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The fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by Alec Baldwin last week on the Santa Fe set of Rust wasn’t the first time First Assistant Director David Hills worked on a film where a weapon discharged unexpectedly.
Back in late 2019, a gun went off on the Arkansas set of Freedom’s Path, where Halls was an AD. The incident caused a member of the Rocket Soul Studios-produced movie’s sound department to jump back from the close-by blast.
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“First of all, our condolences go out to everyone affected by the recent tragic event in New Mexico,” said one of the producers of Freedom’s Path to Deadline today.
“I can confirm that Dave Halls was fired from the set of Freedom’s Path in 2019 after a crew member incurred a minor and temporary injury when a gun was unexpectedly discharged,” he added. “Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged. Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site. An incident report was taken and filed at that time.”
The injured crew member was back on set in less than a week, a source close to that production tells Deadline. A replacement AD and armorer were hired almost immediately, and filming continued until just before the end of 2019. Freedom’s Path wrapped up post-production last year, but no release date is set for the film starring RJ Cyler and Gerran Howell.
David Halls has not responded to request for comment by Deadline. The producers of the currently shuttered Rust also did not respond when contacted on whether they knew of Halls’ firing from Freedom’s Path.
In a career including 2000’s The Crow: Salvation, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and the upcoming Dolph Lundgren starrer Castle Falls, Halls also had a personal-behavior complaint filed against him two years while working on Blumhouse TV’s anthology series Into the Dark. “Dave Halls worked on two films for Blumhouse Television in 2019, and was not rehired after that time,” a Blumhouse TV spokesperson told Deadline on October 24. Halls was on the crew of the “Pure” and “Culture Shock” episodes of Into the Dark, which was streamed on Hulu.
The 2019 complaint on “Pure” was lodged against the First AD for a lack of respect for the space of fellow crew members and other co-workers, sources say. Halls was described as being “very aggressive” and “intimidating on set” by another source close to Into the Dark.
In an affidavit filed by Detective Joel Cano of the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office on October 22, Halls handed star/producer Baldwin a prop gun on October 21 from a cart outside the Rust church location they were rehearsing in on the Bonanza Creek Ranch. Halls told Baldwin that the prop was a “cold gun,” meaning it did not have any live rounds in it. Indicating that three prop guns were prepped by the Rust on-set armorer Hannah Gutierrez, Cano’s affidavit said that Halls “did not know live rounds were in the prop gun.”
Even though ADs are responsible for overall set safety, it is unclear why Halls was handling the weapon and not the armorer, as should be the case. Also, no visual check of the prop gun seemed to have been done.
Among various components of the subsequently issued search warrant (read it here), authorities are looking for any footage of the fatal accident. Members of the Rust crew, including director Joel Souza, who was injured in the shooting too, told the police that no video or audio footage was made, but the cops say in the filing they know “people involved in the commission of crime(s) often attempt to conceal, tamper with and/or dispose of evidence.”
Still combing over the location near Santa Fe ahead of a scheduled press conference on October 27, the Sheriff’s Office also is seeking other items such as the “Old Western Style” outfit Baldwin was wearing at the time of the shooting, phones, memory cards and more.
Things were troubled on the set of the $7 million-budgeted Rust even before the tragedy of last week.
Just hours before the shooting, several members of Rust’s camera crew resigned in writing from the film. In their resignation letters, the crew members listed a wide range of complaints including lack of payment for three weeks, no lodging and — perhaps most important here — concerns on-set gun safety. There were at least two prior incidents of weapons going off on the film in the previous weeks of production.
After the mass resignations, the producers allegedly brought in non-union people to replace departing crew.
The Rust production has acknowledged that crew did in fact resign but insisted that all were paid.
They later issued a statement to Deadline saying: “The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company. 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. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”
Halls, Baldwin, Gutierrez, Souza and other Rust crew members were interviewed by the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office on October 21. All were released and told they’re free to leave New Mexico. No one has been charged or arrested in connection with the shooting.
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