John Minchillo / AP
Published Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021 | 11:40 p.m.
Updated Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 | 9:17 a.m.
SANTA FE, N.M. — Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western and killed the cinematographer, officials said. The director of the movie was wounded, and authorities are investigating what happened.
Halyna Hutchins, cinematographer on “Rust,” and director Joel Souza were shot Thursday in the desert on the southern outskirts of Santa Fe.
A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks. Santa Fe County Sheriff's spokesman Juan Rios said detectives were investigating what type of projectile was discharged and how. No immediate charges were filed.
It was not clear if Baldwin was performing at the time of the shooting or how many rounds were fired and little was known about the weapon. On Friday, Baldwin tweeted, expressing his condolences to Hutchins' family and calling the shooting an accident.
“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation,” he wrote on Twitter. “My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
Images of the 63-year-old actor — known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” as well as his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” — showed him distraught outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday.
Prop guns fire blanks, gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but not a hard projectile. But when the trigger is pulled, the paper or plastic wadding is ejected from the barrel with enough force that it can be lethal at close range, as proved to be the case in the death of an actor in 1984. In another on-set accident in 1993, the actor Brandon Lee was killed after a bullet was left in a prop gun.
Gun safety protocol on sets in the United States has dramatically improved since then, said Steven Hall, a veteran director of photography in Britain. But he said one of the riskiest positions to be in is operating the camera — noting that person would be in the line of fire in gripping scenes where someone appears points a gun at the audience.
Hutchins, 42, was airlifted to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Souza, 48, who was wounded in the collarbone area, was taken by ambulance to a medical center.
Sheriff’s deputies responded about 2 p.m. to the movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch after 911 calls described a person being shot there, said Rios, the sheriff’s spokesman. The ranch has been used in dozens of films, including the recent Tom Hanks Western “News of the World.”
“This investigation remains open and active,” Rios said in a statement. “No charges have been filed in regard to this incident. Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.”
One of Hutchins’ final social media posts was a photo of the “Rust” actors standing together in solidarity with crew members. Members of the IATSE union that represents crew members and that she belonged to are to vote soon on a new contract with producers after threatening to strike in recent weeks over issues including long hours and on-set safety.
Hutchins, a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute, worked as director of photography on the 2020 action film “Archenemy,” starring Joe Manganiello. She was named a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019.
“I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set,” said “Archenemy” director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Twitter. “She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.”
Manganiello called Hutchins “an incredible talent” and “a great person” on his Instagram account. He said he was lucky to have worked with her.
Hutchins had Ukrainian citizenship, according to Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko. The country's consulate in San Francisco is clarifying what happened and is working together with U.S. law enforcement officials.
Baldwin teamed up as a producer previously with Souza on the 2019 film, “Crown Vic,” which starred Thomas Jane as a veteran Los Angeles police officer on a manhunt for two violent bank robbers. Souza's first credited film, 2010’s “Hanna’s Gold,” was a treasure hunt adventure featuring Luke Perry.
Production was halted on “Rust.” The movie is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s' Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teen goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.
In 1993, Lee, son of martial arts star Bruce Lee, died after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie “The Crow.” The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but an autopsy turned up a bullet lodged near his spine.
A Twitter account run by Lee's sister Shannon said: “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust.’ No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”
In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun blank while pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum on the set of the television series “Cover Up.”
Such shootings have also happened during historical reenactments. In 2015, an actor staging a historical gunfight in the Old West town of Tombstone, Arizona, was shot and wounded with a live round during a show that was supposed to use blanks.
In Hill City, South Dakota, a tourist town that recreates an Old West experience, three spectators were wounded in 2011 when a re-enactor fired real bullets instead of blanks.