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There were at least two prior incidents of a gun being misfired on the set of the upcoming Western film Rust in the days leading up to Alec Baldwin discharging a prop gun on Thursday that killed the film’s cinematographer and injured the director, The Daily Beast has learned.
According to a search warrant filed Friday, an assistant director handed Baldwin the gun and informed the actor the prop was safe to use. In reality, the firearm held live rounds, though the assistant director also did not know.
Halyna Hutchins, 42, was reportedly struck in the stomach from behind and airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque where she died, according to Deadline. Director Joel Souza, 48, was said to have been wounded in the shoulder, but was released from the hospital on Friday morning.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Baldwin, who was both an actor and producer on the film, fired the prop gun that reportedly had a live round among the blanks. “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,” Baldwin said in a statement on Friday morning. “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred.”
But according to a knowledgeable production source, Hutchins’ death was avoidable, as they told The Daily Beast that within the past week there had been at least two previous incidents of firearms being misfired on set. The Los Angeles Times reported there was an additional misfiring the previous week.
“They had two negligent discharges on the same set, on the same day and still had jobs,” the source told The Daily Beast, clarifying same-day misfirings occurred on Saturday. “They had struck out twice and were given a third opportunity.”
The source points to producers trying to cut costs on the low-budget film as being a direct cause for the accident. Already, six hours before the tragic incident, seven International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) union camera crew workers had walked off set in protest at the abysmal conditions.
The tragedy of Hutchins’ death is a direct result of what IATSE members were fighting for regarding safer working conditions on the set, the source said. “This is what IATSE was fighting about with the producer; this epitomizes that fight will be dealt with on this show. Help us make good films without dying,” they pleaded.
“They did everything they absolutely could to save a nickel at all costs,” the inside source added. “They put everybody in jeopardy in one way or another, whether it was hiring less than qualified people to deal with firearms or it was the constant fight about housing people appropriately. In all my years of doing this, this is one of the worst productions I’ve been on.”
The Daily Beast reached out for comment to Rust Production Company LLC. In a statement to Deadline, it said there would be an “internal review of our procedures while production is shut down.”
Producers kept Rust on a tight budget, which factored into the hiring of the armorer crew—who oversees all the weaponry on the set—according to the source. (It is not yet known which armorer company had been hired for Rust.)
Instead of hiring seasoned, union professionals because of the higher costs, the armorers were young, inexperienced, and non-union members who did not take their job as seriously as they should, the source said.
The crew had complained to the first assistant director over the prop-gun misfiring on Saturday, the source claimed. “All of us yelled at him, ‘That better be on the production report, these guys are irresponsible and shouldn’t be here,’” they explained.
“That should be automatic grounds for termination on a union film set, you should be gone. The first time that gun went off without telling anybody, that whole department should have been replaced immediately. Clearly production thought better of it, decided to roll the dice and pay the ultimate price.”
It’s unclear what was fired from the firearm, as The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating, telling The Daily Beast that as of Friday afternoon, a forensics report hadn’t been completed. A spokesperson for Rust Movie Productions claimed the gun only contained blank rounds, while IATSE Local 44 said a “live single round was accidentally fired.”
Still, Tobey Bays, a prop and set artist by training and the business agent for IATSE Local 44, explained to The Daily Beast that “a live round” doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bullet in the chamber.
He said Hollywood propmasters will “only put the amount of blanks into the gun that are meant to be shot in the scene… They’re pretty strict, they’ll always yell out, ‘Gun is hot!’ before they hand it over to the actor.”
However, the source who was on set when Baldwin discharged the prop gun on Thursday said the cast and crew were told it was a “cold” firearm during the rehearsal as they were setting up the framing.
And despite Baldwin having recently gone through a firearm-safety training session, the source said safety protocols were all but ignored by both Baldwin and the responsible production members.
“Yesterday, that’s the only way something like that can happen,” the source said, adding it was their understanding that there were no fake guns on set, even for rehearsal. “[The armorer] failed to respect the level of responsibility and trust that they’ve been handed—literally people’s lives are in your hands and this person failed.”
“All I think of is Halyna’s nine-year-old son, her husband having to tell her son that mom’s never gonna see the house we just moved into,” they added. “This is what people should know because this is what makes change—her husband moved them into their new home that she was working very hard for and hadn’t actually seen yet. So, now in the new home that she will never go to, he has to tell her son that she’s never coming home… all for a shitty cowboy movie with Alec Baldwin.”
As the industry awaits answers, tributes have poured in for Hutchins, who was named a “Rising Star” in American Cinematographer magazine in 2019. Director James Cullen Bressack mourned the loss of his friend, earlier telling The Daily Beast, “I will never have blanks on my sets ever again. She was a wonderful human and an unbelievably talented person and this should never have happened.”
And while the source says they have empathy for Baldwin, they say that ultimately Baldwin is somewhat responsible because he is a producer on Rust and his production company is backing the film.
“His production company is behind this, he’s not just a victim of this,” they said. “I feel terrible for him—let there be no question about that. I can’t even imagine—knowing what I’m feeling right now—I can’t comprehend what he as a human being is dealing with, but he’s partially responsible because he is a producer.”
Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio, co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, said in his opinion that the liability likely points to Rust Movie Productions and the prop manager. And although Baldwin might have little liability as an actor, because he was also a producer, he may potentially bear more responsibility.
“Overall, this is horrible negligence and Ms. Hutchins’ survivors should go after everyone they can,” Custodio said. “She was 42 and had an incredibly promising future, so her potential earnings were likely to be significant. It’s also clear that somebody failed her in the most basic way—to check whether a gun was safe—and may be criminally negligent.”