News of a shooting on the set of the film Rust Thursday, October 21, set off a wave of speculation. As reports trickled in, the situation began to clarify: Two people had been shot during a scene at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico. One of them, director of photography Halyna Hutchins, died while the other, director Joel Souza, was injured. Alec Baldwin, the film’s star and one of its producers, “discharged” the gun. But the developments have left many unanswered questions and concerns. How did a fatal shooting happen with what was reportedly a prop? How common are injuries from guns on film sets? Who is responsible? The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the incident is currently “open and active,” per a statement to Vulture, and it will take time for these important questions to be answered. Here is everything we do and don’t know about the fatal shooting on set of Rust.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office received a call at 1:50 p.m. MT Thursday reporting a shooting on a film set, per a police statement provided to Vulture. Investigators have since confirmed that Alec Baldwin “discharged” the gun at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set, shooting two people: Hutchins and Souza. The sheriff’s office told the New York Times the shooting occurred during a scene that was either being rehearsed or filmed. The Los Angeles Times later reported that Baldwin had been rehearsing a scene that involved shooting the gun outside the church on set.
The statement from the sheriff’s office said a helicopter took Hutchins to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. An ambulance transported Souza to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center to be treated for his injuries. Deadline reported Souza had been released from the hospital early Friday. A spokesperson for Rust Movie Productions told Vulture that production on the film has been paused to comply with the investigation and to provide counseling to people working on the film.
The AP reported on October 22 that court records indicate that Baldwin was told before the fatal incident that the gun had no ammunition. The film’s armorer, a term for the person in charge of gun props, was Hannah Gutierrez Reed. Per the court records, she set three guns on a cart outside of the area where the scene was being acted. According to a search warrant application obtained by the AP, assistant director Dave Halls then brought one of the guns to Baldwin, not knowing that it was loaded with live rounds. A search warrant filed in a Santa Fe court noted that an assistant director said that the weapon was a “cold gun.” Hutchins, Souza, and a B-camera operator were still nearby assessing shots, the Los Angeles Times reported, when Baldwin pulled the gun out of a holster twice in preparation for the scene. The second time he removed the gun, ammunition reportedly flew toward the trio, penetrating Hutchins near her shoulder and continuing through to Souza.
During a press conference held by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office on October 27, Sheriff Adan Mendoza disclosed that the incident occurred during rehearsal for a scene on the set, and there was no camera footage of the shooting incident. When asked if Baldwin would face charges, District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said, ”no one has been ruled out at this point.”
What kind of gun was used, and how did it go off?
Investigators said the gun used was a “prop firearm,” raising questions over what precautions were in place and how the weapon was loaded. “Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. That means that while a Rust Movie Productions spokesperson said the incident involved “the misfire of a prop gun with blanks,” the information has not been confirmed by investigators. “The Sheriff’s Office is referring to this incident as a shooting investigation,” a spokesperson told Variety. After IATSE Local 44, a prop workers’ union based in Los Angeles, claimed the gun had a “live round,” the Sheriff’s Office disputed that claim to Deadline. “We haven’t even begun the forensics on that issue,” a spokesperson said. “That hasn’t been determined by us as of yet.” The office said more information should be expected next week. A Local 44 source later told the Los Angeles Times that the union’s use of the term “live” did not refer to the type of projectile in the gun but rather an industry term for a gun loaded with any material. It is also unclear how many rounds were fired from the gun and how the two people were shot.
Film sets sometimes choose to use real guns over replicas. Industry-standard guidelines for use of guns on film sets from the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee specify that blank ammunition “can kill, and that all guns on set are to be treated “as though they are loaded.” Guns are usually used at a distance and not fired in the direction of anyone else. The guidelines say live ammunition can be used on “a very rare occasion” for effects so long as precautions are taken ahead of filming and it is only on specific locations where live rounds are meant to be shot. Guns used as props on film sets are to be handled by the prop master and the armorer or weapons master.
