A .45-caliber Colt revolver used on the set of the film Rust was not thoroughly checked before being given to actor Alec Baldwin, who fired a live lead bullet and accidentally killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, said officials and a new court filing.
New details about the incident emerged on Wednesday during a news conference by Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza and District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, and in an affidavit filed by the sheriff's department.
Mendoza said there was a complacent attitude toward safety on the set before last Thursday's shooting that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.
Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the crew member in charge of weapons on the set, told investigators she had checked guns there but found no "hot rounds" – apparently meaning live ammunition – before the shooting, said the affidavit.
Dave Halls, the film's assistant director, handed the gun to Baldwin, telling the actor it was "cold" or safe.
One of the central mysteries about the killing of Hutchins remains what kind of projectile was fired from the gun and how it got there. Investigators hope a forensic analysis of ballistic evidence will shed light on those questions, Juan Rios, spokesman for the Santa Fe Sheriff's Department, said earlier.
The film is about a boy, 13, who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to IMDb. The teenager goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather, played by Baldwin, after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.
Here's everything we know so far about the on-set tragedy:
Spotlight on assistant director's safety record
As law enforcement investigates the fatal shooting, court records show the probe includes the movie's armourer and assistant director.
Assistant director Halls, 62, who grabbed one of the prop guns off the cart and took it inside to Baldwin, yelling "cold gun" – which on movie sets means the gun is not loaded – did not know that live rounds were in the prop gun when he handed it to the actor, the affidavit said.
An experienced Hollywood hand with credits on movies including Fargo in 1996, and 2003's The Matrix Reloaded, Halls is also an actor.
On Monday, a producer for the movie Freedom’s Path told AP that Halls was fired from the 2019 production after a crew member suffered a minor injury “when a gun was unexpectedly discharged.” The producer, who asked not to be identified by name, wrote that Halls “was removed from the set immediately.” Production did not resume until Halls was gone.
His firing from Freedom’s Path was first reported by CNN.
The producer is the second person to air doubts about Halls’s safety record. On Sunday, another crew member who worked with Halls said she raised concerns about him in 2019.
Hollywood prop maker Maggie Goll said she had raised safety concerns about Halls when they worked together on Hulu's Into the Dark television series.
"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 nonexistent."
Goll told AP that during work on Into the Dark, Halls didn’t hold safety meetings and consistently failed to announce the presence of a firearm on set to the crew, as is protocol. The assistant prop master admonished Halls several times for dismissing the actors before they had returned weapons to the props table, she said.
“This situation is not about Dave Halls. … It’s in no way one person’s fault,” Goll said. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture.”
Gutierrez Reed, 24, was working as the armourer, or person in charge of firearms on the set. According to the affidavit, she prepared three prop guns and placed them on a cart outside the building where rehearsals were taking place.
Only a month before Thursday's accident, she had spoken about her worry that her inexperience meant she was not up to the job when she began her first movie as head armourer earlier this year – the Western The Old Way starring Nicolas Cage, which is scheduled for release in 2022.
"I was really nervous about it at first, and I almost didn't take the job because I wasn't sure if I was ready, but doing it, it went really smoothly," Gutierrez told the Voices of the West podcast about Western films.
Gutierrez Reed followed in the steps of her father Thell Reed, a well-known Hollywood armourer. According to his biography on film database IMDb.com, Reed began competition shooting as a boy, performed in Wild West shows, and taught gun-handling to actors such as Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt.
What exactly happened on set
Baldwin was drawing a revolver across his body and pointing it at a camera during rehearsal when the weapon fired and struck Hutchins, 42, in the chest, according to an affidavit released on Sunday. Rust director Joel Souza was also wounded in the incident, but was discharged from hospital a day later.
The affidavit provided additional details about Thursday's accidental shooting. Baldwin had been handed the prop gun by Halls and told it was unloaded. The camera wasn’t rolling when the gun went off, cameraman Reid Russell told a detective.
"Joel stated that they had Alec sitting in a pew in a church building setting, and he was practising a cross draw. Joel said he was looking over the shoulder of Hutchins, when he heard what sounded like a whip and then loud pop," the affidavit read.
"Joel then vaguely remembers Hutchins complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection. Joel also said Hutchins began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground," the affidavit says.
Hutchins said she could not feel her legs, Russell told officials.
Alec Baldwin meets Hutchins's family
Baldwin was seen consoling the family of Hutchins on Saturday as more details emerge of troubling practices during the filming of Rust.
A distraught Baldwin was photographed outside a hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, embracing and talking with Matt Hutchins, the husband of Halyna Hutchins, and their son Andros, 9.
In a statement read to a candlelight vigil on Saturday, Hutchins called his wife's death "an enormous loss".
"My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna," Baldwin wrote on Twitter on Friday. "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."
