Alec Baldwin’s rifle shooting fatal raises questions about working conditions

Although injuries or deaths from firearms are extremely rare, the accidental killing of Halina Hutchins on the set of Santa Fe on Thursday raised questions about the working conditions of the Hollywood crew.

“I’ve been in this industry for 21 years,” said Kevin Williams, head of props at the School of Theater, Film and Television at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I have not heard of any such circumstances. So it’s definitely one of those things, and it sounds like a cliché, but it actually sounds like a weird accident. “

The circumstances of the shooting are being investigated. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that actor Alec Baldwin fired a rifle on the set of Rust, a western that was filmed at Bonanza Creek Ranch, killing a director of photography and injuring director Joel Sousa.

Guards and a compliance officer at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico on October 22, 2021, where actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot filmmaker Halina Hutchins and shot the director with a rifle.

Adria Malcolm | Reuters

Sousa was discharged from the hospital. No charges were filed. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

While it’s unclear at this point exactly what happened on Thursday, many in the industry have begun to take an interest in working conditions on set. These requests come as the International Theater Workers Alliance is working to finalize a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Film and Television Producers, which responds to union calls for better working hours, safer workplaces and improved benefits.

“There were times when I worked on projects from 6 pm to 8 pm and then they asked me to come back after six,” Williams said.

The crew protested the working conditions

On Friday, the IATSE released a statement announcing Hutchins’ death and urging its members to contact the union’s security hotline if they feel unsafe on set.

“Our entire alliance is mourning this unspeakable loss along with Galina’s family, friends and the Rust crew,” the statement said. “Building a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from each of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something. “

The union declined to comment further.

A person familiar with the matter told NBC News that half a dozen crew members walked off the Rust set to protest the working conditions just hours before filming began. Among their fears were multiple misfires of the screw pistol

Earlier Friday Los angeles times citing three unnamed people involved in the production, said the production crew were unhappy with the long hours of production. It also claimed there had been two previous misfires on set, one last week and one on Saturday.

“The safety of our actors and crew is a top priority for Rust Productions and everyone involved with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement provided to CNBC. “While we were not aware of any formal complaints about the safety of weapons or props on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is halted.”

Rust Productions is collaborating with Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.

“Potential system failure”

Hollywood productions usually have strict safety precautions when performing stunts, especially when it comes to the safety of weapons and props. The Industry-Wide Occupational Safety and Management Committee prepared and distributed safety bulletins on television and film production best practices.

“Blanks can kill,” says the first bulletin. “Handle all firearms as if they were loaded. Live ammunition should never be used or brought into any studio set or stage.”

These guidelines are guidelines and may not apply to reality TV shows such as MythBusters or Best Shot, where live rounds are used to test scientific theories or to compete in marksmanship.

“I can say that blank compared to live cartridge is really easy to spot in the hands of an experienced gunsmith or prop maker,” Williams said. “I can’t imagine anyone saying ‘oops’ and just putting it in there.”

He also noted that the safety demonstration is being carried out with all the actors and crew involved in the firearms stunts, who are instructed that the supporting weapon should never be pointed at another actor or crew member. Ballistic shields are used when the director wants to film the weapon pointed at the camera and unloaded, he said.

“Many security measures have been taken,” he said. “If it turns out that an old weapon was loaded with a live cartridge, and it turns out that it happened that way, then we need to find out why.”

This is “a potential failure in the system,” Williams said.

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