ONEAs a veteran actor of nearly 100 movies and TV shows, Alec Baldwin was no stranger to strict safety protocols regarding the handling of firearms on set.
While preparing to shoot an action scene for his low budget western film Rust in New Mexico last October, Baldwin was handed a replica .45 Colt revolver.
According to affidavits from law enforcement, the 64-year-old actor was discussing a shooting sequence with crew members when he pulled out the gun and pointed it in the direction of a camera, where director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were standing.
The gun went off and a bullet struck Souza in the shoulder before fatally hitting Hutchins in the chest.
The exact details of how the weapon was fired remain hotly contested. Baldwin claimed he was assured the gun was “cold,” meaning it had no live ammunition, and that as he cocked the gun, it went off without pulling the trigger.
However, a recent FBI forensic analysis found that the gun was in good working order and Baldwin should have fired the gun.
Since then, crew members, actors and Hutchins’ family have sued.
All involved have protested their innocence while blaming industry malpractice and, in some cases, each other for Hutchins’ tragic death.
Last week, the Santa Fe District Attorney named Baldwin as a “potential defendant” in an ongoing criminal investigation into the case.
Baldwin has also hit out at the “garbage press” for insulting him, and in an apparent reference to his crime report, Baldwin last week said his life “may never be the same.”
How did one of the top acting talents of his generation find himself facing a possible murder charge?
Walks and safety concerns on set Rust
Rust began filming on October 6 at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Bonanza, New Mexico, an old mining town on the outskirts of Santa Fe that had been abandoned in the early 1900s before being turned into a movie set.
The film had a modest budget of around $6 million and was a “passion project” for Baldwin, according to Wall Street Journal. It was likely intended for release on a streaming service and may well have faded into obscurity if not for fate.
Complaints about poor working conditions and safety on set had plagued the production from the start of filming.
On the eve of filming, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees (IATSE) threatened to walk out due to low pay.
Among them was Hutchins, a veteran filmmaker and mother of one, who wrote in an Instagram post on Oct. 19: “Standing in #IAsolidarity with our @IATSE crew here in New Mexico at RUST.”
Baldwin, producer at Rust, said in a sickening parody posted on Facebook on Oct. 19 that union crew members should “do what you gotta do. You have to fight.”
“I’ll tell you something about the executives of these companies, film and television… They don’t give a damn about you. They don’t give congratulations for anything.”
In comments under Baldwin’s Facebook video, crew member Lane Luper said the producers treated the crew like “dog***.”
Looper claims some were forced to sleep in cars after they were too tired to drive home.
Crew members also raised concerns about firearms safety protocols and starting weapons handling.
Blame for the weapons fell on production armour, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who had been the subject of complaints about her work on a separate film The Old Way.
The Los Angeles Times reported that there were three gunshot misfires in the days leading up to Hutchins’ death.
In the early hours of October 21, seven crew members resigned in protest at the conditions.
An article published on The wrap quoted an unnamed worker on the set who said the crew took the gun that killed Hutchins with them to aim to shoot beer cans to pass the time. The weapons were returned after a lunch break, according to the insider’s account.
The fatal shot
Around 1:50 p.m., the actors rehearsed a gunfight scene inside a church at Bonanza Ranch on the 12th day of the 21-day shoot.
According to affidavits published by Santa Fe Detectives Gutierrez-Reed, the gunsmith, reportedly recovered the three guns and ammunition to be used at the scene.
David Halls, an assistant director, grabbed one of three prop guns from a cart and yelled “cold gun” as he handed it to Baldwin, indicating the gun contained no live rounds, according to the search warrant.
Halls was fired in 2019 from filming the film The path of freedom after an unexpected gunshot, wounding a crew member.
A lawyer for Halls has he disputed that he gave the gun to Baldwinand said it was not his responsibility to check the gun for live rounds.
As Hutchins and Souza stood behind the camera, Baldwin began talking about how he planned to remove the gun from its holster.
“Well, I guess I’ll take it out, pull it and go ‘Bang,'” he said, according to a Los Angeles Times accountat which point the gun was allegedly fired.
