Alec Baldwin’s stunt double is reported to have unintentionally fired two rounds with a prop firearm the week before cinematographer Halyna Hutchins lost her life to a similar incident.
Citing unnamed sources on the set, the Los Angeles Times reported the stuntman was told the gun was “cold”, an industry term meaning a weapon is unloaded, including with blanks.
Meanwhile, the movie director wounded when Baldwin sent a bullet tearing through the camerawoman and into his shoulder, says he is “gutted” by the tragedy.
Joel Souza broke his silence as the investigation entered its third day, with multiple questions yet to be answered about how the fatal mistake could ever have been allowed to happen.
“I am gutted by the loss of my friend and colleague, Halyna,” Souza said in a statement on Saturday.
“She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better,”
The shot hit cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the chest, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. She died of her wounds and Souza, who was standing behind her as Baldwin rehearsed the scene, was injured but later released from the hospital.
On-set discord and resignations
Just hours before the incident on the New Mexico set of Rust, a low-budget western, several crew members quit in protest at what they saw as poor working conditions, according to multiple news outlets.
At least one employee is said to have complained to a production manager about gun safety, the Los Angeles Times reported, apparently referencing the earlier incident involving the stuntman.
“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,” one camera crew member wrote on a private Facebook page, according to Hollywood publication Deadline.com.
“And on top of that, poor gun safety! Poor on-set safety period!”
Rust Movie Productions said on Friday it had not been aware of any safety concerns but was investigating the incident.
“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,” the company said. Baldwin is among the film’s producers.
On the day Ms Hutchins was killed, assistant director Dave Halls handed Baldwin the prop gun and assured him it was unloaded and harmless, according to a sheriff’s office affidavit. Halls could not be reached for comment.
A Santa Fe judge on Friday approved a warrant allowing authorities to seize firearms, clothing, cameras, video tapes and ammunition from the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.
The person in charge of weapons, known as an armourer, on the Rust set, Hannah Gutierrez, set up the gun and two others, according to the sheriff’s affidavit. Gutierrez could not be reached for comment.
No charges have been filed, and police say the investigation remains active. Security guards were posted at the road leading to the ranch on Saturday.
The International Cinematographers Guild planned to hold a candlelight vigil for Hutchins, 42, on Saturday evening in Albuquerque, about 60 kilometres from the ranch. A second vigil was scheduled for Sunday in the Los Angeles area.
“Halyna inspired us all with her passion and vision, and her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words. Our loss is enormous,” her husband Matt Hutchins wrote on Twitter.
The American Film Institute has set up a scholarship fund for female cinematographers in Hutchins’ honour.
Baldwin, 63, best known for his roles in TV comedy 30 Rock and his Saturday Night Live impersonations of former US president Donald Trump, said on Friday he was shocked and heartbroken at Hutchins’ death and is fully co-operating with authorities.