The Death of Halyna Hutchins

Halyna+Hutchins+on+the+set+of+Archenemy+on+Dec.+17%2C+2019%2C+in+Los+Angeles+-+Jack+Caswell+via+AP

Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Archenemy” on Dec. 17, 2019, in Los Angeles – Jack Caswell via AP

Summary

During a rehearsal of the now indefinitely suspended western “Rust”, the star of the film, Alec Baldwin, was directed to point a prop gun toward the camera for a scene. In a tragic turn of events, the gun fired, which resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the hospitalization of director Joel Souza. Here’s how it happened.

Prelude

Shooting for the film began on October 6, 2021, near Sante Fe, New Mexico, from the onset there was concern among workers over safety. During preproduction the crew was told that hotel rooms near the set would be provided, this was taken back shortly before filming began. As a consequence, they would have to drive upwards of fifty miles to and from Albuquerque every day. The safety of this arrangement was called into question due to the already long work days, which usually ran from twelve to thirteen hours.

The conflict heightened between producers and workers when a stunt double accidentally shot two blank rounds from a prop gun (blanks are cartridges designed to generate a muzzle flash and an explosive sound without firing a projectile). More worryingly, this was after he’d been told the gun was “cold”, meaning that it wasn’t loaded with any ammunition when it clearly was. This led to at least one camera operator complaining about gun safety on set to a production manager as well as the aforementioned cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who expressed concern for the crew before her death. In a statement to the LA Times, a witness said,

“There should have been an investigation into what happened. There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”

The Day Of

Less than a week after the first gun-related incident, seven crew members were preparing to leave the set in protest of the management’s apparent disregard for their working conditions when several replacements showed up. According to witnesses, the workers were told to leave by a producer under threat of set security being called and removing them by force.

No more than seven hours later, tragedy struck. During a rehearsal actor Alec Baldwin was given a gun by assistant director Dave Halls, who indicated that it was unloaded. For the scene, Baldwin was told to remove the gun, a revolver, from his holster and point it at the camera. While practicing this maneuver a projectile fired from the gun, pierced Hutchins through her stomach, and hit director Joel Souza in the shoulder. Almost a week later police confirmed that the projectile was a “real bullet”, not a blank. More than five hundred rounds were found on set, blanks, dummy rounds, and “live rounds”, which were reportedly used by the crew for target practice. Both were taken to receive medical attention at hospitals, but Halyna was pronounced dead on arrival.

In Memoriam

Only forty-two years old when her life was taken, she was a mother to one child and a wife to her loving husband Matthew Hutchins. Many that knew the late cinematographer lamented her death through various mediums, mostly via social media. Andriy Semenyuk, a fellow Ukrainian cinematographer that had worked with Hutchins in the past said,

“I think the big deal about her in general, beyond being extremely talented — which is a given — is just her generous and really open personality. In the film industry, which is super competitive, it’s not enough to have talent. It’s good to have this human, appealing personality.”

The common sentiment among all was that of grief over the loss of a person so thoroughly dedicated to her passion and profession of cinematography. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a labor union that represents thousands of film workers all over the world including Hutchins before her death, released a statement,

“We are heartbroken and devastated to learn that one of our members, sister Halyna Hutchins, died yesterday from injuries sustained on set while working as the Director of Photography on Rust in New Mexico. Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna’s family, friends, and the Rust crew.”

The Fight Continues

Ultimately this tragic loss is not the fault of one individual, but of a system that too regularly disregards the needs of its workers. Needs such as basic safety protocols being taken seriously by producers. As previously covered by The Watchdog, the film world has been experiencing a collective outcry over working conditions within the industry. Just recently more than 60,000 union workers almost unanimously voted in favor of authorizing a nationwide strike that would have halted the production of many series and movies. It was only narrowly avoided with an agreement that still needs to be ratified, or voted on, by the workers.

“Standing in #IAsolidarity with our @IATSE crew here in New Mexico on RUST.” (via @halynahutchins on Instagram)

 

Haylna Hutchins was an active member of IATSE Local 480, just a couple of days before her death she posted this photo of the “Rust” crew with the following caption.

The respect went both ways, hundreds of union members gathered in Albuquerque Civic Plaza to mourn her death. One speaker that was close with her, Lane Luper, said,

“She’s a wonderful mom and a wonderful wife and just a wonderful soul. And I really hope more people like her exist.”

It is clear that Haylna had a large impact on those around her, and that she will be severely missed by her family, friends, and coworkers.