Safety on Set: Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death should be a watershed moment for film production

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Halyna Hutchins was a cinematographer, a wife, a mother. She was 42. She was killed on the set of Rust, after Alec Baldwin fired a gun which, unbeknownst to him, contained live bullets. 

Why were live bullets on set? More concerningly, why did Baldwin not know that the gun he shot contained live bullets? 

The investigation into Hutchins’ death is still ongoing and for obvious reasons, it is not wise to speculate on the outcome of that investigation, however, what can be discussed is the widely reported safety concerns on the set where Hutchins would later be killed; and thus, the need to reform safety standards on film sets.  

The LA Times reported that the systematic flaws in the safety operations on the set of ‘Rust’ were to such an extent that just days before Hutchins’ death, there had been at least two accidental prop gun discharges, with half a dozen camera crew members allegedly walking off set to protest these working conditions. It has also been reported by Variety that the production “employed non-union persons in craft positions and, worse, used them to replace skilled union members who were protesting their working conditions.”

It has also been widely reported that both the assistant director Dave Halls and the head armourer Hannah Gutierrez Reed were allegedly subject to complaints about weapon safety. Halls was allegedly subjected to an internal complaint by a prop maker on a 2019 TV production set over safety concerns. Whereas, it is alleged that Gutierrez Reed handed a gun to an 11-year-old child actor on the previous production and faced accusations of handling guns unsafely on the ‘Rust’ set. 

It is clear that greater safety protections and regulations regarding handling weapons need to be implemented to improve on set safety. There should perhaps also be a discussion over whether, in 2021, when special effects are so prominent, live bullets still have a place on film sets? 

The shooting at the ‘Rust’ set was the 43rd fatal incident on a film set since 1990

Statistics reported by the independent.

Hutchins’ death has also sparked a wider conversation about safety on film sets particularly in the US. In statistics found reported by The Independent, the shooting at the ‘Rust’ set was the 43rd fatal incident on a film set since 1990- this averages a total of 1.4 fatal incidents per year in the US. A further 150 actors or crew members have been left with life-changing injuries as a result of onset incidents. 

Nearly 20 years ago, in 1993, insufficient checks on on-set guns, let to the death of Brandon Lee (the son of Bruce Lee) on the set of The Crow, after he was accidentally shot by his co-star Michael Massee at close range. Yet, it seems, nearly 20 years later, that not enough lessons have been learnt. Lee’s sister, Shannon Lee, has expressed her “frustration” at the failings of on-set gun safety so long after her brother’s death, and has once again called for mandatory gun safety for actors so that they are able to “check guns themselves and use them appropriately”. Lee contends that this will not only reduce the risk to those on set but also the possibility of significant psychological harm for whoever may be unfortunate enough to unknowingly fire a live bullet, fatally wounding someone. Something Massee and now Baldwin are far too familiar with. 

The situation on the ‘Rust’ film set cannot be described as anything but tragic. It is tragic for the child that now has to grow up without a mother, a husband left without a wife, Baldwin who will have to live with the knowledge that he fired the shot that killed Hutchins- someone he has since described as a ‘friend’. It is tragic and traumatic for anyone who had to see Hutchins death. Undeniably though, the biggest tragedy is the premature loss of Halyna Hutchins: an extremely talented and ambitious woman, whose career was described as having “blossomed in Hollywood”. It is in her name, and that of the 42 other people killed on film sets since 1990, that safety regulations onset need to be pursued more thoroughly. 

Image Credits: Brands&People via Unsplash

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