Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23
On Oct. 21, 2021, actor and comedian Alec Baldwin shot Joel Souza and killed Halyna Hutchins. I remember FaceTiming my mom the next night and hearing the news from her. I was in a state of shock and disbelief. First off, I hadn’t heard the name Alec Baldwin in years—for me, he had faded into obscurity after his initial burst of fame for playing President Donald Trump on SNL. Additionally, this was the first time I personally had heard of a celebrity accidentally killing someone (and severely injuring another) on set. My initial reaction was feeling sorry for Hutchins, who was a mom, wife, and up-and-coming cinematographer in Hollywood. She was only 42 years old, and looking at pictures of her, one can clearly see that she had a lot of energy and inspiration to give to the world. Her life was taken too soon, and the situation is arguably made worse by the fact that it was accidental.
This incident is not the first time someone on the set of a movie or show has been killed by a gun, but the tragedy on the set of “Rust” has catalyzed a conversation about the use of real guns on set. The Producers Union, which “aims to organize fiction [and] feature film producers in an effort to fight for equitable pay, protect producers’ creative rights, and to define, amplify and advance the role of the producer,” has spoken out in regards to the Alec Baldwin tragedy. The union has said that it is necessary to systematize what the roles of a producer are, and that one of those roles should be to ensure that everyone on set is safe and protected. Rebecca Green of the Producers Union has advocated for using fake guns in place of real guns since CGI and technology have come so far that “we make young people look old, old people look young, and we create these huge worlds from nothing.”
Before addressing this argument, it is important to understand that typically, when real guns are used, they are not supplied with bullets. Real firearms are loaded with blank cartridges, which, when fired, are the most authentic option for on-screen gun scenes. Blank cartridges do not contain bullets, but are only loaded with gunpowder to make a boom at the end of the barrel and create a flash that mimics that of a real gun. Additionally, real guns aren’t always used. There are “prop firearms,” which come in many forms, such as guns that are airsoft, gas-powered, and nonfunctional (they don’t discharge). These all mimic the movements of actual guns, but to a less extent than a real firearm loaded with blanks. The question of how someone could be killed by a gun loaded with blanks comes next. When a gun is fired, an explosion of gas and debris occurs. At close range, the scraps coming from the inside of the gun (like materials used to cap the blank cartridges, or other items like rocks or plastic) can cause injuries.
I personally don’t think it’s necessary to use real guns on set. When we have the insane ability to use CGI and other modes of technology to transform our movie and TV screens into different worlds, it hardly seems essential to use a real gun, especially when the safety of the cast and crew are on the line. This recent incident is not the first time something like this has happened; over 40 people have been killed and over 150 people have been injured by gun misfirings on set in the United States since 1990. In order to keep those who strive to give us one of the main forms of our entertainment, it is paramount to place them out of harm’s way whenever and wherever possible. Additionally, from what I have read in my research, it seems more cost-effective to not use real firearms, especially in low-budget movies. Perhaps this event will be the catalyst to move away from unnecessarily using real guns in films.
However, it is not just the misfired gun that can be blamed for Halyna Hutchins’ death. It has been reported that just hours before the fatal incident, about six camera crew workers on the set of “Rust” walked off set in order to protest their working conditions. According to several sources, the protesters were dissatisfied with the conditions they had been given, as “Rust” was a pretty low-budget film. They said that Baldwin, who was a producer and heavily involved with the development of the film, along with others in charge of the movie-making process, had not paid them, forced them to commute long distances to the hotels in which they were staying, and would often have them working overtime. Additionally, safety protocols in regards to gun inspections were not followed. Three crew members said that there were two accidental prop gun discharges shot by Alec Baldwin’s stunt double before Halyna Hutchins was killed. There was no investigation into why this occurred and the producers evidently made a very poor decision in electing to ignore this breach in safety protocols. Obviously, someone is at fault here — perhaps Alec Baldwin is more in the wrong than was initially surmised.
Whatever the case, the death of Hutchins was undoubtedly tragic and unintentional. I for one have never been a fan of Alec Baldwin—he’s crude, often offensive, and mostly unfunny. However, I don’t think that he deserves the emotional trauma that this event is going to bring him and his family. Fatal accidents are terrible, and although I personally think he will not face severe punishment for what transpired, I would never want to be in his place. Wealth and fame can only do so much — the conscience is not easy to wipe clean.
Background information and statistics were acquired through The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.