Close Calls and Misfires: Before Alec Baldwin Shooting, Armorer and AD Had History of Safety Issues

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The post Close Calls and Misfires: Before Alec Baldwin Shooting, Armorer and AD Had History of Safety Issues appeared first on Consequence.

Last Thursday, a prop gun fired by Alec Baldwin killed Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, and while law enforcement officials are still looking into the matter, her tragic death is thought to have been an accident brought about by oversights from armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who prepared the weapon, and assistant director (AD) Dave Halls, who declared the weapon safe and handed it to Baldwin. However, as an investigation by Consequence shows, the histories of both Gutierrez-Reed and Halls are full of other accidents: gun misfires, close calls, and complaints alleging a disregard for safety protocols.

Gutierrez-Reed is 24 years old and the daughter of legendary Hollywood weapons master Thell Reed (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Miami Vice, Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.) Rust was only her second professional credit as an armorer, with the first coming on the Nicolas Cage Western The Old Way, due out in 2022. According to Stu Brumbaugh, who served as key grip on The Old Way, her inexperience put the cast and crew in several unnecessarily dangerous situations.

To be clear, Brumbaugh doesn’t fault Gutierrez-Reed for what happened on The Old Way. “I would put the blame 100% on the producers,” who he says were too stingy to hire someone more experienced. “What it boils down to is producers being cheap and not giving departments the manpower to do things safely and efficiently,” he added, explaining that “her age and inexperience were a factor in a lot of what’s going on right now.”

Gutierrez-Reed seemed not only overworked, but also unaware of proper safety protocols. “She made some rookie mistakes on more than one occasion on our set.”

Guns loaded with blanks still fire a wad at potentially fatal velocity, but she rarely informed the cast and crew that they were around dangerous weapons. “The first incident was that she walked out on set with live rounds,” which in this context means blanks, not bullets. “There was no announcement made by the AD or herself about walking on set with blanks loaded in firearms.”

Besides that, she wasn’t carrying the firearms safely. “She had pistols tucked under her armpits and was carrying rifles in each hand. So she had too many weapons in her hands that were ready to be used in the scene.” At one point, the firearms were aimed at Brumbaugh. “She turned around and the pistols that were under her armpits were pointed back at us. I was like, ‘Woah!’,” he said, imitating a shout. “It just seemed like she had too much going on.”

Twice, she fired guns on set without giving warning. First, she was demonstrating gun volume to see if it would startle the horses. “All of a sudden the gun goes off. I yelled, ‘Fuck man! Make a fucking announcement!'”

The second time caused an issue with star Nicolas Cage. “It happened again about two days later as Nic Cage walked by. She fired off a round right as Nic Cage was walking by and he was pissed off. He yelled, ‘Make an announcement, you just blew my fucking ear drums out!'” Immediately afterwards, Cage walked off set in a state of rage.

While Brumbaugh doesn’t hold Gutierrez-Reed responsible– he noted that everyone in Hollywood, himself included, started off young and hungry — he did advocate for her dismissal. “I made the comment after a couple of discharges on our set that weren’t announced, I told the AD, ‘She needs to be fucking fired. You need an experienced armorer in there. That’s not ok.'”

“It wasn’t malice, it wasn’t that she was coming from a bad place, it wasn’t not caring, because she did care about her job. She was inexperienced,” Brumbaugh said. “You can’t fault someone for being inexperienced.”

The word ‘inexperienced’ does not apply to Rust AD Dave Halls, who has previously worked on Reno 911, Bones, and The Matrix Reloaded. Last week, Consequence reported on his troubling history of ignoring safety protocols, including pressuring crewmembers to skip safety rehearsals. Now, we know that Halls was fired from the upcoming Civil War drama Freedom’s Path after a gun accidentally discharged on set. In an exclusive interview with Consequence, script supervisor Patrick McSherry explained what happened.

The production had hired an armorer who “knew a lot about guns and not much about film stuff,” a problem that was exacerbated by Halls. “There were no safety rehearsals that I can recall,” McSherry said.

