Alec Baldwin shooting leaves 'many questions about set safety'

The death of a crew member caused by a prop gun during filming for Alec Baldwin’s film, Rust, is an unimaginable tragedy due to the fact strict rules are usually in place to provide safety on set, a firearm expert has said.

The 63-year-old actor fired off a prop gun on set of the western in New Mexico on Thursday. It hit cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, killing her at the age of 42, while the film’s director Joel Souza was also left injured.

Amid reports the gun fired by the 30 Rock actor contained a live single round, industry experts and civilians alike have been left questioning how a fatal shooting could take place on a modern movie set.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk, military technical adviser for film and TV, Paul Biddiss, explained how the fatal accident leaves many questions about the prop masters and armourers working on the film set.

Having advised about weapon handling weapons safety tactics on blockbusters films such as 1917, Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the firearm expert stressed reports of a live round being in the gun was incredibly suprising.

‘Live rounds should never be brought onto a film set,’ he explained. ‘To hear that a live round was actually on set is unbelievable. I just don’t get it… that is a very strange to happen.

‘There’s no armourer I’ve ever worked with who would ever advocate bringing in live rounds because then something like this can happen.’

The military expert explained that while some gun training courses still include live rounds, he never encourages that form of training because ‘you’re never going to fire a live round on set.’

In reaction to the fatal shooting on the Rust set, Biddiss stated: ‘I’m gobsmacked that a live round has found its way into that prop gun. I just don’t understand how that can happen.

Who is Halyna Hutchins?

Halyna Hutchins, a mother of one, was born in the Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle before attending Kyiv National University.

After graduating with a degree in international journalism, she worked as an investigative journalist for British documentaries in Eastern Europe.

However, Hutchins’ true passion lay in filmmaking, and she moved to Los Angeles, where she got work as a production assistant and a grip electric.

She also shot her own short films, inspired by cinematographers including Christopher Doyle and Sergey Urusevskiy.

Halyna recently worked on the horror film The Mad Hatter (Picture: Armando Gutierrez)

On the advice of cinematographer Robert Primes, Hutchins enrolled the filmmaking MFA programme at the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2013 and graduated two years later.

In 2018, Hutchins was one of eight female cinematographers selected for the inaugural 21st Century Fox DP Lab, and in 2019, she was chosen as a Rising Star by American Cinematographer magazine.

Hutchins went on to work on films including horrors The Mad Hatter and Darlin’ and police drama Blindfire, and the BET+ series A Luv Tale: The Series.

She also worked on the Joe Mangianello mystery thriller Archenemy, which premiered at Beyond Fest 2020 and received a nomination at the Sitges International Film Festival.

‘It could be a case of someone hiring someone new, or maybe the live rounds were for use in training somewhere else. Then for some unknown reason one managed to find its way on to the set. I simply question how you could load a live round when you’re supposed to load blank round. I just don’t get it, it’s really bizarre.’

The incident has seen some call for a review of the safety practises regarding gun use on film sets, however, Biddiss insisted that the rules in place are more than enough to keep people safe when followed properly.

He explained: ‘I’ve been inside hundreds of the gun battles, from all different time periods, while filming projects. We are in enclosed spaces and people are firing weapons all firing at once.

‘However, we do the work to make sure everyone’s at the right distance so objects don’t hit anyone or empty cases don’t cause burns. So many little details that people like myself and armourers work on every day.’

Biddiss continued: ‘If someone is less experienced then there might be a problem. Companies will have start taking the vetting of people they take on because unfortunately there are productions that don’t carry out due diligence and that’s where the problems come from.’

The firearm expert questioned whether recent IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) strikes and negotiations could have caused ‘a few cracks’ in production of Baldwin’s film.

Aauthorities responded to the incident at Bonanza Creek at around 1:50pm on Thursday following 911 calls indicating someone had been shot on set.

Hutchins was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital where she later died from her injuries. Rust actress Frances Fisher later confirmed that director Souza, 48, has been released from hospital. 

Another project our team worked on. #militaryadvisor https://t.co/flsvWjs5mk

Production company Rust Movies Productions LLC addressed the incident in a statement, which read: ‘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.

‘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.’ 

A spokesperson from the Sante Fe Sheriff’s Department also stated: ‘Mr Baldwin was questioned by investigators and released. No arrests or charges have been filed. 

‘This investigation remains open and active. No charges have been filed in regard to this incident. Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.’

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