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‘Rust’ shooting: Assistant director previously sacked over gun safety

By AFP - Oct 27,2021 - Last updated at Oct 27,2021

By Huw Griffith
Agence France-Presse

LOS ANGELES — The assistant director who handed Alec Baldwin the loaded weapon that killed a cinematographer had been sacked from a previous production for gun safety violations, the company said on Monday.

The news came as it was reported that crew members had used that same weapon for live-ammunition target practice on the day Halyna Hutchins died.

Hutchins was killed last Thursday on the set of low-budget Western “Rust” when Baldwin fired a weapon that assistant director Dave Halls had told him was safe, using the industry lingo “cold gun”.

“Dave Halls was fired from the set of ‘Freedom’s Path’ in 2019 after a crew member incurred a minor and temporary injury when a gun was unexpectedly discharged,” a producer for the as-yet-unreleased movie told AFP.

“Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged. Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site. An incident report was taken and filed at that time.”

Attention has focused on Halls and 24-year-old armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in the wake of the tragedy on the set near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An armorer is tasked with supplying and keeping weapons safe on set, ensuring that they are accounted for at all times, and locked away when not in use.

But entertainment trade website The Wrap reported on Monday that crew members had been using the weapons just hours before Hutchins was killed.

“A number of crew members had taken prop guns from the New Mexico set of the indie Western — including the gun that killed Hutchins — to go ‘plinking,’ a hobby in which people shoot at beer cans with live ammunition,” the website said, citing an unidentified individual with knowledge of the set.

The producers of “Rust” did not respond to multiple AFP requests for comment.

Gun pointed at camera

The developments came as a narrative of the tragedy emerged from an affidavit submitted by Santa Fe sheriffs as they sought a search warrant.

The document explains how Baldwin was practicing drawing his gun from his holster and pointing it at the camera when the accident happened.

The 63-year-old was “sitting in a pew in a church building setting, and he was practicing a cross draw”, director Joel Souza said in the affidavit, “pointing the revolver towards the camera lens”.

Souza told investigators he was looking over Hutchins’ shoulder “when he heard what sounded like a whip and then loud pop”.

The director said he remembered the 42-year-old Hutchins “grabbing her midsection”.

“Halyna began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground,” the affidavit said. “Joel explained that he was bleeding from his shoulder and he could see blood on Halyna.”

Hutchins was declared dead in hospital a short time later. Souza, 48, was treated by doctors and sent home.

No one has been charged and no arrests have been made.

The incident happened after a lunch break, Souza said in the affidavit, and the director wasn’t sure if the gun had been checked again for safety after the break.

Halls handed one of three prop guns to Baldwin that had been set up on a cart by Gutierrez-Reed, the document says.

“[Halls] yelled ‘Cold Gun,’ indicating the prop gun did not have any live rounds,” it said. “[Halls] did not know live rounds were in the prop-gun.”

‘Negligence and unprofessionalism’

The film’s gaffer — or chief electrician — said he held Hutchins in his arms as she was dying, writing an angry Facebook post which alleges the shooting was a result of “negligence and unprofessionalism.”

“There is no way a twenty-four-year-old woman can be a professional with armoury,” Serge Svetnoy wrote, adding: “Professionals are the people who have spent years on sets, people who know this job from A to Z.”

“To save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job, and you risk the lives of the other people who are close and your lives as well,” he said.

Veteran Hollywood armorer Guillaume Delouche told AFP he was “very surprised” that somebody of Gutierrez-Reed’s age and inexperience “could be a chief armorer on a movie that has to have a lot of gunfighting scenes”.

“Rust” was only her second film as chief armorer. She is the daughter of expert Hollywood armorer Thell Reed, whose credits include “Django Unchained”.

Gutierrez-Reed could not be reached for comment, and has deleted her social media profiles.

Baldwin’s wife Hilaria on Monday took to Instagram to convey her sorrow over the fatal shooting.

“My heart is with Halyna. Her husband. Her son. Their family and loved ones. And my Alec,” Baldwin posted. “It’s said ‘There are no words’ because it’s impossible to express the shock and heartache of such a tragic incident.”

“Heartbreak. Loss. Support,” she wrote.

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