On October 21, 2021, an assistant director (AD) handed his lead actor a gun on a movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The AD told the actor that the gun was “cold,” meaning it did not contain a blank or a live round, did not contain gunpowder, and would not explode. During rehearsal, the actor practiced a choreographed move, pulled the trigger, and inadvertently shot the film’s director and director of photography (DP). Although the director survived a gunshot wound to the shoulder, the DP succumbed to her injuries.
What Authorities Do – and Do Not – Know
Now, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney’s office are clear about the facts but trying to determine what went wrong. As Sheriff Adan Mendoza explained at a news conference:
“The facts are clear: a weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin [lead actor Alec Baldwin]. The weapon was functional and fired a live round, killing Ms. Hutchins [the DP] and injuring Mr. Souza [the director]."
Authorities are investigating to find out how the live rounds got into the gun fired by Baldwin. They seized 3 guns from the proximity of the incident – Baldwin’s gun, an altered prop weapon that did not function, and a plastic prop weapon. Authorities also seized approximately 500 rounds of ammunition, which included blanks, dummy, and live rounds.
On a film set, all prop ammunition should be secured, and weapons should be checked multiple times before appearing in a scene. In this case, the armorer claimed to check all the “dummies” to ensure there were no “hot rounds,” but the AD admitted that he did not double-check the weapons.
Film industry professionals have argued that “there's no reason to still be having live ammo on a set” and that real guns should not be on sets, in the first place. Even those who do not share this stance agree that there “were some safety issues” on the “Rust” set. Notably, the film’s AD had been previously accused of disregarding safety protocols during Hulu’s “Into the Dark” productions in 2019.
The tragedy on the Rust set has garnered widespread media attention and calls for reform from inside and outside of the film industry. All crewmembers are cooperating with local authorities in Santa Fe, as the district attorney determines whether she will press criminal charges.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told CNN:
“We don't know how those live rounds got there…And I think that that will probably end up being kind of the linchpin for whether a decision is made about charges.”
Investigators hope interviewing crewmembers across the set can help reveal why live rounds were on set and how they got into Baldwin’s weapon during rehearsal. The AD says the incident “was not a deliberate act,” and Baldwin has conveyed shock and sadness about the tragic accident that killed the DP, offering his support to her surviving husband and son.
In response to the tragedy, some productions have already updated their firearm procedures. For example, ABC’s “The Rookie” will now use airsoft guns exclusively. Filmmakers are hopeful for change after this horrific incident.
Will Civil Charges Be Filed?
Even if the district attorney chooses not to file criminal charges, the DP’s family may still choose to file a civil lawsuit against the people in charge of the “Rust” set. No one should die at work, particularly on a film set. One or more people should face responsibility for this promising young artist’s death.
Similarly, if you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed at any type of workplace, you may be entitled to compensation. Gross negligence opens employers up to liability at all kinds of workplaces, including oil fields, and Crow Law Firm can help you determine what went wrong. Attorney B.J. Crow has nearly 20 years of legal experience and has recovered tens of millions of dollars for clients like you.
Call us at (575) 222-2702 or contact us online to discuss your rights and legal options during a free consultation.