Table of Contents
Photo: ‘Rust’/Halyna Hutchins
In loving Memory of Halyna Hutchins. May your work forever be immortalized in the annals of Cinema history.
Right and Wrong
Ethics in film is always a hard discussion. Since the beginning of the industry, there have been discussions on what is right and what is wrong. I have no intention of taking a side, I have my beliefs, but would rather shed light on the issues rather than push opinions. The main question I ask you within this article is simple; should productions or people be held liable after a tragedy such as the one on the set of “Rust’. ‘Rust’ is set to resume production in 2023, but should it? I will let you decide.
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There are so many times I have personally seen sets lasting for fourteen long hours and a crew getting a small turnaround with such little rest. I have seen no food or water on sets for hours when shorthanded. Anyone who has made films has fought through the trenches of a miserable set as if it’s a war. This can be from a variety of things like personnel, money, or environmental factors. Sometimes money or control of it can play a huge factor in the safety and proper management of a film set. Cutting corners is no way to make a film, but it happens every day for the sacrifice of content.
For years we have debated what is right and what is wrong in Cinema. There are all sorts of ethics in film and rules for on-set professionals to adhere to. If everyone does their job, the set will go off without a hitch. Accidents do happen, but there are plenty of systems in place to ensure these mistakes don’t show up on a grand scale. Because of the fast-paced nature of the crew on film sets, small things are bound to cause a mess. I produced a film once in the desert. We had a massive dust storm suddenly and we called off the shoot to prevent injury. This was the right thing to do considering we had our crew in mind and there is never any need for injury even when it comes to cash.
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Brandon Lee was killed by a dummy bullet on the set of ‘The Crow’ in 1993. Just like on the film set of ‘Rust,’ there were allegations and events that foreshadowed this awful case. The set was riddled with accidents from day one. A part of the set building team was having his lift raised and it was accidentally put onto high-voltage lines, causing burns and electrocution. The prop master found a live round in one of the guns prior to the major incident. There was also another builder who fell from a prop house and broke several of his ribs in the collision with the ground.
These untimely incidents seemed to foreshadow Brandon’s death. The weather even delayed production when rain ripped through the set and caused massive damage to it. Should this set have been examined in further detail after these things happened? Should there have been more done about the safety concerns that riddled the production? The prop master knew about the gun having a live round prior to Brandon’s death so was it somehow intentional?
These questions will never be answered and after examining the body they deemed it was a “dummy” bullet that got lodged wrongly in the chamber. So instead of a bullet flying out, it was almost like shrapnel. A crew member rigged dummy cartridges (which should never happen) and the bullet casings got lodged within the barrel and eventually found their way into Brandon’s spine.
Could Brandon’s death have been prevented by doing the right thing? The movie ended up grossing nearly fifty million dollars and becoming a cult classic. Is money more important than the lives of our crew members? Could the production fire and hire new people who take safety more seriously?
Unacceptable Set Conditions
There are so many unfortunate accidents that should never happen on a film set. The creation of this art does not require human sacrifice. You may have heard of Sarah Jones being killed by a train on the set of ‘Midnight Rider’ or ‘Riverdale’ star KJ Apa crashing into a tree after a plethora of incredibly long days on set. Maybe you read about Conway Wickliffe, who died while filming a stunt on ‘The Dark Knight.’
There seems to be a ton of loss when creating within the media of film, right? Although it seems that way, the odds are minuscule that something like this happens. There can be an occasional accident or slip, but death is rare. According to the La Times, there are “roughly 0.9 fatalities per 100,000 full-time workers during the last decade.” This is a small percentage, and most deaths are not related to the kind of horrific accident that happened on ‘Rust.’
Should there be more regulations regarding the industry or are they just not being followed? Humans make mistakes, we all know this is true at points in our life, but when a mistake causes death in a film environment should there be a liability? This is such a hard question to answer simply because there are so many moving parts and, well, lawyers involved.
We have heard many things about ‘Rust’ so far. According to some reports, camera crew members walked off the set earlier in production due to poor working conditions. This has been refuted by some and confirmed by others. They were said to even have hired non-union workers to finish shooting, a sign of chaos and desperation on set. The true story evades us here, but media and public relations specialists are good at masking the truth when necessary. There were reports that there were already complaints by the crew that live gun discharges happened on set, and one report goes as far as saying that the crew was shooting live rounds on breaks.
The first assistant director is the ultimate planner and coordinator on a film set. They manage so much when it comes to the flow of the day and schedule. They also help out all departments if need be, so they are in contact with everyone. However, the armory master or prop master is in control of important items (guns, swords, weapons, etc) and should always check these before they reach anyone.There are once again conflicting reports about what happened. Some say David Hall grabbed the gun off the table himself without proper inspection and some say that another crew member checked the gun and said it was safe after handing it to the armory master.
