When news spread this morning of the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a film shoot in New Mexico after a prop gun was discharged on set, the industry was distraught. While details are scarce, it appears to be a weapon fired in a scene by the actor Alec Baldwin that somehow was able to kill the cinematographer.
This is absolutely horrible. No one should ever die, or come into any risk of injury, for a movie shoot. I can't stop thinking about the Hutchins family, and the work family we build up in years of shooting, and what a devastating loss this is for all of them of someone in the prime of life entering the prime of their career.
Now is the time to take action as a result of this horrible incident and ban real guns with firing pins from film sets.
I have owned guns, personally, and think there are arguments for and against doing so, personally, outside of a work environment. But film sets aren't the site of armed resistance to tyranny or or grounds for hunting—they are workplaces. There is absolutely no need to have any weapon on a film set that is functional and designed for killing, outside perhaps the holster of well-trained security performing that task with dedicated focus. Whether you are using blanks or not, clearly accidents keep happening, and they are easily avoidable.
It is shocking that this happened for so many reasons, but it's particularly shocking because this isn't even the first time this has happened.
In 1984, Jon-Erik Hexum shot himself in the head while playing around between takes to lighten the mood. The blank in the gun killed him. In 1993 Brandon Lee died on set from a mistake with how the blanks were prepared.
We work in the world of movie magic. Between sound design, CGI, and practical effects, it is very simple to create realistic gunfire. Even way back in 1993, there were many calls to ban guns from film sets; one of my first memories of reading about filmmaking was Peter David suggesting as much after the death of Brandon Lee. Use of prop non-guns, that make a bang and emit a little flash, but can't load a real bullet or have a firing pin, could be used. Real guns, blanks or no, shouldn't be allowed.
Many argue that blanks are safe, but blanks have already killed two actors, and while we don't yet know what happened in New Mexico, we do know a weapon that is designed for killing was brought to a set. Either the blanks were prepared incorrectly, or the gun was misloaded with live ammo, but either situation would've been avoided with a ban on real guns on set and an insistence on non-guns.
Beyond that, we need universal recognition that no one should ever be in harm's way in case there is an accident.
If there are weapons scenes being shot, we need to do what we do with all heavier stunts and car work. There should be a zone of safety where all camera equipment is operated remotely in the area where debris might fall.
In 2021 remote heads are too good, and too affordable, to do otherwise. The fact that the director and cinematographer were both hit, with the cinematographer fatally injured, makes it likely that the gun was fired either toward a camera or toward video village. In either situation, a proper zone of safety for accidents wasn't created. If a gun comes out, even a non-gun, get our crews further from set and remote operate any camera or lighting gear that needs to be closer to the scene.
It's astounding that 28 years after Brandon Lee, this is still legal. It has to be fixed, as quickly as possible. If laws can't do it, then our unions and guilds need to intervene.
Nothing with a real firing pin on a film set. A very short search finds rental houses renting "non-guns" which have no ability to fire anything but are rigged to create muzzle flashes. There is absolutely no reason to work with anything else.
This feels like an area that is ripe for SAG leadership. So far we have two actors who have died from this, and now a cinematographer. However, the actor who held the gun, Baldwin, will inevitably have emotional distress from the incident in which he likely carries no blame. We don't know full details yet, but it's likely the armorer's error, and initial word is that it was a non-union armorer, though that isn't confirmed.
Regardless, for decades Baldwin has been handed prop guns by armorers and put his faith in those professionals that they are safe. Now due to the error of an armorer he will have tremendous emotional fallout, and someone is dead, and the ramifications for their family can't be quantified. SAG should take leadership in banning all firing pins from set for the protection of their actors, working in collaboration with IATSE and the DGA.
SAG makes sense, since even on "smaller" films the actors are usually SAG. This film is a great example—SAG crew, Local 600 cinematographer, and non-union armorer. Mixing union cast and non-union crew is very common on lower-budget productions. SAG working together with Local 600 can make real change happen here so this can never happen again and no other crew member has to die this horrible way.
A law would be even better, but it's likely that any law with "gun" in it is going to be too controversial to pass pretty much anywhere, even something as sensible as "no guns in a workplace where they aren't needed." But where the law can't protect us, we can protect ourselves.
I know I'll never work with a real gun again, and I'll insist in pre-production on projects that we secure non-guns. I hope others take the same stance.