Almost one week after actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed a crew member on the set of Rust, a Western film in New Mexico, investigators will start to address what went wrong and who is responsible.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said a lead projectile was taken out of director Joel Souza’s shoulder. Mendoza said authorities have 600 pieces of evidence, including a gun and “possible additional live rounds on set.” The FBI will analyze all the pieces of evidence.
Authorities hope to find answers in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Rust Director Joel Souza was injured in the incident but was said to make a full recovery in the hospital.
“We haven’t ruled out anything,” Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told The New York Times. “Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table.”
“We need to be diligent about the investigation so, should there be charges ultimately filed, they are able to uphold those in court,” said Juan Rios, a spokesman for Mendoza.
“Obviously we witnessed a catastrophic failure in all levels of production,” Travis Bruyer, a professional armorer who worked on the films Still Standing, Cowboys, and the television series Yellowstone, told Breaking Daily News in an exclusive interview.
A retired law enforcement officer of 30 years and the current executive director of the Montana Institute for the Arts, Bruyer said those responsible on the set of Rust “lacked vigilance.”
Primarily the gun supplier and firearm safety inspector, an armorer is supposed to make sure that firearms used on film sets are not loaded with real bullets and are safe for use.
“Sometimes these things get missed,” Bruyer explained, but “a real bullet should never be on set. There’s no reason why you need to have any live rounds.”
“Due to money [on] independent films there is a rush to keep moving, which causes unnecessary stress, delays and poor working conditions,” he continued. Crews are usually “overworked” and “receiving pressure from production to hurry up and relax your safety protocols.”
The set of Rust was unknowingly marred by safety violations, sources revealed to Dateline after the tragic catastrophe. Mere hours before the shooting, dozens of crew members alleged a litany of dangerous workplace violations and walked off set. In their complaints, they listed another incident of a prop gun accidentally firing in someone’s cabin and the same prop gun being used for target practice earlier that same day.
It is still not understood how a loaded gun was placed in Alec Baldwin’s hands. There are countless liability issues regarding having live ammo on set.
“The difference between a ‘prop gun’ and a ‘live gun’ is location,” Bruyer told Breaking Daily News. “They’ll take a gun from a range and just say ‘this is going to be the gun that will be on set.’ So you still have to obey all those same safety protocols.”
Unlike pyrotechnic technicians or stunt coordinators, there’s no requirements or standard training for armorers on film sets. Most armorers simply have a history of firearm experience and a short resume including prior film work.
“That’s why everyone [on set] needs to act like a safety officer,” he said. “You’ve got to keep everything separate. You’ve got to be able to keep all of your blank ammo away from your live ammo, and you never commingle any of the guns.”
When a gun is present on set, the firearm is supposed to go through multiple checks, according to Bruyer. An “all clear” is given by both the armorer and the actor after checking the barrel of the gun and confirming that it’s empty before filming.
“It doesn’t mean you [have] … zero chance of liability,” Travis said. “Just because it’s a blank doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you. That’s why knowledge of ballistics is important.”
Bruyer told Breaking Daily News that incidents, of course, still happen, but that’s why there should be many precautions.
According to The Washington Post, Rust’s assistant director handed Alec Baldwin the gun without checking it with the armorer, and then Baldwin proceeded to practice the shot with the gun pointed at the camera.
After the tragic incident, many critics believe the use of firearms on film sets may significantly change. According to Vulture, ABC’s The Rookie series already announced a commitment to ban live guns on set.
“Unfortunately,” Bruyer said, “the gun [on Rust] worked the way it was supposed to.”