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Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins fatally injured on set of Rust

Oct 22, 2021

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins has been accidentally killed on set by a misfiring prop gun, with director Joel Souza seriously injured.

Hutchins, named as a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019, was rushed to the University of New Mexico Hospital in an air ambulance but was later pronounced dead. 

The incident occurred on the set of Rust, an independent feature that was filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a popular production location south of Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office said in a statement that Hutchins and Souza were shot when a prop firearm was discharged by 68-year-old Alec Baldwin, who is the producer and actor for the new film, which is about an accidental killing.

In a statement to AFP news agency, a Santa Fe sheriff spokesman said Mr Baldwin had spoken to detectives.

“He came in voluntarily and he left the building after he finished his interviews,” the spokesman said.

Police have released few details about the shooting, saying only that the prop weapon discharged some kind of ‘projectile’ which hit Hutchins and Souza – though it is unclear exactly what kind of projectile or how it came to be loaded into the weapon.

A spokesman for the Rust Movies Productions LLC described the death as an ‘accident’ and said it involved ‘the misfire of a prop gun with blanks’.

Filming will be halted ‘for an undetermined period of time’, a statement from the company added, saying ‘the entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy.’

Hutchins, 42, was director of photography on the 2020 action film Archenemy, starring Joe Manganiello and directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. A 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute, Ms Hutchins was from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle. She studied journalism in Kyiv, and film in Los Angeles

In a statement, the International Cinematographer’s Guild said Ms Hutchins’ death was “devastating news” and “a terrible loss”.

“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event,” said guild president John Lindley and executive director Rebecca Rhine. “This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our Guild’s family.”

Prop guns have been previously implicated in deaths on entertainment productions, with Brandon Lee, 28, son of the martial-arts star Bruce Lee, accidentally shot to death with a prop gun while filming the movie The Crow in 1993.

It’s another devastating tragedy for workers in the film industry, echoing the accidental on set deaths of camera operator Mark Milsome who was fatally struck by a Land Rover while filming BBC drama Black Earth Rising in 2017, and Sarah Jones, a camera assistant on Midnight Rider who was killed by a train during filming.

Sarah Jones

Their unnecessary deaths have become part of a larger industry wide call to address pervasive safety issues, and many notable representatives of the film industry have made statements. Richard Crudo ASC, president of the American Society of Cinematographers said as part of a larger statement, “As directors of photography, we have always been responsible for the safety of our crews, and it is incumbent upon us to find ways to be more decent and caring not only to them, but also to everyone we know.”

The Mark Milsome Foundation, formed in Mark’s memory, focusses on the education and promotion of modern health and safety practices and in April 2021 the foundation circulated an open letter to the Film and Television Industry relating to what they believe are 4 Lessons learned from Mark’s death.

Mark Milsome

In response to this latest tragic incident, the foundation stated:

“The Mark Milsome Foundation are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the killing of D.o.P. Halyna Hutchins and the injury of director Joel Souza on the set of Rust shooting in New Mexico. This comes at a time when the Foundation will be marking the fourth anniversary next month of cameraman Mark Milsome’s death on set. It is particularly poignant as the foundation are currently filming a health and safety course designed to give greater awareness and improve the safety of productions. There must be greater accountability. All accidents are a result of unsafe acts and negligence and more focus and clarity is needed to make those responsible pay for their actions. We should never see these circumstances repeated. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this awful tragedy.”

Header image: © Halyna Hutchins Instagram

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