Prop gun use on movie sets: What, exactly, is the protocol?
A Winnipeg-based film producer says strict protocols around gun use in filmmaking mean the incident that killed a woman on the set of a western in New Mexico was — thankfully — a rare occurrence in the industry.
Halyna Hutchins, director of photography for the film Rust, was killed by a prop gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin on Thursday. Director Joel Souza was also hit and injured but has reportedly been discharged from hospital.
“We have incredibly strict protocols around any kind of real gun use on a set,” said Kyle Irving, partner and head of production at Eagle Vision.
“The way that it works is there’s usually a person in the props department called an armourer or a gun safety person, who is brought in as a specialist on the day when any kind of firearm is being operated on the set. Those people have to have the appropriate certifications and handling permits.
“When the actual weapon itself is brought out, people are made aware of it — there are safety conversations to talk about the fact that it’s being used that day, the actors are meant to be trained and prepped in the use of the firearm, and an inspection is done on-set of the firearm to make sure it’s either empty or being loaded with a safe, blank round.”
On top of all of those standard regulations, Irving said the whole process is typically observed by the first assistant director and, in theory, a producer should also be present with firearms are being used on set.
These are standard protocols that Irving says make Thursday’s tragedy concerning.
“For all of these things to have somehow missed a projectile of some kind being in this weapon is incredibly surprising,” said Irving.
“We don’t know what really happened — we don’t know where the failure came.
“The other unknown in all of this, besides all of these protocols, the obvious is that you never put a real person in front of these firearms. Even in a case where a shot calls for a camera to be aligned with a firearm for some reason, bulletproof safety glass is required to be in place.”
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Irving said that while he’s seen lots of discussion online about whether or not the scene could have been safely replaced with visual effects instead of a real gun, the fact that this film is a western, where authenticity of period weapons is important, makes it tricky.
In an email sent to its membership early on Friday morning, California film union IATSE Local 44 said the prop gun fired by Baldwin contained a “live round.”
As first reported by Indiewire, the union, which covers propmasters, told its membership that the prop gun had a live round in it, but that the production’s propmaster was not a union member.
However, local police would not confirm the “live round” information, stating they cannot determine at this juncture what happened.
“We haven’t even begun the forensics on that issue,” said Sante Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Rios to Deadline. “That hasn’t been determined by us as of yet. We expect to have more information next week as our investigation continues.”
Baldwin took to social media Friday morning to express his sympathy. He tweeted that he has been in touch with Hutchins’ husband and family and is offering his support.
The Ukrainian-born Hutchins had more than 30 film credits to her name, and was touted as an up-and-coming director of photography by American Cinematographer magazine in 2019.
Irving said while he never met her personally, Hutchins was in Winnipeg this summer working on a production.
“She has a connection to this place. There are likely some (local) people who were part of working with her, and I’m sure it’s impacting them on an even different level.”
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