Yikes: Armorer in Baldwin shooting drew "numerous" safety complaints on set of first film

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

This makes at least two crew members responsible for gun safety on the set of “Rust” who turned out to be not so good at gun safety. The other was assistant director Dave Halls, who was fired from a film in 2019 after a gun on set unexpectedly fired. The AD and the armorer are typically responsible for making sure that weapons are clear and out of harm’s way.

Having Halls on the set of “Rust” might not have been so risky if he had been paired with an experienced, diligent armorer. But what happens when you team him up with a 24-year-old who’s working on only her second film, and who said last month of her first film, “I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready”?

It’s possible for a young armorer with only one film under her belt to be scrupulous about gun safety, of course. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on the “Rust” set, is the daughter of an esteemed Hollywood weapons expert. No doubt that helped her get the “Rust” gig. If her father is well regarded for his expertise, it’s logical to assume that he trained his own child well.

But there was another, probably more critical factor in her landing the job: Cost. If Alec Baldwin and his production team weren’t shooting with a total budget of just $6 million, maybe they would have hired her father instead. As it is, they took a chance on his daughter — even though, per two sources who spoke to The Wrap, she had a lousy reputation for safety on the set of her first film earlier this year starring Nicolas Cage.

Did Baldwin and the other producers know there’d been complaints about Gutierrez-Reed during the earlier film? A New Mexico jury will be keen to find out.

After firing a gun near the cast and crew for a second time in three days without warning, [key grip Stu] Brumbaugh said that Cage yelled at her, “Make an announcement, you just blew my f—ing eardrums out!” before walking off set in a rage. “I told the AD, ‘She needs to be let go,’” Brumbaugh, adding, “After the second round I was pissed off. We were moving too fast. She’s a rookie.”…

The incidents detailed by Brumbaugh and one other person on the set “put the cast and crew in several unnecessary and dangerous situations,” according to the latter person. Brumbaugh confirmed that the following incidents occurred, including:

• Gutierrez-Reed walked onto the set with live rounds of blanks and no public announcement to the cast and crew, breaking established safety protocols.

• She tucked pistols under her armpits and carried rifles in each hand that were ready to be used in a scene. Firearms were aimed at people. She turned around and the pistols that were tucked under her armpits were pointing back at people.

I’ve never worked on a film but I’d guess that walking around with guns tucked under your armpits and the barrels pointing behind you isn’t the industry standard for gun safety. For what it’s worth, the prop master on the Cage film and one of its producers claim they had no issue with Gutierrez-Reed’s work on the set, contradicting Brumbaugh. But maybe they have an incentive to say that. Imagine admitting that you employed an armorer whose probable negligence led to a fatal accident and that you didn’t dismiss her from your own set amid numerous safety complaints.

In an interview with Fox, armorer Bryan Anderson identified another problem with “Rust” that Brumbaugh also flagged for The Wrap: “At a minimum, there should be two people present to verify that the weapon is in the condition that you say it is.” It wasn’t just that the producers went cheap on safety by hiring someone who’s inexperienced to oversee weapons. It’s that they hired only one person when normally there’d be several people on set checking the guns. That redundancy reduces the risk of any live rounds ending up in a gun held by an actor. “The problem is she didn’t have help,” said Brumbaugh. “I would have had minimum two more people. She was doing everything by herself in that movie and on the other movie. If there was one more person in the other movie the tragedy wouldn’t have happened. A second person would have inspected to make sure the barrels were clear.”

Sometimes a studio will play it extra safe by paying for the actors to undergo gun safety training before the shoot. But that increasingly doesn’t happen, Anderson said, particularly in low-budget films:

“It’s a dollars and cents thing,” he said. “They don’t want to spend the time bringing the personnel in to do it. They don’t want to spend the time paying the actor to have to come out and go through a training class and then have to bring their staff with them. Maybe it’s not in their contract. And if you think they were cutting corners before COVID, just imagine how bad it is now when they’re trying to save money because of all the dollars they’re spending on all the COVID regulations they’re putting out.”…

One crew member said he never witnessed any formal orientation about weapons used on set, which normally would take place before filming begins.

There’s still no word from police on how what appears to have been a live round ended up in Baldwin’s gun, although circumstantial evidence points to a likely scenario. New Mexico police did confirm at a press conference today that they found “a mixture of blanks, dummy rounds and what the sheriff’s department suspects to be live ammunition” on the set and that the projectile that hit Hutchins before striking director Joel Souza was made of lead. It was likely a real bullet.

Update: Make of this what you will.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on the “Rust” film, told a detective that the day Alec Baldwin fatally shot the movie’s cinematographer, she had checked dummy rounds and ensured they were not “hot,” according to an affidavit released on Wednesday. When the crew took a break for lunch, she told the detective, the ammunition was left out on a cart on the set…

On the day of the shooting, the crew had been rehearsing a scene, then broke for lunch before returning to that scene. Ms. Gutierrez-Reed told the detective that at the start of the lunch break, the firearms were secured inside a safe on a “prop truck.” During that time, she said that ammunition was kept in the truck as well as on a cart on set, where they were “not secured,” according to the affidavit.

Ms. Gutierrez-Reed told an investigator that no live ammunition “is ever kept on set.”

After lunch, the film’s prop master, Sarah Zachry, took the firearms from the safe and handed them to Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer, according to Ms. Gutierrez-Reed’s account to the detective.

Either Gutierrez-Reed is lying or someone got into the safe during lunch and put live rounds into the gun (possibly for some quickie target practice) before replacing it. But who else knew the combo to the safe? And did Gutierrez-Reed check the guns again after lunch?