootout. They had me pick my gun, they were like, 'All right, what gun would you like?' and I was like, 'I don't know?' and the armourer was like, 'Do you have gun experience?' I was like, 'A little.' And she's like, 'OK, well, this is how you load it, this is how we check it and make sure it's safe,'" he said.

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Ackles said the armourer told him she was going to fill the gun with blanks so he could shoot off a couple of rounds toward a nearby hill, which he did.

Now, Gutierrez-Reed has spoken out for the first time in a statement through her lawyers, where she addressed "some untruths". 

In the statement, provided to Variety, the 24-year-old extended her sympathies to Hutchins' family and claimed she didn't know where the live rounds came from on set. 

"Safety is Hannah's number one priority on set. Ultimately, this set would never have been compromised if live ammo were not introduced. Hannah has no idea where the live rounds came from," the statement read.

"Hannah and the prop master gained control over the guns and she never witnessed anyone shoot live rounds with these guns and nor would she permit that. They were locked up every night and at lunch and there's no way a single one of them was unaccounted for or being shot by crew members."

The statement also pointed out the unsafe working conditions on set. 

"Hannah was hired on two positions on this film, which made it extremely difficult to focus on her job as an armourer. She fought for training, days to maintain weapons, and proper time to prepare for gunfire but ultimately was overruled by production and her department.

"The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings. This was not the fault of Hannah."

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Beyond gun safety, media reports have shared details about the working conditions on the production.

The Los Angeles Times reported that union members walked off the set just six hours before the incident, after weeks of complaining about poor working conditions.

Union crew members told the Times that in addition to their problems with the prop gun, production went back on a promise to pay for hotel rooms for the crew nearby, forcing them to drive 80 kilometres each day to and from set, after working 12-13 hour days.

Hutchins had been advocating for safer conditions for her team and was tearful when the camera crew left, one crew member said. As the camera crew - members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union - packed up, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them.

One of the producers ordered the union members to leave the set and threatened to call security to remove them if they didn’t leave voluntarily, according to the Times.

The shooting occurred about six hours later.

Image: Getty. 

About 200 people took part in the vigil for Hutchins in Albuquerque last Saturday.

While organisers emphasised that the event was to honour Hutchins' memory, rather than focus on her death, some in the crowd held signs that read "Safety on Set".

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A second vigil is planned in the Los Angeles area on Sunday.

How has the industry responded? 

A number of people close to Hutchins have shared their deepest condolences since the tragic incident.

Actor Joe Manganiello paid tribute to the "fantastic" cinematographer in an Instagram post saying: "She was an absolutely incredible talent and a great person.

"She had such an eye and a visual style, she was the kind of cinematographer that you wanted to see succeed because you wanted to see what she could pull off next. She was a fantastic person."

In a statement, Hutchins' agency, Innovative Artists, referred to the 42-year-old as a "ray of light".

"Halyna Hutchins was a ray of light," the statement read.

"Always smiling, always hopeful. She decided early on she would take the craft of cinematography by storm and the last couple of years proved she was well on her way.

"Her talent was immense, only surpassed by the love she had for her family.

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"All those in her orbit knew what was coming; a star director of photography, who would be a force to be reckoned with." 

As the investigation into the incident continues, the film set has been shut down and production has been paused indefinitely.

"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 film's production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, said in a statement. 

"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."

This article was originally published on October 23 and has been updated with new information.

— With AAP.

Feature Image: Getty.