On October 21st, 2021, the upcoming Western film Rust was set for success, starring Academy Award nominated actor Alec Baldwin. All was well until Baldwin discharged a revolver on set. Typically, this wouldn’t be a problem, as prop weapons on movie sets are supposed to be checked for safety. But this wasn’t the case. A live round left the revolver, hitting both the director, Joel Souza, and cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Hutchins, who had previously supported an IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) walkout over unsafe conditions on the set of Rust, unfortunately passed away from her injuries.
The event took the world by storm, and Baldwin didn’t take long to respond, stating in a tweet a day after the incident that he planned to fully cooperate with the investigation. While the investigation quickly discovered that Baldwin hadn’t known that the gun was loaded, it showed what appeared to be negligence on the part of the producers and armorer. For example, detectives discovered 500 rounds of ammunition, which contained blanks, dummy rounds, and dangerous real rounds. This was worrying information, as live rounds aren’t supposed to be on set and especially not anywhere near the actors. In August 2022, FBI forensic testing discovered that the revolver, a Pietta .45 Long Colt Single Action Army, could not have fired without the trigger being pulled, which contradicts Baldwin’s earlier statement that he didn’t pull the trigger.
Now, both Baldwin and the armorer on set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, are each facing two charges of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, they could face up to 18 months in jail. Baldwin’s lawyer has fought these claims, stating: “’Mr Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun – or anywhere on the movie set,’ Mr Nikas said. ‘He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win,’” (BBC News). Halyna Hutchins’ husband disagrees, supporting the charges and the idea that nobody is above the law, not even celebrities. When the production of Rust restarts this month, Mr. Hutchins will be on board as an executive producer to ensure keeping of industry standards.
The charges have been controversial, as there is still debate over how much blame falls onto Baldwin as an actor. Some have pointed to the fact that he served as a producer on the film as a reason why he holds extra responsibility, while others state that there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent the accident. As expected, the incident has led to further pushes by organizations like the IATSE for improved workplace safety on sets. There is no indication as of today, January 20th, 2023, of where or when the trial will be held.