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‘Rust’ Trial: Hollywood Production Experts Agree With Verdict, Blame ‘Incredible Unprofessionalism’ for Gun Death

Members of Hollywood’s production community — citing “negligence” and “reckless” behavior — were generally unsurprised by Wednesday’s guilty verdict in the first trial to be held in connection to the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust.”

Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer on the movie, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the incident, which occurred Oct. 21, 2021 during filming at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico.

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Those contacted by Variety, including DP Nancy Schreiber, a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, were angry and troubled by the failure to maintain a safe set. Citing the “negligence of loading live ammunition” near a film set, Schreiber wrote in an email to Variety, “Protocol was outrageously disregarded by the armorer as well as the first AD in our industry, where safety standards must always come first.”

Calling the incident “reckless and totally unnecessary,” Steven Shaw — a member of the DGA, ASC and SAG-AFTRA — agreed, saying, “in the end, it’s the responsibility of the armorer to take care of the quarter loads, half loads, full loads, and to make sure they are properly prepared and tested. There’s no excuse for not protecting Halyna Hutchins and the other people around the camera.”

And Stephen Lighthill, a past president of the ASC, wrote in an email to Variety. “Speaking as a private citizen, those responsible for the killing of Halyna are the actor who pointed the gun at Halyna, the AD who said the gun was safe, the armorer who loaded the weapon and the producer(s) who put this production together are all culpable.”

One source who spoke with Variety was a crew member on “Midnight Rider,” the 2014 production in which a train accident killed camera assistant Sarah Jones. The source, who did not wish to be named, suggested that there was “incredible unprofessionalism” on the “Rust” set, adding “another unneeded death happened because of negligence.”

The source keeps an eye out for safety when working. “If I see something dangerous. I will tell them,” the source said, adding “in a situation when they treat me offhanded, I will say, ‘I was on the set of “Midnight Rider.” … I was on the trestle.’ … That will hammer it home.”

But not all crew members feel they can speak up. Said the source, “I hope that studios and production companies and producers take more responsibility for safety on the set, and not just expect the crew to be the harbingers of safety. It’s not just about training. It’s about creating a safe environment.”

The sad reality is that Wednesday’s verdict also came on the anniversary of the death of Brent Hershman, a camera assistant on the film “Pleasantville” who died on March 6, 1997, in a car accident while driving home from set after a 19-hour work day. This incident contributed to the discussion of work hours and turnaround time.

Asked if he thinks the “Rust” verdict could bring more attention to on-set safety — an issue for many as the IATSE Basic Agreement negotiations get underway this week — Shaw responded, “I think so and should. Absolutely. There’s no reason that this young lady should be dead. It’s just totally unacceptable. Safety is the number one issue, especially when you’re firing a gun.”

The “Midnight Rider” crew member believes requiring an independent safety officer that has no affiliation (or conflicts of interest) with the production could be a step towards safer sets.

Variety has reached out to the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600), of which Hutchins was a member.

Gutierrez Reed faces up to 18 months in prison; sentencing is expected next month. Alec Baldwin, who held the gun, will face charges during a trial is scheduled to begin on July 9.

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