The Los Angeles Times reported on October 22 that there had been existing concerns about gun safety protocols on the Rust set. Crew members told the Times that on October 16, Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds from a gun after being told it had no ammunition. According to a crew member, there were no subsequent safety meetings or investigations. Two anonymous sources alleged to Consequence that Halls, the assistant director who brought Baldwin the gun, had a history of ignoring safety protocols on other projects. One said she had previously filed two formal safety complaints against Halls.
During a press conference held by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office on October 27, Sheriff Adan Mendoza revealed that the gun fired by Baldwin was a FD Pietta long Colt .45 revolver, and it has been recovered and submitted to the FBI. Also recovered was the shell casing and “lead projectile” from the suspected live round that was fired. The bullet was recovered from director Joel Souza’s shoulder, and it was “apparently the same round” that killed Halyna Hutchins. Other suspected live rounds were also collected on the set, along with blanks and dummies.
How is Alec Baldwin involved?
Baldwin, who discharged the gun, is both starring in Rust and a producer on the film. He was questioned by investigators and released, the Sheriff’s Office told Deadline. No charges have been filed in the incident. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Baldwin was seen “distraught and in tears while on the phone” outside the sheriff’s building. Baldwin expressed sympathy for Hutchins and her family on Twitter. “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,” he wrote, adding that he has spoken to the cinematographer’s husband. Baldwin also said he is “fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred.” He addressed the shooting, denying responsibility for the discharged gun in a December interview with ABC.
In an arbitration demand filed March 11, lawyers for Baldwin claimed he cannot be held culpable for her death as a producer, the New York Times reported. The filing states a clause in the contract he signed as actor and producer did not allow for him to be held financially responsible for a death. Baldwin further underscored his ongoing claim that it was not his responsibility to check whether the gun was loaded with live rounds, with details from the incident.
How has the industry responded?
A number of unions and industry groups released statements on the shooting. The International Cinematographers Guild, of which Hutchins was a member, called her death “a terrible loss” in a statement, per Variety, and said it supports “a full investigation into this tragic event.” A statement from the Directors Guild of America, of which Souza was a member, added that the union was “incredibly saddened” by the incident. The Screen Actors Guild echoed the other unions’ condolences in a statement, per Deadline.
Many others, including director James Gunn and actor Patricia Arquette, paid tribute to Hutchins and expressed horror at the shooting. “This is beyond a tragedy and there are so many rules in place to make sure this can’t happen. I can’t even fathom how this is possible,” tweeted actor and comedian Paul Scheer. Others including actors June Diane Raphael and Liz Jenkins echoed the shock at the shooting, given typical on-set precautions. “I’ve worked on a few shows with guns involved and the safety protocols were so intense they ALMOST seemed excessive,” Jenkins tweeted. “There has to be better way.” Some cautioned against rushing to blame Baldwin or crew members for the shooting after multiple outlets and Twitter users recklessly and preemptively assumed who was at fault. “No one should be blamed for this until there is an investigation into what happened & saying otherwise makes you look like a moron,” Gunn tweeted.
Who was Halyna Hutchins?
Hutchins was the director of photography on Rust. The 42-year-old Ukrainian filmmaker began her career as a journalist in Europe before becoming involved in film productions and eventually moving to Los Angeles. She graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2015 and went on to work on films including Darlin’, which premiered at South by Southwest in 2019, and Archenemy, which premiered at Beyond Fest in 2020. American Cinematographer magazine named her one of 10 “Rising Stars of Cinematography” in 2019. “I’m just really interested in finding fruitful collaborations,” she told the magazine. “To me, it’s the collaborative effort between creative minds that elevates each other’s work.”
Adam Egypt Mortimer, who directed Archenemy, tweeted that Hutchins “was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.” Actress Frances Fisher, who starred in Rust, wrote on Instagram, “I loved watching you work: Your intense focus and your vibrant command of the room.” Hutchins’ husband, Matthew, told Insider, “I appreciate that everyone has been very sympathetic.”
