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Tragedy strikes on set of Rust

WED. | 12-08-21 | OPINION

     On Oct. 21, 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the set of the upcoming western film Rust after producer and acclaimed actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that he believed was empty. Having been told by assistant director Dave Halls that the gun was “cold,” Baldwin was demonstrating a scene with the gun pointed at the camera when the firearm discharged, fatally hitting Hutchins in the chest and injuring director Joel Souza. 

     Though this incident shocked the film industry and made national headlines due to the high-profile names involved, it’s far from the first time a fatal accident has happened on a film set. According to AP News, at least 43 deaths have occurred on American film sets since 1990, and at least 37 have occurred internationally since 2000. Among these were the infamous shooting death of actor Brandon Lee while filming The Crow in 1993, as well as the death of second assistant camerawoman Sarah Jones and injury of seven others while illegally filming the incomplete Midnight Rider on a railroad trestle bridge in 2014.

     Though film set safety restrictions and mandates have been increased following many of these accidents, they never seem to be completely effective in truly preventing them. In searching for an answer as to why, I’ve come to the conclusion

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Graphic by William Becker

that even with effective laws in place, film set safety can never be truly guaranteed unless those on the set are firmly upholding the laws and procedures in place.

     Now, that’s not to say that film safety regulations are foolproof. In fact, the lack of standard regulations that comes from differing union and studio requirements is a major issue in and of itself. This often results in safety regulations being vague and unclear on set, as they reportedly were on the set of Rust. However, that still provides no excuse for fatal accidents.

     A common phrase that is often seen when reading about the aftermath of a disaster or tragedy is “human error.” This indicates that the tragedy occurred not because of a deliberate act, but because someone made a truly major mistake. In the case of Hutchins’ death, the current consensus appears to be that severe miscommunication between armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and assistant director Dave Halls resulted in Baldwin being provided with a loaded gun, rather than a prop, which he then discharged with fatal results.

     This accident highlights the fact that safety regulations, while necessary, cannot create a safer working environment unless they are respected. For regulations to be effective, those on the set must be willing to take the time to ensure that potential dangers, such as prop guns, are properly monitored. Halls admitted in an affidavit that he did not properly check the crew’s prop weapons before putting them in use, which was almost certainly a major factor in Hutchins’ death.

     Because of this, I believe more time should be devoted to properly educating film crews on the potential dangers of filmmaking with the use of dangerous props or live weapons, and I believe studios and unions should make more of an effort to standardize their safety regulations. Though plenty of regulations exist, this accident and others like it demonstrate that they are ineffective if they aren’t properly upheld or made clear. Halyna Hutchins was not the first fatality that resulted from improper safety on a film set, and she likely will not be the last unless the film industry makes more of an effort to protect its workers.

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