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‘Inexperienced’ Armorer on Baldwin Set Raised Alarm Bells on Prior Film

·7-min read
KOB TV News/Handout via Reuters
KOB TV News/Handout via Reuters

There were previous concerns raised about the 24-year-old armorer who was hired on Alec Baldwin’s film Rust, with two production sources telling The Daily Beast that filming on the set of her last movie was briefly stopped after she allegedly gave a gun to an 11-year-old actress without checking it properly.

“She was a bit careless with the guns, waving it around every now and again,” said a source, who worked alongside armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed on the upcoming Nicolas Cage film, The Old Way. “There were a couple times she was loading the blanks and doing it in a fashion that we thought was unsafe.”

Gutierrez-Reed was identified in a Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office search warrant affidavit as the armorer on set when Baldwin was given a prop gun he believed was safe. Baldwin discharged the gun, fatally striking 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring 48-year-old director Joel Souza. No charges have been brought but the sheriff’s office’s investigation is ongoing.

Sources on the Rust set have insisted the fatal accident was a result of failings from top to bottom, starting with the production’s low-budget and cost-cutting measures.

Gutierrez-Reed was described as being “inexperienced and green” by a Rust production source, who told The Daily Beast there were at least two previous incidents of guns being accidentally discharged by other crew members before Thursday’s tragic incident.

<div class="inline-image__title">1090671326</div> <div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Halyna Hutchins.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie</div>

Halyna Hutchins.

Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie

According to the Actors’ Equity Association’s guidelines, guns should be test-fired off stage before each use. “All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision,” the association advises.

Two Rust production sources, who have both worked in the industry for decades, claim that assistant director Dave Halls, who is named in the search warrant affidavit as the person who handed the gun to Baldwin and said it was safe, should have also checked the weapons.

“He’s supposed to be our last line of defense and he failed us,” the first source said. “He’s the last person that’s supposed to look at that firearm.”

According to the affidavit, Gutierrez-Reed had placed three prop guns on a cart outside where the scene was being filmed, before Halls grabbed a revolver from the cart and gave it to Baldwin. Halls called out “cold gun!” on set, according to the affidavit.

The second production source told The Daily Beast that the first assistant director should be personally verifying whether a weapon is “hot” or “cold.” (A “cold gun” indicates there are no cartridges—including blanks—inside the firearm. A “hot gun” indicates the weapon is loaded with cartridges, either live ammunition or blank rounds.) “This check alone should’ve prevented this incident,” the person said.

In a heartbreaking 911 call, script supervisor Mamie Mitchell also seemed to reference Halls as she urgently asked a dispatcher to send an ambulance to the set at Bonanza Creek Ranch, on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Mitchell can be overheard telling someone nearby, “this fucking AD that yelled at me at lunch asking about revisions, this motherfucker. Did you see him lean over my desk and yell at me? He’s supposed to check the guns. He’s responsible for what happened.”

The allegations from Rust crew members appear to mirror allegations from two production sources who worked with Gutierrez-Reed on The Old Way, where she was hired as head armorer.

Gutierrez-Reed did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Saturday. The Daily Beast also reached out to Rust Movie Productions LLC and Halls for comment. In a statement to The New York Times, the company said it had not been made aware of any “official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set,” noting it would be conducting an internal review and cooperating with law enforcement.

A relative newcomer to being an armorer, Gutierrez-Reed was trained by her father, the Hollywood veteran firearms consultant Thell Reed. The Old Way was the first time Gutierrez-Reed had worked as head armorer, admitting on the “Voices of the West” podcast that she nearly didn’t take the position because she wasn’t sure she was “ready” and she thought loading blank rounds into firearms was “the scariest thing.”

“But doing it, it went really smoothly,” she said.

However, that is not how production sources from The Old Way described their experience working with Gutierrez-Reed. “There were several concerns I brought to production’s attention,” one said. “I have been around firearms my entire life and noticed some things that were not OK even with loaded blank firearms.”

Another source said, compared to other sets they had been on, there was considerably less attention to gun safety under Gutierrez-Reed’s watch.

The most troubling incident occurred when Gutierrez-Reed allegedly loaded a gun on the ground where the area was filled with pebbles, then without properly checking the weapon, handed it to child actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong, both sources told The Daily Beast.

Concerned crew members intervened, demanding filming be stopped until Gutierrez-Reed had properly checked the firearm, the two sources said.

“She was reloading the gun on the ground, where there were pebbles and stuff. We didn’t see her check it, we didn’t know if something got in the barrel or not,” one source said, explaining the crew waited until she double checked the gun for barrel obstruction.

Detectives are still investigating the circumstances that led to the tragic accident. However, in the days leading up to it, there was trouble brewing on the set of Rust.

There were multiple complaints made to production, with at least six fed up crew members reportedly walking off set hours before Baldwin was handed the prop gun.

The production source said crew members had complained directly to Halls about the previous accidental gun discharges over the weekend, demanding to make sure they were documented. “All of us yelled at him, ‘That better be on the production report, these guys are irresponsible and shouldn’t be here,’” the source explained.

“That should be automatic grounds for termination on a union film set, you should be gone. The first time that gun went off without telling anybody, that whole department should have been replaced, immediately. Clearly production thought better of it, decided to roll the dice and pay the ultimate price.”

Sources have maintained that the film’s production company would do anything to save money. For example, they promised to put the crew up in a hotel in Santa Fe to be close to set.

However, when filming began, the crew were allegedly told there would be no such accommodation and instead, they would have to travel to and from Albuquerque, around 50 miles away. Many voiced concerns about working up to 13 hours a day, then driving an hour home in the dark, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Others were also annoyed by the shooting schedule of Wednesday through Sunday, which had been tailored to Baldwin’s schedule so that he could tape for his podcast, “Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin,” which airs on Mondays.

While Gutierrez-Reed has not yet commented on the tragedy, prop gun experts told The Daily Beast the armorer is usually ultimately responsible for the weapons on set.

What Went Wrong? Gun Prop Experts on Alec Baldwin Disaster

“It’s up to that armorer company to prepare the firearms a day or two before and test fire them, make sure everything’s okay and the blank rounds are okay,” said Richard Howell, of Foxtrot Productions, a film armorer with 30 years of experience. “In film and TV, it’s a very controlled environment, you have to do risk assessments.”

On Friday morning, Baldwin expressed his condolences to Hutchins’ family, including her husband and 9-year-old son, attending a private memorial in her honor later that night, according to Showbiz 411.

He also backed reports that he was told the prop gun was safe to use, liking an article on Twitter that indicated that he was told it was cold.

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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