In an interview with Today February 24, Halyna Hutchin’s widower, Matthew Hutchins — who has now filed a wrongful death lawsuit over Halyna — shared more details about their relationship and family. Hutchins spoke about getting engaged to Halyna after only three months of dating and the video calls between Halyna and their son, Andros, when she was on set at Rust. Matt said he “needed to be with” Andros after finding out Halyna had been shot. “He didn’t believe it right away,” Hutchins said. “He didn’t want to believe it.” Matt also said Halyna’s tombstone is inscribed with, “Her light shapes our lives / Keep chasing your vision.”
What is Rust about?
Rust is a Western about outlaw Harland Rust, played by Baldwin, who travels to Kansas in the 1880s to free his 13-year-old grandson Lucas from prison and take him on the run from authorities. It’s based off a story by Baldwin and his Crown Vic collaborator Souza, with Baldwin also producing and Souza writing and directing. The film was announced in May 2020 ahead of the 2020 Virtual Cannes Market. “It wasn’t even that I was looking to do a Western; I was just looking for something a little more cinematic with a little less talking,” Baldwin told The Hollywood Reporter of the film at the time.
Rust began filming in New Mexico in October, according to an October 6 press release from the New Mexico Film Office, and was initially set to film through early November. The cast also includes Brady Noon as Lucas, Fisher as Lucas’s great aunt, Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles as a U.S. marshal, and Vikings’s Travis Fimmel as a bounty hunter.
Has this happened before?
The incident recalls a few prior fatal shootings on film sets. Brandon Bruce Lee, the son of action star Bruce Lee, died in an on-set shooting in 1993 after being hit with a bullet during a scene for The Crow. While the gun used in that scene was loaded with blank rounds, it had not been properly cleared of the dummy rounds loaded for previous scenes after one was lodged in the barrel of the gun. That caused the blank to propel the dummy round out of the barrel, striking Lee. The police investigation found Lee’s death to be due to negligence rather than foul play and no charges were filed. However, Lee’s mother filed a negligence lawsuit against the film’s producers and director and the effects contractor that supplied the ammunition, which was settled out of court. Lee’s sister, Shannon, who runs a Twitter account in his name, tweeted condolences to Hutchins and Souza. “No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set,” she wrote. “Period. 💔”
Aside from Lee’s death, Jon-Erik Hexum also notably died in an on-set shooting in 1984. Between takes of a scene involving a gun for CBS series Cover Up, Hexum unloaded some of the blank rounds of his gun, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger. A blank round fired, shattering part of his skull into his brain. He was declared dead six days later in what was found to be an accident. His mother later received an out-of-court settlement from the production company.
What had been happening behind the scenes of Rust?
Six camera-crew members walked off the set of the film earlier on the same day of the shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported on October 22. The camera crew was reportedly protesting having to stay in Albuquerque during filming and drive 50 miles to and from set, rather than stay in Santa Fe, along with alleged long hours and pay issues on the film. (Hutchins had reportedly called for better conditions for her camera crew.) The day of the walk-off, the film hired non-union camera workers to replace the crew members who left, who were members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union. One crew member told the Times that “corners were being cut” on the production, which was on its 12th day of filming out of a planned 21.
Additionally, the Times reported the gun being used for the film had previously misfired twice on October 16 and another time before that. “There was a serious lack of safety meetings on this set,” the camera crew member added to the paper. Rust Movie Productions LLC said the company was “not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set” in a new statement to Vulture on October 22. The production company said it would conduct its own review of the set along with the police investigation.
What will law enforcement be examining?
According to the AP, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant on October 22 to document the scene of the fatal incident. Deadline reported that the affidavit for the search warrant named the film’s armorer and several crew members. Deputies took the gun fired by Baldwin, the cart that held the guns, and other “prop ammunition” from the shooting location, according to Deadline. Investigators reportedly also want to examine Baldwin’s bloody clothes, as well as weapons and weapon ownership documents. In order to examine any footage or photos, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is also seeking production computer equipment, memory and other digital cards, and the cast and crew’s phones. According to Deadline, the Sheriff’s department also conducted interviews, including with Baldwin and Reed, on the evening of October 21. In January 22, Baldwin turned his phone over to police, nearly a month after authorities issued a warrant to seize it.
This is a developing story.