A 911 call was made at 1:46 p.m. local time and emergency responders arrived within minutes.
Hutchins was taken by ambulance to the University of New Mexico, where she was pronounced dead. She is survived by her husband Matt Hutchins and their nine-year-old son Andros.
Souza was taken by ambulance to a Santa Fe hospital and released the next morning.
Tragic images captured Baldwin talking on his cellphone in the moments after the shooting. He was taken for questioning by the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department and released later that day.
Baldwin tweeted the next day that his heart was “broken for her husband, their son and everyone who knew and loved Halyna.”
Claim and counterclaim
The sheriff’s office has launched an investigation to determine how a live round was placed in the gun, why the crew members did not understand the round and why the gun discharged.
All three people who handled the gun — Halls, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reid — were cooperating with the investigation, authorities said.
In November, court filings indicated that the scope of the investigation had expanded to determine whether local prop shop owner Seth Kenney may have included live ammunition with the blanks and dummy rounds he provided for the movie set.
Mr Kenney denied providing live ammunition to the set in a statement to ABC News.
In an interview with ABC News In December, Baldwin denied firing the gun, saying, “I would never point a gun at anybody and pull the trigger. Never.”
That month, Santa Fe officials obtained a search warrant for Baldwin’s iPhone in relation to research.
However, an FBI forensic analysis of the gun used to kill Hutchins concluded that the gun was in working order at the time and would not have discharged unless it had been fully cocked and the trigger pulled.
That report was released in August by Santa Fe investigators along with a ruling by the New Mexico Medical Examiner’s Office that the fatal shooting was an accident.
In a scathing report, the New Mexico Office of Occupational Safety and Health outlined a narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols, including testimony that production managers took little or no action to address two set failures before the fatal shot.
It fined the film’s production company nearly $137,000 for violating workplace safety protocols.
On Sept. 23, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies revealed in an emergency request for more funding that an investigation into the shooting had identified four potential defendants.
Alec Baldwin was the only person named by Ms Carmack-Altwies.
When it comes in contact with Santa FeNew Mexicanshe said the list of possible charges her office was considering ranged from manslaughter to state gun law violations.
In an Instagram post a few days later, Baldwin, who just welcomed his seventh child with wife Hilaria, wrote: “My heart has been broken a thousand times over the past year. And things in my life may never be the same.
“A lot of changes are coming. But my family kept me alive. It’s the reason I live. And Hilaria Baldwin too.”
According to Santa Fe New MexicanMs. Carmack-Altwies expects to receive the final investigation report from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office soon.
said Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas The independent in a statement that “false conclusions” had been drawn from Ms Carmack-Altwies’ request for more funding.
“The DA has made it clear that it has not received the sheriff’s report or made any decisions about who, if anyone, could be charged in this case,” Mr. Nikas said in a statement.
“The DA’s office must be given the space to review this matter without baseless speculation and innuendo.”
A number of civil disputes have also not been decided.
Hutchins’ family has also filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Baldwin, Gutierrez-Reid and the film’s production company alleging “reckless conduct and cost-cutting.”
Several crew members, including the supervising scriptwriter and the lead doctor, have filed lawsuits seeking compensation for the trauma they suffered.
Gutierrez-Reid sued prop supplier Seth Kenney, alleging he mixed dummy funds with live bullets.
And Baldwin’s lawyers have filed for arbitration against By Rust the production company claiming his contract should have protected him from any claims.
Implications for the film industry
Hutchins’ death led to calls for a complete overhaul of gun safety protocols on film sets.
The tragic shooting has been compared to the death of Brandon Lee, the son of legendary action star Bruce Lee, who was killed by a gunshot on set The Raven in 1993.
Stars including Dwayne Johnson have vowed to stop using real firearms on set.
However an article from The Hollywood Reporter in June he suggested that little had changed.
Top gunsmiths the entertainment website spoke to said calls for reform had died down as the furore had faded.
While visual effects professionals said The Hollywood Reporter that guns could be replaced with CGI effects, especially for low-budget films, this was not a viable option.