David Hall was the first assistant director on ‘Rust’ and may have violated job duties when grabbing the gun off the table. It was said that he held no safety meeting before the scene with the gun and that after handing the gun to Alec Baldwin, he yelled “cold gun.” This basically means there is no live ammo in the gun and the actor is free to use it. These are once again things said and not confirmed. Even then, every gun on set should be treated like it is loaded. Period!
Previous to ‘Rust,’ David Hall was the first assistant director of the film ‘One Way.’ The first camera assistant, Lisa Long, reported him to multiple producers and unions because of his lack of safety concerns during several scenes. This is the same man who handed the gun to Mr. Baldwin before the accidental shooting.
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Big productions keep things tight-lipped due to the nature of certain incidents and now that the film and its producers settled with the family, we may hear even less. The people on set know the truth, and that may be as far as it goes. Should someone be held accountable for Halyna’s death? She loved Cinema, and she was incredibly passionate about the industry she pushed to be a part of. Would she want some sort of justice or are we already there with the settlement?
Chain of Custody
The issue of whether or not Alec pulled the trigger is completely irrelevant. The chain of custody of said gun is the most important. Were crew members shooting the gun on break? Did the armory master (Hannah Gutierrez Reed) know there was live ammunition on set, or trust a rookie prop assistant? Why did the first assistant director not check the gun completely before handing it over after he did/didn’t take it off the prop table? These things evade us, but that is where the lines get blurred. An actor is technically not responsible for the props and shouldn’t be, but a physical set producer is. This is a grey area in film ethics, but won’t be from here on out, at least we can wish such things. Hopefully, we will see many more adjustments to set safety after the tragic loss of someone whose talent was clearly taken away from us far too soon.
‘Rust’ – Halyna’s Last Project
It would be a shame for the world not to see Halyna’s last project. Would letting her last filmed framed scenes disappear into nothing be in vain? Should they resume a project knowing that someone was killed? Halyna was a special person and dedicated to her craft of cinematography. She had such a bright future, and it was taken away by something that could have been prevented by proper set management. These are the things Hollywood needs to monitor closely. No stunts should cause death in a creative environment such as filmmaking. There are zero excuses.
Does this put the blame upon any of those crew members or the production management? Everyone cannot be at fault, but should the production itself be at fault? This is where we once again blur the lines between wrong and right. We find ourselves talking about truth and disinformation in such things as Cinema and law when big budgets are involved.
No matter what you believe, you can examine both sides of the story and still end on the fact that there was a death. This should never happen on a properly run set, and usually, it doesn’t. Gunshot wounds are not mistakes or accidents, but a miscarriage of the systems in place to protect our crew and cast members. Live rounds on a film set are NEVER acceptable.
Liability For Death?
No one wanted to see such an end for an amazing mother, daughter, wife, and cinematographer. Every filmmaker must care about what they do, and should always treat their work with the utmost importance and safety. Clearly, this was not done on the set of ‘Rust.’ So, I ask you, should these films be shut down and have proper liability? Should these movies be seen as a last will and testament for their makers? Where do we draw the line in film ethics? Harvey got kicked out of the business and sent to jail for years of terrifying abuse. Does a death warrant results such as these or are we too concerned about the production wasting its millions on a mistake?
No matter what you believe, Halyna deserves admiration for taking her job to her limits. Her family may be getting a portion of the proceeds from the film, but does that do proper justice for a lost life? She leaves a young son (Andros) behind, and her husband (Matt.) There is never justice for lost life, but this time we can see her last bit of work as filming resumes in January 2023. I can not imagine what the set will be like without her input and abilities. It will be an emotionally difficult journey for everyone.
Rest Well Dear Halyna
Halyna passed away on October 21, 2021. She was an incredible cinematographer and human. Please feel compassion and donate to her memorial scholarship fund through American Film Institute. Life is precious and we learn this every time we lose someone before they have a chance to really live. Let us all work together and make sure these things never happen on set again. There is no need for sacrifice in film unless it means your lunch. Life is what we emulate, we should not lose it when re-creating.
Condolences to Matt Hutchins and his entire family. Everyone should remember Halyna for the bright light she brought to her sets, family, and her visions. Let this be a wake-up call to all the people commanding sets. Please know safety is of the utmost importance, always. Let this be a lesson to producers not to cut corners and cause such unrepairable situations. Every person on set is a life worthy of being here, not a sacrifice. Halyna’s life was worth everything and we must honor her by improving set safety. Rest well dear Halyna.
In loving Memory of Halyna Hutchins. May your work forever be immortalized in the annals of Cinema history.
By Nathan Paul Pasquale
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