Director Joel Souza releases statement
Souza released a statement on Saturday, following his release from hospital.
"I am gutted by the loss of my friend and colleague, Halyna. She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better," Souza said. "My thoughts are with her family at this most difficult time. I am humbled and grateful by the outpouring of affection we have received from our filmmaking community, the people of Santa Fe, and the hundreds of strangers who have reached out … It will surely aid in my recovery."
Candlelight vigil for Halyna Hutchins
Hundreds gathered at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Hutchins, Deadline reports.
“She was a mother, a wife, and an accomplished cinematographer. She was beloved, talented, respected and loving,” International Cinematographers Guild president John Lindley told the crowd. “She was also passionate about her work, and that’s really who all of you are. She was one of us.”
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page set up by the guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 600, has raised more than $218,000 to assist the family of Hutchins, Deadline said..
Another vigil for Hutchins was held Sunday in Southern California, where attendees exchanged tearful hugs and speakers echoed calls for heightened safety standards.
No immediate charges
Santa Fe sheriff spokesman Rios said Baldwin came in voluntarily and "provided statements and answered their questions," but no charges have been filed and no arrests made. Baldwin is also permitted to travel.
“He’s a free man,” Rios said.
Images of the actor, 63, known for his roles in 30 Rock and The Hunt for Red October and his impression of former US president Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, showed him distraught outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday.
The actor and producer said he was "fully co-operating" with the police investigation, as law enforcement officials carried out a search of the set.
Focus on working conditions on the set of 'Rust'
As the investigation proceeded, questions were raised about working conditions on the set of Rust, a small budget Western movie of which Baldwin was both the lead actor and a co-producer.
The Los Angeles Times and Deadline Hollywood cited several members of the crew and others close to the production as saying six or seven camera operators had walked off the Rust set only hours before the tragedy.
Both outlets also reported that there had been at least one previous misfire with the prop gun.
"We cited everything from lack of payment for three weeks, taking our hotels away despite asking for them in our deals, lack of Covid safety, and on top of that, poor gun safety! Poor on-set safety period!" one camera crew member wrote on a private Facebook page, according to Deadline.
About a week before the tragedy, Baldwin's stunt double accidentally fired two rounds with a prop firearm after being told it was "cold," an industry term meaning a weapon is not loaded with ammunition, the Los Angeles Times said. At least one employee complained to a production manager about gun safety on set, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed crew members.
The same mistake may have occurred on Thursday, according to court records.
"Though we 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," Rust Movie Productions said.
Debate rages about guns on set
The tragic on-set shooting has reignited concern about the use of prop guns, like the weapon Baldwin discharged.
Productions using prop guns have designated weapons handlers or armourers tasked with watching the weapons on set, regularly checking that they are only loaded when needed and with the intended material, and ensuring that actors use them safely, according to industry rules.
"Every armourer I've ever worked with takes that job outrageously seriously," Ben Rock, a film and television director, told Reuters.
Rock said he has pushed back on the use of firing blank rounds for years, arguing the "gritty realism" it lends can be replaced by using airsoft guns and adding visual effects in post-production.
"Why is it worth any risk?" Rock said. "We're also pretending everything else, I don't see why we can't pretend about this too."
What exactly is a prop gun?
Guns used in making movies are sometimes real weapons that can fire either bullets or blanks, which are gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang, but no deadly projectile. Even blanks can eject hot gases and paper or plastic wadding from the barrel that can be lethal at close range.
A prop gun is a loose definition and could apply to anything from a rubber toy to a real firearm that can fire a projectile. However, if it’s used for firing, even blanks, it’s considered a real gun.
A blank, on the other hand, is a type of gun cartridge that contains gunpowder but no bullet. Still, it can cause serious hurt or kill someone who is close by, according to the Actors’ Equity Association.
It was unclear how many rounds were fired from the gun Baldwin used.
Brandon Lee's family weighs in
The tragic incident on Thursday brought back memories of Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, and a rising star, who was killed in a similar on-set accident in 1993 after a bullet was left in a prop gun.
Lee’s sister Shannon said that her family was once again processing their own pain and that there are no excuses for another shooting incident on set.
“There are rules that are supposed to be followed. I am certainly not pointing fingers at anyone because that would be the wrong thing to do. But, there is no reason for something like this to happen," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "My heart goes out to Alec Baldwin. I feel for the work he is going to have to do to process this and try to find some measure of peace around it. And even more so for the family of Halyna Hutchins. It’s having your whole world flip upside down. There should be compassion for all the pain everyone is going through."
Shannon also called for industry-wide change.
“I think that in this day and age with all the special effects that are possible and all of the technology, there is no reason to have a prop gun or a gun on a set that can fire a projectile of any sort,” she said. “It is not necessary. I think we wish we had thought to do more 28 years ago, and we would love to do that now.”
– Additional reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters