Alec Baldwin: Rust shooting ‘43rd fatal incident on US film set since 1990’

Hollywood productions take huge care to protect cast and crew but deaths and injuries far from unheard of

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 22 October 2021 10:47

Aerial shots of film set after prop gun fired, killing cinematographer

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Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of his new western movie on Thursday, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and leaving director Joel Souza injured.

The tragic incident took place during the filming of Rust at the Bonanza Creek Ranch south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a distraught Baldwin later pictured outside of the city sheriff’s office in tears after being interviewed by investigators, evidently struggling to come to terms with his shock at what had unfolded.

The veteran was also a co-producer on the project, written by Souza, which takes place in 1880s Kansas and stars Baldwin as ageing rancher Harland Rust who goes on the run with his teenage grandson after the boy is sentenced to death over an accidental killing, the plot carrying an eerie echo of Thursday’s events.

Alec Baldwin shooting - update: Actor fatally shoots cinematographer and injures director with prop gun

According to an estimate by the Associated Press (AP), there have been 43 fatalities on American film sets since 1990, with another 150 actors or crew members left with life-altering injuries as a result of accidents, often the result of botched stunts staged on location.

Internationally, the figure is thought to be closer to 37 since 2000.

“Every year, workers on both sides of the camera are maimed, burned, break bones and even die striving to deliver entertainment that packs multiplexes and commands top TV ratings,” writes the AP’s Antony McCartney, arriving at his figures by combing through workplace and aviation safety investigations, court records and news reports.

“Injuries come not just from obvious risks such as stunts and explosives, but from falls off ladders, toppled equipment and machines without safety guards.”

To give a few recent examples, lorry driver John Suttles was killed in a fall from a truck bed while making Marvel’s The Avengers in 2011, a local construction worker was killed on the set of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 and stuntwoman Joi “SJ” Harris was killed in a motorcycle crash while making Deadpool 2 in 2018.

Even with the utmost care taken to protect them, actors are no more immune to misfortune than their crew.

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Dylan O’Brien was badly injured in a car accident on the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure in 2018, for instance, while action stars Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig both sustained ankle injuries performing stunts for their most recent outings as super-spies Ethan Hunt and James Bond respectively.

Harrison Ford has hurt himself multiple times, notably during the filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Fugitive (1993) and  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Alec Baldwin in costume on the film’s set

The director of that last film, JJ Abrams, told the AP that nothing is more important than crew safety, “whether you’re on a spaceship or a movie set”.

“Accidents happen and so there’s that category. And then there are accidents waiting to happen,” he said. “I think that film crews have done an extraordinary job preventing the accidents waiting to happen.”

Deaths from prop firearms are extremely rare, but not unheard of, given that real weapons are often used in filming while loaded with blanks – cartridges that create a flash and a bang without actually discharging a bullet.

The most notorious case of this happening was that of Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, who was killed while completing the 1993 Gothic comic book adaptation The Crow. He was accidentally shot while filming his character’s death scene.

It was subsequently discovered that an old live cartridge had become lodged in the barrel of the revolver in question, which was released when it was fired at Lee for the movie with blank rounds loaded in the chamber.

Responding to the latest tragedy, Lee’s sister Shannon tweeted on behalf of her family:  “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No-one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

In another incident, American actor Jon-Erik Hexum, 26, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during the filming of the TV show Cover Up in 1984.

Bored during a production break, Hexum jokingly pointed a prop pistol loaded with blanks to his temple and fired, little realising the weapon still contained gunpowder.

The force fractured his skull and drove a segment of bone into his brain, leading to his death by haemorrhage.

Also reacting to the Rust incident was Law & Order writer David Slack, who tweeted: “Prop guns are guns. Blanks have real gunpowder in them. They can injure or kill - and they have.”

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