Who's in charge on a movie set? Film leadership roles explained following 'Rust' shooting

A vehicle from the Office of the Medical Investigator enters the front gate leading to the Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 22, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Director ofphotography Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured on the set while filming the movie
Director of photography Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured on the set while filming the movie Rust at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 21, 2021. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

During a Wednesday press conference, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza publicly named three people closely involved in the fatal Rust movie set shooting. There’s the person at the center of the incident, Alec Baldwin, actor and one of the film's producers who fired the shot that killed the movie’s director of photography, Halyna Hutchins. But the sheriff also identified two others who “handled and/or inspected” the firearm that took Hutchins's life: Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the set’s armorer, and David Halls, the assistant director.

All three have been cooperative, according to the sheriff. On Thursday, while appearing on the Today show, Mendoza clarified that while Baldwin discharged the weapon, Gutierrez-Reed, who oversaw the prop weapons used on the set, and assistant director David Halls "are obviously the focus of the investigation" as the two, whose statements to investigators were made public Wednesday, handled the gun before Baldwin and told the actor that it was "cold," or safe, when there was actually live ammunition in it.

Nonetheless, the investigation is still in relatively early stages and no charges have been filed.

Since the Oct. 21 incident, questions have been raised about what went wrong and why the crew failed to take necessary safety precautions. There is also some confusion over who is ultimately responsible for ensuring safety on a set. For instance, Baldwin's “producer” role would appear to give him extra credibility on paper, but there are typically several producers on a film with different duties.

The producers for Rust include Baldwin, Matt DelPiano, Nathan Klingher, Anjul Nigam, Ryan Smith and Ryan Winterstern, according to the film's IMDb page. Producers play a role in the overall vision of a movie, from hiring to scheduling to budgeting. But even someone who bankrolls a movie could receive the credit.

“As soon as I read it, I was gutted,” Kathryn Arnold, an independent film producer and entertainment consultant, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “As a producer, my first thing is to get referrals on a person in any position, but particularly when people’s lives are involved.

“Any Mission: Impossible movie, any Terminator movie, any Marvel movie, there are so many explosions and so many guns and so many shootings and they have such stringent protocols because they have experienced people, those movies go without a hitch," Arnold says.

“And you have this smaller independent movie — which I'm an independent film producer so I'm supportive of those — but you can’t cut corners in the areas where it’s human safety involved.”


Joe Wallenstein has worked as an assistant director, associate producer, production manager and producer in the film industry.

“Prep is everything,” says Wallenstein, regarding the creation of a movie.

He’s now the director for physical production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a part-time lecturer.

For his incoming students, Wallenstein reads a document he wrote laying out the key players on a set called So Many Titles, So Little Clarity. It leads off with the producer role, saying this person oversees and facilitates all aspects of production.

“He or she is responsible for the preliminary shooting schedule, the day-to-day and the tentative budget. In conjunction with the director, the producer sets locations, participates in casting sessions and hires the crew.”

So Many Titles, So Little Clarity addresses the issues that can occur on a set: “A producer’s most important, and least understood obligation, is the creation of a nurturing, secure environment in which all parties, actors and crew alike can do their best work and fostering positive communication amongst all parties. Final say on safety or budget resides with the producer or producers.”

But not every producer is hands-on. Sometimes a producer is simply a financial backer or an actor given a ceremonial title to attract additional talent and financing and help elevate the profile of a smaller film.


The creative visionary driving a film, the director is in charge of leading everyone on the set, directing the actors and the camera crew through all the scenes. Directors work with the entire team to sign off on set production, camera angles, wardrobes, props, and so on. Directors usually get the most credit, behind the camera, with the success of a film.

“They aren’t necessarily the ultimate authority on a given project,” Loring Weisenberg, an L.A.-based writer and director, writes on the Wrapbook entertainment workforce site. “But they are shepherding it creatively through the entire creative process, meaning they exert great influence over all other film crew positions. As such, you’d find them near the top of any film production hierarchy chart."

Assistant Director

The assistant director works closely with the director to help carry out their vision on a set. Also known as first AD, this person might work more closely with the cast and crew, keeping everyone organized and prepared for their scenes.

“​​They sort out the many bodies working on a set. In other words, they run the set,” Wallenstein notes. “They are responsible for keeping the even flow of production by always looking to the next scene and being sure that all the elements of that scene are nearby and ready to work.”

They also oversee the second and third assistant directors who work with them on completing important tasks.

Executive Producer

An executive producer, or EP, can have a varying degree of roles similar to those of a producer. But an EP oversees the work of the producer, which could represent a studio or the individuals who financed a film. Rust, for instance, is an independent film collaboration involving multiple companies and financiers. Sometimes a person could hold multiple titles, including producer, executive producer and director.

“There’s the set of creative producers who put together the script, whether that’s help managing the writing of the script if it’s not written, or if it’s written, rewriting it and packaging it with the cast and the talent and the director,” Arnold explains. “Then there are executive producers who are usually involved in the financing of [the film] or will bring elements to the table that make the financing happen.”

Director of Photography

The director of photography, also known as DP or cinematographer, is responsible for the look of a film with a focus on lighting, camera angles, lenses, film/video types; the DP also captures the different shots necessary for editing. DPs work with the director to create the visual style and tone for the movie.

Line Producer

The line producer reports to the producer, director and other department heads but has an important lead role themselves. For many films, their job is to help run the day-to-day operations of the project, which could include scouting locations and hiring the production crew.


The armorer, or weapons master, is a specialist who works with all the necessary department heads when it comes to prop weapons on a set, including guns, knives, swords and bows and arrows. They might work with production to help research the right weapons for a movie, but their most important role is to maintain control of any weapons on a set. The armorer should work with the director of photography “to determine which camera angles will minimize any risk of injury,” according to a description on the website of IATSE Local 480, a union representing professional film technicians working in TV and movie productions in New Mexico. The union adds that armorers should “coach the actors in the correct use of the firearms, explaining possible dangers. They also help to choreograph any gunfire action sequences. They continually check weapons during breaks and rehearsals, making sure safety controls are still intact.”