Yesterday we ran down the extensive list of things that had to have gone wrong on the set of Alec Baldwin’s latest movie in order for Halyna Hutchins to wind up dead. That analysis was based on the limited information that the local Sheriff’s Department had released, so some of the details remained up in the air. Last night, they put out a number of new revelations from the ongoing investigation and while a couple of assumptions we’ve been working on turned out to be somewhat different, the overall chain of events seems to have held up.
First of all, the shooting didn’t take place outdoors. The crew was set up inside of a fake church used by multiple movie studios and they weren’t filming at the time. Baldwin was seated in one of the pews practicing a cross-draw method of pulling out his handgun while the director and cinematographer were watching him through the camera lens. It was during one of those practice draws that Baldwin accidentally fired the weapon leading to the disastrous conclusion we already knew about. I will warn you in advance that if you click through and read the entire story at the New York Post, there are some fairly graphic, horrible details of the last moments of Hutchins’ life that some readers may find disturbing.
Alec Baldwin was practicing a “cross draw” in a church pew that required pointing his weapon at the camera during the prop gun mishap that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead, newly released documents reveal.
Two new witness accounts made public by the Sante Fe Sheriff’s Office on Sunday night describe the harrowing moment the 42-year-old director of photography was shot inside the church building on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust.”
Baldwin was rehearsing the gun-retrieval method from a pew of the mock church at Bonanza Creek Ranch when he aimed at the camera, while both Hutchins and 48-year-old director, Joel Souza stood behind it.
Souza then says he heard a “loud pop” and realized both him and Hutchins were bleeding, according to a police interview.
I doubt this particular detail will wind up being critical to the safety issues we’ve already discussed, but since it was included in the report we may as well touch on it here. For those not familiar, a “cross-draw” is simply a method used to carry a firearm in a holster worn around the hips and retrieve it in preparation to fire. Typically you will see handguns worn on the “strong side” of the body (on the right if you are right-handed) with the grip oriented toward the rear. This allows the gun to come out of the holster in an upward motion with the barrel ready to be pointed forward. But in the old west, many shooters opted to wear a holster on the “weak side” with the grip oriented toward the front, allowing the shooter to reach across their body to draw it in a similarly prepared fashion. Wild Bill Hickok was famous for carrying his ivory-handled Colt revolvers in this fashion.
But as I already said, if even one of the many safety precautions that needed to be in place had been followed in the process leading up to the shooting, Baldwin would not have had a live, loaded firearm in his holster while rehearsing and Hutchins would still be alive today. It wouldn’t have mattered how Baldwin was drawing the weapon because there wouldn’t have been a live round in the cylinder.
Speaking of cylinders, my analysis yesterday included the assumption that the gun being used was a revolver similar to a Colt .45 Peacemaker. The Sheriff’s department has confirmed that the weapon used in the shooting was indeed a revolver, but the model wasn’t specified. The same safety principles apply for any revolver, however.
Another interview with one of the members of the crew offers some supportive commentary about Baldwin’s actions. They told reporters that Alec Baldwin had typically been “careful” with weapons on the set prior to the shooting. (Associated Press)
A camera operator told authorities that Alec Baldwin had been careful with weapons on the set of the film “Rust” before the actor shot and killed a cinematographer with a gun he’d been told was safe to use, court records released Sunday show.
Perhaps that may be true, but it clearly wasn’t the case when Baldwin was handed the weapon to take into the church. The linked AP article contains some useful interviews with other famous actors who have done many scenes where they were required to act out gunplay in one form or another, including Ray Liotta of Goodfellas fame. He described the standard method of being handed a firearm only after the person transporting it showed them clearly that there were no live rounds inside and the barrel was unobstructed. That clearly didn’t happen on the set of Rust.
As I attempted to point out yesterday, I’m still not ready to place all of the blame for this tragedy on Baldwin’s shoulders, even though he was the last person in the chain of custody with the opportunity to ensure the firearm was “cold” and safe. Should he have checked? Of course. And if the assistant director wasn’t following the usual on-set gun-handling protocols, Baldwin (particularly as a producer) could have called him out and insisted that those procedures be followed. But at the same time, Alec Baldwin is not some sort of armorer or firearms expert to my knowledge. There were supposed to be professionals taking care of those details for the actors. And while I may not care much for most of Baldwin’s political views, I do believe that he was sincerely devastated by this event.
The looming question is how we prevent this from happening again in the future. The industry obviously needs to crack down very hard on every current and future production and ensure that the gun safety rules are being followed meticulously, no matter how much it drives up production costs. But others are taking the opportunity to call for a much larger change that I also suggested on social media on the day we learned about the shooting. Why, with all of the technology available to the film industry, are we still allowing clueless actors to handle live firearms on movie sets? Couldn’t they all have actual prop guns that are incapable of firing a projectile and just work in the audio and visual gunfire effects using CGI in post-production?
The tragedy has led some in Hollywood, along with incredulous observers, to ask: Why are real guns ever used on set, when computers can create gunshots in post-production? Isn’t even the smallest risk unacceptable?
For Alexi Hawley, it is. “Any risk is too much risk,” the executive producer of ABC’s police drama “The Rookie” announced in a staff memo Friday, saying the events in New Mexico had “shaken us all.”
There “will be no more ‘live’ weapons on the show,” he wrote in a note, first reported by The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed by The Associated Press.
If Hollywood can convincingly make a tyrannosaurus rex come out of a jungle and rip someone out of a bathroom stall (which they were able to do decades ago), they should be more than capable of producing a realistic depiction of gunfire. But if they’re not willing to do that, I would suggest that every actor who is hired to play a scene where they have to come in contact with a weapon should first be forced to complete a full gun safety course just like any citizen applying for a permit in most states. And if they do that, they should then be forced to sign an agreement saying that they will accept personal responsibility for any accidental firearms discharges that take place while they are holding a weapon. It’s really not that much to ask, is it?