• The San Juan Daily Star

Alec Baldwin film set had previous accidental gun discharges, crew members say

A bouquet hangs outside the Bonanza Creek Film Ranch, where Alec Baldwin fatally shot the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun.

By Simon Romero and Julia Jacobs

There were at least two accidental gun discharges on the set of an Alec Baldwin movie being filmed in New Mexico days before he fatally shot the cinematographer, according to three former members of the film’s crew.

The discharges occurred Oct. 16, the former crew members said, prompting a complaint to a supervisor about the safety practices on the set, which was outside Santa Fe. The crew members, who asked not to be named out of fear that their future employment in the industry could be affected, were among several workers who quit, just hours before the fatal shooting, over complaints about unpaid work and working conditions on the production.

The disclosures, which were first reported by the Los Angeles Times, are focusing scrutiny on concerns over loosely followed protocols and labor strife between producers and crew members during the production of the movie, “Rust,” a low-budget film about a 19th century accidental killing and its aftermath.

Larry Zanoff, who worked on the set of “Django Unchained” as an armorer — a position that involves instructing cast members on the safe handling of firearms — and was not involved in “Rust,” said that if a firearm went off on a film set, there would immediately be an inquiry into whether the firearm was defective or was mishandled. If the determination was that it was mishandled, he said, the production would undergo a reinforcement of safety protocols and possibly disallow the handler from using firearms.

It was unclear whether such an investigation took place after the Oct. 16 incidents. The discharges that day were inside a cabin used as a set location, and Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer, was among the production team members inside, crew members said.

The movie’s producers, who include Baldwin, contended in a statement Friday that they had not been told about the safety issues.

“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 movie’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, said in the statement. “We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”

The problems with the firearms are fueling questions as to how Baldwin could have been handling a gun on set that was unsafe. According to an affidavit signed by Detective Joel Cano of the Santa Fe County sheriff’s office, Baldwin was told by an assistant director who handed him the firearm that it was a “cold gun,” which on a film set typically refers to a gun that’s unloaded.

According to the affidavit by the detective in the Santa Fe County sheriff’s office, the gun used in the shooting was set up by Hannah Gutierrez, the production’s armorer, and handed to Baldwin by Dave Halls, the assistant director. Neither Gutierrez nor Halls responded to requests for comment.

In addition to Zanoff, five other experts in the use of firearms on film and television sets said that it was against usual protocol for an assistant director to hand a gun to an actor. One of the experts, Mike Tristano, a veteran professional armorer based in Los Angeles, said that typical practice on a film set would be for the armorer to hand the gun to the actor and that the chain of events described in the affidavit struck him as a “red flag.”

In his affidavit, Cano said that after Baldwin fatally shot Hutchins and wounded Joel Souza, the film’s director, Gutierrez took the spent casing out of the gun used in the shooting and later handed the gun to sheriff’s deputies. The detective also said that he learned that Halls, the assistant director, did not know live rounds were in the gun he had given to Baldwin.

On a podcast posted last month, Gutierrez, who also goes by Hannah Reed and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, said she had just finished filming her first movie as head armorer in a Western called “The Old Way,” starring Clint Howard and Nicolas Cage, that is set for release next year.

“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 said in the podcast, “Voices of the West,” on which the hosts discuss old Western films and television shows. She is the daughter of Thell Reed, a shooting expert who has put on exhibitions and a consultant to the movie industry who has trained prominent actors in handling firearms.

In addition to the safety concerns, the three crew members who quit also cited other grievances. They said the crew had complained to the film’s producers about extended delays to some of their paychecks and about the production’s refusal, at times, to book them hotel rooms in Santa Fe, near the set.

That meant that some of the crew had to drive about an hour to their homes around Albuquerque after a long day on set in a physically demanding job, the members said.

Their concerns went unaddressed, the crew members said, and by Wednesday, six of them filed resignation letters after one of them was denied a hotel room to sleep in after a long day. Hours before the fatal shooting, the crew members arrived on set Thursday morning to pack up their belongings and said they learned that the production had hired nonunion workers to replace them.

Souza said in a statement Saturday that he was “gutted” by the loss of Hutchins, writing that she was “kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better.”

“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,” he said in the statement. “It will surely aid in my recovery.”

Hutchins’ husband, Matt Hutchins, wrote in a tweet Friday night that his wife “inspired us all with her passion and vision, and her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words.”

About 200 people gathered in downtown Albuquerque on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil to remember Hutchins. Many at the vigil work in New Mexico’s expanding film industry.

Lane Luper, a camera crew member on “Rust” who forged a strong friendship with Hutchins after she persuaded him to work on the movie, told those gathered that he was devastated by her death.

Hutchins “never, ever thought of herself as better than anyone on that set,” he said. “I would have been lucky to have ever done another movie with another person like that, or with her.”

Rebecca Stair, a location manager, said she was saddened that Hutchins had been killed just days after a Hollywood union of film workers reached an agreement with movie and TV studios that averted a strike on issues that included safer work conditions.

Stair said the incident on the set of “Rust” served as a tragic reminder of what could happen because of security lapses.

“We didn’t come together to strike, and now we’re coming together to grieve,” Stair said.

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