Tragic accident on set drives home workplace safety

Prop guns still entail degrees of danger say experts, as death on film set leads to further calls for safety on set.

The tragedy on the set of upcoming movie Rust has underlined issues around safety in the film & television industry.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, (pictured) died after Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun on the set, while director Joel Souza was injured.

Hutchins was severely injured during the incident and died after being transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital in critical condition.

Baldwin was seen in tears outside the sheriff’s office in Santa Fe. Reports suggest he was asked why he was handed a “hot gun”.

A spokesperson from Rust said in a statement: “The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones. We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with the Santa Fe Police Department’s investigation. We will be providing counseling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event.”

Directors Guild of America president Lesli Linka Glatter said in a statement that the DGA is “incredibly saddened” to hear of Hutchins’ death and Souza’s injuries. “We await further details and a full investigation. Our hearts go out to Halyna’s family, to Joel, and to everyone impacted.”

Will & Grace actor Debra Messing rejected tabloid suggestions Baldwin was responsible.

“It is absolutely NOT. A prop gun was handed to him. He used it in the scene. Then- a catastrophic event happened where Halnya Hutchins lost her life and Joel Souza was injured. I am praying for all of their families.”

Rick and Morty writer Caitie Delaney also tweeted in his defence:

“Like obviously it’s the story but it is really not fair to have Alec Baldwin be the face of this tragedy. He wasn’t in charge of loading that gun. Safety on set needs to be taken so much more seriously.”

The family of actor Brandon Lee, who was killed during filming of The Crow in 1993 said, “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust.’ No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

“Prop weapons do have a dangerous factor to them even though they’re a lot safer than using a live firearm on set,” says Joseph Fisher, a prop master who works on movie sets and has handled weapons in the military and with the NYPD. “Typical prop load will be about 25 to 50% of the gunpowder in an actual projectile load that would be used in a regular weapon.”

Even though there is no actual physical projectile mounted on the cartridge, there will be gas, heat and air coming out of the weapon since there is gunpowder load present, “and those can cause physical injury within 25 to 50 feet, depending on the load,” Fisher added.

Fisher said those on set “take extreme caution with any kind of weapons, whether they be prop guns, blank guns, and anything in between.

“Typically, we will do a safety brief with the cast and crew. We’ll introduce the weapon to the cast and crew, we’ll let them examine it, we’ll explain the safety precautions that go with each type of prop weapon,” he told CNN.

In 1984, actor John-Eric Hexum was playing around with a gun on the set of Cover Up: Golden Opportunity and died after putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger.

In Australia stuntman and Australian Ninja Warrior contestant Johann Ofner died on the set of a Bliss n Esso music video after being shot in the chest with a prop shotgun. An inquest determined the sawn-off shotgun used in the video’s gunfight sequence was never test-fired before filming. The production also failed to employ a safety supervisor or a qualified first aid officer to ensure workplace health and safety regulations were followed. The weapon was loaded with homemade ‘blank’ shotgun cartridges manufactured by an employee of a Brisbane gun shop.

In 2017 the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said “This tragedy is a stark reminder that the screen industry is inherently dangerous and of the need for total vigilance about workplace safety at all times on set.”

Director Joel Souza, who was injured during the incident, has since been released from hospital according to a cast member after reports he was hit in the shoulder.

The investigation into Hutchins’ death is ongoing, and US law enforcement are interviewing witnesses. No charges have been filed.

Rust, a western film set in the 1880s also stars Jensen Ackles and Aussie Travis Fimmel.

Source: Yahoo, CNN, Daily Mail, Hollywood Reporter

12 Responses

  1. … many years ago I was lighting a production in which a “prop” gun was used … during rehearsal, I noticed that part of the action was for an actor to pull out the clip to reveal that it contained bullets – real bullets … I questioned the props person who told me that it was OK to use real bullets because the firing mechanism had been “disabled” … I made sure I was always in the control room whenever the gun was handled after that …

    1. Surely you would use dummy rounds for that have no primer or propellant but look like real bullets. Though you still need to be careful, Brandon Lee was killed when dummy rounds were made with cartridges with primers and fired. A bullet lodged in the barrel and then the armourer loaded blanks without checking the barrel was clear. The only time real rounds and guns would used would be on shows like Mythbusters and Forged In Fires, when they film real weapons, on firing ranges being fired by experts.

  2. Calling them “prop guns” is misleading. They are real guns that have been modified so that they can’t fire real bullets, and thus can be used without a firearms licence. They fire real cartridges with a reduced load, held in place by wadding and no bullet. They do discharge material forwards and nobody should be standing in front of one when it is fired. Hollywood has fired of millions of rounds, with only a handful of accidents. Most of them when somebody was clowning around with the gun. But in this case it looks like someone set things up wrong. Eventually investigations will show what.

  3. Tragic and very sad. These days the muzzle flash that a “blank round” produces from a gun can be replicated cheaply and easily in post production using CGI and you can’t tell the difference. Any actor worth their union card should be able to mime the gun kick back. In my opinion it should be very hard to justify a producers request of using live rounds on a set these days.

    1. CGI is used for muzzle blast effects in some B Grade movies where replica firearms are sometimes used for economy, the only distraction for action fans is the lack of empty cartridges being ejected from the gun when it is fired. I have to say that some usage of guns can look dangerous, shows like Cinemax’s ‘Strike Back’ which was made on location in Asia, Jordan and Hungary did use a lot of pyrotechnics during stunts and thousands of blank rounds. During the 70’s NZ banned the use of real weapons in movies so violent films like the classic ‘Sleeping Dogs’ had to make their own replica prop guns.

    1. I agree the USA need tighter gun laws, but this was a movie set, these are usually heavily controlled, unionised, professionals and issues such as these should not arise. Sadly this impacts many lives no matter what the final outcome is.

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