Friends of Halyna Hutchins, cinematographer killed on set of 'Rust,' react to her death

Halyna Hutchins was living out her personal dream, working as a budding cinematographer in Hollywood, a rare title for women in the film industry.

But Hutchins, a 42-year-old wife and mother, had her life cut short on Thursday after producer and actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the New Mexico set of the movie “Rust” during filming. Contacted by Yahoo News, some of the people who knew Hutchins offered their thoughts about her death.

“I spoke to her and looked at her reel and connected her with our director, and they fell in love. Literally it was like, one meeting, boom. And this was back early, like 2018,” Sidra Smith, a producer, writer and casting director who worked with Hutchins on the BET+ series “A Luv Tale,” told Yahoo News.

“The way that Halyna lit Black people or people of color was extraordinary. And she was so sensitive to making sure that everyone's tones were beautiful and perfect,” Smith said.

At the time of her death, Hutchins had been working as director of photography on “Rust,” a western that began production in early October.

“That was a larger budget than anything she had done, and it was a western, and I was just like, ‘Wow, a woman about to shoot a western, that's the shit,’ and we were just laughing,” Smith said. “The joy that she expressed for this opportunity was so beautiful, and I just remember just being so happy for her.”

An aerial view of the film set on Bonanza Creek Ranch where Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun on the movie set of the film
The set in New Mexico where "Rust" was being filmed. (KOB TV News/Handout via Reuters)

Hutchins, according to her website, grew up in Ukraine “on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle.” She earned a graduate degree in international journalism from Kyiv National University and worked as a journalist before transitioning to a career in film and television. When she moved to the United States, she graduated from the AFI Conservatory in 2015.

She was selected as one of American Cinematographer magazine’s “Rising Stars” in 2019 and worked on the action film “Archenemy.”

Scotty Baker, a Steadicam operator, said he met Hutchins in 2017.

“She liked working with me and ended up giving me a call like a week later for another project, and ever since then we worked on a ton of projects,” he told Yahoo News, adding that Hutchins was driven while working and deeply funny when the cameras stopped rolling.

Scotty Baker (right) alongside Halyna Hutchins shared this photo with Yahoo News.
Scotty Baker, right, alongside his friend Halyna Hutchins. (Courtesy Scotty Baker)

“She's a really great, sweet kind of person, you know, lovable, good sense of humor, fun to be around, but then when she's on set, you know she's serious and she's focused and she's professional and she gives everything to the film,” he said. Hutchins, he added, made capturing great shots her first priority. “That's why I kept going out on shoots with her — even shoots that didn't pay well. I knew Halyna was shooting it, so I knew it was gonna look awesome, it's something that I wanted to be a part of.”

Most of her friends and family got the unexpected and horrible news Thursday that Hutchins had been shot while on the set of “Rust” at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, N.M. Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies were called to the scene around 1:50 p.m. local time.

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - OCTOBER 21:  An exterior view shows the entrance to Christus St. Vincent Medical Center, where
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, N.M., where "Rust" director Joel Souza was treated after being injured on the film set. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

The film’s director, Joel Souza, was wounded in the shooting and treated at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. He has since been released from the hospital, according to "Rust" cast member Frances Fisher.

Photos of Baldwin showed him distraught and in tears. On Friday the actor tweeted a statement that said, “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.”

He added: “I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

Halyna Hutchins, director of photography for
Hutchins in an Instagram selfie. (halynahutchins via Instagram/via Reuters)

Smith also reflected on Hutchins’s relationship with her husband.

“She talked about how supportive her husband was and how they had a son, and I was like, ‘Well, how does it work when you're gone for so long?’ She said, ‘He wants this for me,’” Smith said. “I thought it was beautiful. I remember saying, like, ‘Wow, your husband is so awesome to support you like this to where you can, like, really dive into this work and not worry about home.’”

Authorities continue to investigate what happened, but no charges have been filed.