During the accidental discharge, the shot involved a close-up on a musket. It was supposed to capture the moment the trigger was pulled, but the camera didn’t take in the end of the gun barrel, and there was no reason for the gun to be loaded with a blank. Everyone thought the weapon was clear. Then, “I heard a bang,” McSherry said. “The boom operator cried out and ripped his headphones off.”

The boom operator was evaluated by an on-site medic. As for Halls, “He was fired right afterwards and they got a different AD.”

Freedom’s Path was produced by Rocket Soul Studios. In a statement to Consequence, the studio wrote, “First of all, our condolences go out to everyone affected by the recent tragic event in New Mexico. 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. 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.”

Last week, Consequence reported that multiple safety complaints had been filed against Halls. One person who took action against him, Maggie Goll, has decided to speak on the record, explaining, “I am prepared for the consequences of using my voice. If not now, when?” After a bad experience with Halls on a Blumhouse production, Goll filed a complaint with Blumhouse as well as the Director’s Guild of America, and she also prepared an affidavit to the union, IATSE Local 871.

Goll worked on Blumhouse and Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology series, and following a hiatus, she returned to the production after Halls had been hired as AD. In an email to Consequence, she wrote, “On my first day back on the series, another crew member told me to ‘watch out’ for Dave, saying he was too physically familiar with the crew, despite many rebuffs and complaints about unwanted and unnecessary touches. Nothing too extreme, but crew members of all genders and dispositions were being made uncomfortable by Dave’s touches to their backs, waists, shoulders, etc.”

Besides that, Halls consistently skipped safety announcements and ignored best practices. “The Prop Master frequently admonished Dave for dismissing the talent without returning props, weapons included, or failing to make safety announcements,” Goll said. “I also had to insist and remind Dave to announce the use of practical elements and to establish a safe exit plan and gathering point, in the case of an emergency. Why this wasn’t done automatically, after days and weeks of having people tell him to make these announcements, I do not know. He just never got it.”

One day, Halls tried to film a scene with pyrotechnics while the person authorized to set it alight was suffering from a medical emergency. Goll said, “I extinguished all flames, disconnected fuel-delivery systems, removed fuels from the set, disconnected the electronic firing systems, and gathered any article that could be used to ignite or set off any of our elements.”

Meanwhile, Halls tried to restart production. “He called out to the rest of the crew that, ‘Maggie said we can keep going.’ To be clear, I told him they are free to film whatever they want, but that there would be no fire or sparks, etc., until the medic, fire safety officer, and all of my crewmates were safely back on set.”

She explained, “I continued to stand my ground as Dave kept trying to call for us to restart and the associate producer threatened me with full responsibility for the failure to complete that day’s work — all while one of our own was in a state of diabetic shock and on the cusp of serious injury, possibly death. None of the other required safety personnel were present, and yet they wanted to push on. I had had it. I stood in the middle of that room, preventing any shot, with my arms crossed and my resolve firm. They found something else to point a camera at.”

According to Goll, lots of people in the film industry — herself included — “have concerns about speaking honestly about bad situations without retribution.”

“It is a lose-lose situation for many who do report. And yet I did. Internally to Blumhouse — who seemingly did nothing; a direct message to the DGA — though at the time I was just starting out and sent it to the general info address and it was, unsurprisingly, not followed up on to my knowledge; and I also prepared an affidavit in support of an 871 member that during the course of the spring was “let go” from the series due to professional differences with the First, Dave Halls. She had reported personal abuses from him, as well as professional, and was pursuing a grievance through Local 871 regarding the manner of her dismissal. I do not know the result of that process, but Dave was on set and she wasn’t. It was altogether a terrible experience for someone who was just starting their career in the film industry.”

Consequence was unable to reach Halls or Gutierrez-Reed for comment.

Approximately six hours before the fatal gunshot on the set of Rust, union crewmembers staged a walk-out to protest poor and unsafe working conditions, including a lack of safety rehearsals and multiple gun misfires. As for Baldwin, he broke his silence on the shooting to write, “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins.”

Close Calls and Misfires: Before Alec Baldwin Shooting, Armorer and AD Had History of Safety Issues
Wren Graves

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