A “Rust” Crew Member Texted A Warning About Accidental Gun Discharges Days Before Alec Baldwin Fatally Shot Halyna Hutchins
“This is super unsafe,” a camera operator said in a text to a representative for the film's producers on Oct. 16.
The family of Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer who died on the set of Rust last October, sued Alec Baldwin, the production companies, and others involved in the movie on Tuesday, claiming her death was the result of the filmmakers repeatedly ignoring concerns and safety rules as they cut corners to save money.
Baldwin, who is one of the producers of the low-budget indie, shot and killed Hutchins during a rehearsal on Oct. 21 while filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe. The actor has said he did not pull the trigger of the revolver that contained live rounds, which under best practices should never even be present on a film set. The new lawsuit maintains that Baldwin should never have pointed the gun at Hutchins or released its hammer, which allowed it to fire. It also alleges that the actor and others did not have the proper training required to handle the weapon. And, as crew members previously told BuzzFeed News, the lawsuit contends those in charge of the Western fostered an unsafe work environment by not following firearms protocols.
"What's happened since this tragedy is that everyone is pointing the finger at someone else. We want to get to the bottom of this. Matt and his son Andros want to know who is responsible," Randi McGinn, one of the attorneys representing Hutchins' family, told BuzzFeed News. "The truth is there are about a dozen people who if they had done their jobs correctly, this would not have happened."
The 29-page lawsuit is the latest that alleges that the producers and other executives intentionally flouted industry protocols to save money while putting workers in unsafe situations. The complaint states that Baldwin and other higher-ups repeatedly brushed aside concerns from crew members about the dangerous handling of guns, including a text message from a camera operator days before Hutchins died that there had already been three accidental gun discharges.
“This is super unsafe,” camera operator Lane Luper wrote on Oct. 16.
The cinematographer's family is also suing the others involved in the making of the film, including Ryan Smith and Allen Cheney, who have come under scrutiny for how they’ve treated staff on past low-budget productions, as well as Emily Salveson, Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Anjul Nigam, and Matthew DelPiano. Also named are Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, prop master Sarah Zachary, assistant director Dave Halls, and the company the live rounds allegedly came from, among others.
The lawsuit says that Baldwin, the producers, their companies, and supervisors were aware of multiple firearm safety issues on the set in the days leading up to the fatal accident and "did not take action to correct the situation.” The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the shooting, and no criminal charges have been filed. Authorities have issued multiple search warrants for the property and those involved. Last month, Baldwin handed over his cellphone as part of the ongoing criminal probe.
“Defendant Baldwin and the other defendants in this case failed to perform industry standard safety checks and follow basic gun safety rules while using real guns to produce the movie ‘Rust’ with fatal consequences,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement, Aaron Dyer, the attorney for Alec Baldwin and other producers of Rust, said that "any claim that Alec was reckless is entirely false" and stated that the actor, Hutchins, and other members of the crew "relied on the statement by the two professionals responsible for checking the gun that it was a 'cold gun' – meaning there is no possibility of a discharge, blank or otherwise."
"This protocol has worked on thousands of films, with millions of discharges, as there has never before been an incident on a set where an actual bullet harmed anyone. Actors should be able to rely on armorers and prop department professionals, as well as assistant directors, rather than deciding on their own when a gun is safe to use," Dyer said.
The attorney said they are still cooperating with authorities to "determine how live ammunition arrived on the 'Rust' set in the first place."
"Everyone’s hearts and thoughts remain with Halyna’s family as they continue to process this unspeakable tragedy," he said.
Rust began filming on Oct. 6. In the weeks leading up to Hutchins’ death, there were several instances where guns “had been discharged in an unsafe manner while loaded with ammunition,” the lawsuit states. Leaders on the set also allegedly failed to properly inspect the weapons or hold the required safety meetings.
Concerned crew members repeatedly complained about the conditions, but were ignored, according to the lawsuit. Luper, the camera operator who texted about the three accidental discharges, quit the day before the fatal shooting in protest over the poor and unsafe working conditions. The morning Hutchins died, her camera crew had gone on strike. In a letter, Luper and others said that “weapons” were one of “3 areas where safety has become a massive issue.”
“During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose,” the letter states.
The lawsuit also takes aim at the budget, saying that the production companies used “aggressive cost-cutting practices” like “hiring inexperienced and unqualified armorers or weapons masters, requiring the film’s armorer to split time as assistant props master, establishing and aggressively adhering to unreasonably rushed production schedules, and hiring unqualified and inexperienced crew and staff that were responsible for safety during the production.”
BuzzFeed News and other outlets have previously reported on the difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions of other low-budget films, including those tied to production companies involved with Rust.
“It was a perfect, perfect storm of the armorer, the assistant director, the culture on set, the rushing," Luper told ABC News in November. "It was everything.”
Representatives for the producers have said in statements that the set was safe, protocols were followed, and safety briefings were held daily. In early December, Baldwin said in an emotional interview with ABC that he never actually pulled the trigger and thought the weapon was safe.
According to the lawsuit, Baldwin was sitting on a church pew about 4 feet away from Hutchins and several other crew members when he reached across his body with his right hand, grabbed the revolver from his left side, pulled the gun back across his body, and aimed it right at Hutchins while drawing the hammer back. “He released the revolver’s hammer, and – BAM – Defendant Baldwin fired the revolver,” the complaint states.
The law firm representing Hutchins’ family on Tuesday also released a computer-animated re-creation of what they believe happened, based on interviews and evidence collected over the past few months, McGinn said. The attorney did note that they are still waiting for the police report and the opportunity to survey the weapon with an expert.
In statements and interviews with detectives, Gutierrez-Reed, the 24-year-old armorer, said she had checked the weapon, but not "too much" because she thought it was safely locked away. She also explained that she had been struggling to perform her job correctly because she was pulled in too many directions. The complaint accuses Baldwin and other producers of ignoring her "concerns that performing the dual roles of armorer and assistant prop master would result in lapses in basic firearm safety."
The complaint also states that Baldwin did not even need to be holding the gun that day. The reason they were in the church rehearsing was “to confirm the positioning, frame and focus of the camera for a close-up shot” of the actor holding the gun.
“The scene in question did not even call for the revolver held by Defendant Baldwin to be fired,” the lawsuit states.