“Rust” shot: gun safety with blanks, cartridges
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed by an incident involving a propeller pistol fired by actor and producer Alec Baldwin on the set of the movie “Rust”. This begs the question: how could this have happened?
While it’s not clear what type of weapon was used in the crash, a closer look at how the on-screen guns used by the characters are safely handled by the actors, the prop masters and gun specialists on film and television productions offer some clues.
Depending on the project budget, time constraints, and narrative needs, the use of on-screen firearms is portrayed in many ways. Non-operational replicas – made of wood, plastic or rubber – are regularly used for scenes shot from a distance. For shorter-range footage, the shots can be mimicked with the use of Airsoft guns, said a person familiar with handling props and weapons on sets. Visual and sound effects like muzzle flashes, flying shell casings, and loud gunfire sounds can be added in post-production.
“There is no longer an unfathomable reason to use blanks when it costs around 50 cents to add shots in the mail and much less reason to use them during a daytime scene where there is little to no interactive light, ”Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison said in an Instagram Story post. “If you don’t have enough funds to make a movie safe, you shouldn’t do it. No shot, no scene, and no movie is worth death. “
Yet productions regularly use operational firearms, arguably to add realism to the scene and authenticity to an actor’s performance. When an operational firearm is used on the set, a licensed gunsmith or props technician is responsible for monitoring every step of its use: loading and unloading the weapon, checking the barrel to avoid any problems with the materials left behind. interior after each take, indication of its condition to the actors and assistant directors, instructing the actors on its proper use – the latter to maintain the realism of the story as well as the safety of all.
Additionally, the gunsmith or a stunt coordinator choreographs the action sequences of the shots, works with the cinematographer to determine which camera angles will minimize the risk of injury, and ensures that no member of the team. cast or crew won’t be in a shooting range, or in the path of the weapon, when fired, said Michael Lubke, combat director and stunt coordinator for theater and films. Anyone at close range is generally required to wear protective items such as shields or safety glasses when cameras are rolling. “No human should ever be in the line of fire,” said Lubke.
The systems currently in place work well when monitored. “In the absence of some sort of defect on the weapon itself or misfires in the cartridge or something like that, there is literally no way that will happen if the people in charge follow the protocols of the gun. safety that have been drafted and in effect for years related to firearms on a set, ”said Jeff Harris, an attorney who has represented the families of the deceased on film and television sets.
“The problem is when people get complacent and don’t follow the systems, so that’s when we have these crashes on movie sets,” he continued. “It’s just unfortunate that this stuff happens before people actually say it. “You know what, we have to follow these written policies and we have to do it to a T. Otherwise, one mistake, someone dies. “
Some people in the props industry have said they would prefer that trained firearms specialists be required on all sets with any type of potentially dangerous weapon, as the props handling union members must also oversee all other production accessories. Others would like to see increased security requirements for California state licenses to rent propeller guns, saying all that is needed to do so is a background check.
“Adding a layer of training and certification wouldn’t be a terrible thing,” said Kevin Williams, props department supervisor at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, who has no direct knowledge of the incident. . “Guns are kind of a mystery to a lot of people, and sometimes your job requires you to work with things you don’t know. Personally, when I am overwhelmed, I call in the experts.
The fatal incident took place on day 12 of the 21-day filming of “Rust” in New Mexico, which consisted of a gunsmith. The Times reported that industry safety protocols, including firearms inspections, were not strictly followed on set, and that several misfires involving propeller weapons had already occurred.
“There was no safety meeting, there is no guarantee that this would not happen again,” said a crew member. “All they wanted was to rush, to rush, to rush.” Production of the film has been suspended indefinitely.
According to the union representing the accessory manufacturers and other crew members, production props, set decoration, special effects and construction departments were comprised of non-union crew members at the time of the fatal incident. That morning, half a dozen employees of the film crew left Bonanza Creek Ranch set, frustrated for days by long hours of low-budget film, withheld paychecks, and a broken promise of nearby hotel rooms. Unionized crew members were ordered to leave the plateau and were quickly replaced by non-union crew members.
The situation raises questions and concerns about working practices on Hollywood sets and the importance of taking care of workers below the line.
“If you have a crew member who is exhausted and maybe afraid they won’t find their next job, especially after almost two years out of work, that puts them in a very precarious position to make good judgment.” Williams said. “The timelines and demands of a project being what they are, and people’s desire to keep working and get that next project and keep a roof over their heads, pushes them into territory. questionable as to what they are comfortable doing. “
Productions using operational firearms may opt for those designed intentionally firing blank cartridges – shell casings loaded with gunpowder – or disused firearms modified to fire them. Live bullets are not permitted on any field.
When blanks are discharged, they create the distinct sound of a shot and provide the shooter with true recoil, and the gunpowder burns, causing muzzle flash. Unlike a real cartridge, there is no projectile in front of the gunpowder; instead it has a cotton or paper wadding that can be supplied as a quarter load, half load or full load, said action director, stunt coordinator and stuntman Conrad Palmisano. Anyone shooting blanks should be at least 20 feet away from others.
At closer ranges, this shot can produce flames, gas, and metal debris from both burnt and unburned gunpowder flakes. “This energy coming out of a barrel can be dangerous,” Lubke said of such a situation, which is how actor Jon-Erik Hexum died on the set of the “Cover-Up” TV show. “in 1984; he picked up a .44 caliber handgun during a delay in filming, spun the bullet to simulate Russian roulette with the barrel against his temple, and pulled the trigger. The force of the explosion fractured his skull and he died in hospital.
A pistol used for filming can also be loaded with dummy bullets, which are designed to look like real bullets but do not contain gunpowder. Still, it is possible that a dummy shell will crumble – the lead can separate from the brass and become a deadly projectile. Such was the cause of death of actor Brandon Lee on the set of the movie “The Crow” in 1993; the projectile tip of a dummy shell was accidentally lodged in a barrel chamber, and was then propelled out of the barrel by a blank cartridge.
“There are a lot of safety protocols that should be in place,” said Palmisano, who helped form the Screen Actors Guild’s stunts and safety committee. “Whoever handed the loaded gun to Alec Baldwin should be held responsible at some level. At what level, I’m leaving that to the court.
After the incident, Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza were rushed to hospital. Souza has since been released, corn Cackling – who was 42 and filmed independent feature films such as “Archenemy”, “Blindfire” and “The Mad Hatter” – later died of the injury. Bandar Albuliwi, a friend of Hutchins, also a graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory, started a Change.org petition to ban the use of live firearms on set – a policy the ABC series “The Rookie” has since adopted.
“We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Albuliwi wrote in the petition. “Change must happen before more talented lives are lost. “
Editor-in-chief Richard Winton contributed to this report.