‘Many things had to go wrong’: Utah filmmakers weigh in on Alec Baldwin’s accidental on-set shooting

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ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO – OCTOBER 23: Wynema Chavez Quintana holds a sign calling for better safety on movie sets during a vigil held to honor cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on October 23, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hutchins was killed on set while filming the movie “Rust” at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 21, 2021. The film’s star and producer Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm that hit Hutchins and director Joel Souza. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

(ABC4) – The entertainment industry was rocked on Thursday by the news that a prop firearm, held by actor Alec Baldwin, was discharged on a movie set, killing a crew team member and injuring the film’s director.

For such a tragic incident, which by many reports was unintentional on Baldwin’s part, to occur in the middle of movie production, local filmmakers are saying several things had to go wrong.

Having a weapon on a set isn’t abnormal, but it’s the props master’s responsibility to ensure that the firearm is handled with extreme caution at all times, according to Utah-based props master Scott Arneman.

“I can’t think of a worse scenario,” Arneman says of last week’s shooting on the set of ‘Rust’ in New Mexico. “The prop master is the person on the set who’s the ultimate authority. The buck stops here. He’s in charge of the guns, even if the producers bring on an armorer and the prop master defers his authority to the armorer, really the prop master has the final call as to the safety.”

Typically speaking, several main protocols are in place whenever a weapon, real or fake, enters the set with cast and crew present. Even the day before photography or rehearsal, when the call sheet is distributed in the evening, it’s standard procedure to include a memo mentioning the use of a weapon in the notes.

On the day of the action, the crew is gathered together and given another advisory about the safety issues. When the weapon is brought out, it is checked by at least three people, the prop master, the assistant director, and the actor using it. Arneman says it’s not unusual for him or the assistant director to dry fire, with the gun barrel pointed at the ground, several times just to ensure that it isn’t a danger to anyone on set.

Bryan Clifton, who works as the President of one of Utah’s biggest production companies, Redman Movies and Stories, says it appears that several members of the Rust crew didn’t do their job, but it seems like there could be many contributing factors that surrounded that set which reportedly was plagued by safety concerns.

“It’s big because a major Hollywood actor ends up shooting because of a series of mistakes,” Clifton states. “It’s tragic. I think the biggest thing is the tragedy of people that are vulnerable die because of the worst of circumstances.”

Clifton believes there should not have been a single live round of ammunition on that movie set.

Thursday’s shooting brought many movie lovers and film professionals to recall another well-publicized on-set incident that killed Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, on the set of The Crow in 1993.

Arneman, who received his first credit as an assistant props master in 1994, remembers the buzz that followed Lee’s death the year before being similar to the industry talk that has been circulating in the last few days.

“That was the talk on set, ‘How could this have happened?’ and things like that,” Arneman recalls. “Ever since then, people were always hypersensitive whenever a gun was brought on the set.”

Following Lee’s death, Arneman states many felt that the safety procedures were “overkill.” However, as the incident involving Baldwin shows, those practices are in place for a reason.

Moving forward, Arneman says he wouldn’t be surprised if the film industry reacts by doing away from allowing any sort of dummy or blank ammo on set, the magic of post-production might be good enough to render it unnecessary. 

“I think that we’ve come so far with the technology and special effects, that I wouldn’t doubt that seeing real weapons firing blanks on set will be thing of the past or a rarity or will only happen on projects with no sort of post-production budget,” he supposes.

But regarding the recent ordeal in New Mexico, it seems that negligence by many resulted in a rare and tragic ending, Arneman states.

“Many things had to go wrong for this to happen,” he says. “Ever since I’ve been in the business, handling weapons, everybody’s been super over the top safe.”

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