Focus turns to safety fears before New Mexico movie shooting tragedy

By Lisa Richwine

SANTA FE, N.M. (Reuters) -The movie director who was wounded on set when Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun said on Saturday he was “gutted” by the death of the film’s cinematographer, as more details emerged suggesting the production was troubled even before the accidental shooting.

Joel Souza, who was hit in the shoulder on Thursday when Baldwin fired a prop gun that unexpectedly contained a live round while rehearsing a scene, broke his silence as the investigation entered its third day, with multiple questions remaining over how the mistake happened.

“I am gutted by the loss of my friend and colleague, Halyna. She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better,” Souza said in a statement.

The shot hit cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the chest, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. She died of her wounds and Souza, who was behind her, was injured but later released from the hospital.

Just hours before the incident on the New Mexico set of “Rust”, a low-budget Western, several crew members quit in protest at what they saw as poor working conditions, according to multiple news outlets.

The Los Angeles Times reported that last week Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds with a prop firearm after being told it was “cold”, an industry term meaning a weapon is not loaded with ammunition, including blanks. At least one employee complained to a production manager about gun safety on set, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed crew members.

The same mistake may have occurred on Thursday, according to court records. An assistant director, Dave Halls, handed Baldwin the prop gun and told him it was a “cold gun”, according to an affidavit from the sheriff’s office that was filed as part of a search warrant application.

Halls could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

A Santa Fe judge on Friday approved the warrant, allowing authorities to seize firearms, clothing, cameras, video tapes and ammunition from the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.

Rust Movie Productions said in a statement on Friday it had not been aware of any safety concerns but was investigating the incident.

“Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down,” the company said. Baldwin is among the film’s producers.

It is unclear why the gun contained a live round. The person in charge of weapons on set is known as an armorer; the armorer for “Rust”, Hannah Gutierrez, had set up the gun and two others, according to the affidavit.

Gutierrez could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

No charges have been filed in the case, and police have said the investigation remains active. Security guards were posted at the road leading to the ranch on Saturday.

The International Cinematographers Guild planned to hold a candlelight vigil for Hutchins, 42, on Saturday evening in Albuquerque, about 40 miles (64 km) from the ranch. A second vigil was scheduled for Sunday in the Los Angeles area.

“Halyna inspired us all with her passion and vision, and her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words. Our loss is enormous,” her husband Matt Hutchins wrote on Twitter.

The American Film Institute set up a scholarship fund for female cinematographers in Hutchins’ honor.

Baldwin, 63, best known for his roles in TV comedy “30 Rock” and his “Saturday Night Live” impersonations of former U.S. President Donald Trump, said on Friday he was shocked and heartbroken at Hutchins’ death and was fully cooperating with authorities.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Writing by Jill Serjeant and Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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