On October 6, the filming of Rust. The independent production chose a beautiful ranch 20 minutes from Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, as the location of a western set in the 19th century. It is a hilly place with an almost desert climate, where wild shrubs contrast with the yellow foliage of the poplars. Behind the ranch there are dozens of bullring and equestrian clinics. It is there, in the middle of a fictional wooden town, where Alec Baldwin, also a producer of the film, played Harland Rust, an outlaw who comes to the aid of his 13-year-old grandson, sentenced to death for the accidental death of a man. . This terse plot proved premonitory when two weeks later the film’s protagonist killed the cinematographer with a real bullet while rehearsing a scene.
The police are trying to answer the question everyone asks: how did a real bullet get into production? The projectile struck 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins in the chest and wounded the director, Joel Souza, 48, who has been discharged from the hospital. A doctor from the production tried to stop the filmmaker’s bleeding, while Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor, called 911. “We have two people injured by a weapon, we need help immediately,” the woman told emergency services. “Was the gun loaded with real bullets?” They asked on the other end of the line. “No … I can’t say …” Mitchell replied. Seconds later she addressed someone next to her, as heard in the call, which has been leaked: “And that fucking assistant director, who yelled at me at lunchtime for some reviews, that son of a bitch … that he must have checked the weapons. He is responsible”.
One of the detectives in the investigation, Joel Cano, says in his report that Dave Halls, the assistant director, confirmed that he had checked that the three weapons that were to be used at the scene were not loaded. They were real weapons. “Cold weapon,” he said before handing it to Baldwin, who thought he could safely operate it after hearing the slogan, which on filming means “pistol without ammunition.” Halls, CNN said Sunday, has a history of failure on sets where he has worked. In a series filmed in 2019 for Hulu, he did not organize the safety meetings required by the protocols or alert the production to the presence of loaded weapons.
An affidavit leaked Sunday night states that Souza, the film’s director, was not entirely sure the gun had been checked by Halls before rehearsal, where Baldwin was practicing how to draw.
The loose ends of the story flew over the heads of the hundreds of filmmakers who gathered Saturday night in downtown Albuquerque, 60 kilometers from Santa Fe, to say goodbye to Hutchins. The photographer was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle. For several years he was an investigative journalist in Kiev and worked on several British documentaries. In 2015 he graduated from the American Film Institute.
“This film was a dream for any cinematographer,” said Miriam, a member of the IATSE, the industry technicians union. “A feature film in a real location, with these skies, a vintage western and with a first-rate actor. Who could have thought that this would have such a tragic outcome ”, he assured with a candle in his hand.
Lane Luper, a technician who worked with Hutchins on Rust, told those attending the vigil that the photographer, in full swing in an industry where there are only 5% women behind the scenes, had recently bought a house in Los Angeles to live with her partner and her son. “She was a wonderful soul, and very talented … I was very lucky to work with her,” she said through tears to those gathered there.
Luper did not elaborate on the allegations that Hutchins’ death has brought to light. A chaotic shoot that had already had two warnings of security breaches with the handling of weapons. On October 16 there were two accidental detonations of weapons, as confirmed by three members of the team who asked those responsible to reinforce security protocols in the handling of pistols. Six technicians left production due to working conditions, with 13-hour shifts and the inconvenience of having to make the trip back to hotels in Albuquerque, 90 kilometers away, every day so that production costs would not skyrocket.
Rust It was a level 1 production, according to the categories established in Hollywood, which in that industry means that it was low budget, since it had only six million dollars and 21 days to finish filming. “A vintage western takes more money and time to get right. It’s my impression that this film was out of budget and on schedule, ”said Matthew, a member of IATSE, the technicians union, who came to fire Hutchins.
Ashley Crandell, another of the professionals who attended the vigil, takes care of the weapons on the sets. In large productions, he explains, real weapons must have rubber copies. This model is used in scenes where, for example, they will be thrown or are not captured in the foreground of the camera, such as when a police officer has it in his belt holster. On Rust there were no rubber models, the three guns present on the day of the accident were real. When these are activated, a gunsmith should be responsible for checking the chamber and locks, in addition to instructing the cast on their operation. In smaller budget productions like this it is common for props makers to share this task with other responsibilities. “Ultimately, the one in charge of keeping the whole team safe is the AD (assistant director),” says Crandell.
Serge Svetnoy, the chief production electrician, has blamed the accident, without mentioning it, on the props and weapons manager, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. “I’m sure we had professionals in all departments except one, the department that deals with weapons … There is no way that a 24-year-old woman can be an arms expert,” wrote the technician on Facebook, who had previously worked with Hutchins on another tape. “To save some money, sometimes people are hired who are not fully qualified to do complicated and dangerous work. And the lives of others and their own are put at risk ”, added the gaffer, who claims to have held the director of photography in his hands while his life was leaving him.
Hutchins’ death has revived the security debate on filming. Some voices have asked to banish pistols from the sets forever and that they be replaced by special effects. This will be difficult in the most armed country in the world. “Actors like the weight of a real gun, and at least old-school people think the frame should look as real as possible,” says Crandell. Miriam agrees: “Every day in every movie there are real firearms. And there are no dead. Something very bad had to happen for this to happen ”.
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