Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled Tuesday her administration could ask lawmakers to strengthen safety guidelines for film productions in New Mexico as reports emerged that crew members shot real bullets through a prop gun hours before an incident that left a cinematographer dead and director wounded at a movie set outside Santa Fe.
Authorities say movie star Alec Baldwin, 63, discharged a prop gun during an Oct. 21 rehearsal on the set of the Western film “Rust” – killing Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injuring Joel Souza, 48.
The Wrap, an American news website covering entertainment and media, reported Tuesday that a number of “Rust” crew members took prop guns from the set – including the gun that killed Hutchins – to shoot at beer cans.
The state’s Democratic governor, who pushed to eliminate an annual spending cap on New Mexico film incentives after taking office in 2019, said during a news conference she is still awaiting the details of law enforcement officials’ investigation into the incident.
But she described the situation as a “horrible, unnecessary, preventable tragedy” that should never happen again.
“My expectation is the industry better step up and identify any number of additional improvements and safeguards,” Lujan Grisham said. “If the industry doesn’t come forward with very specific accountable safeguards, they should expect that we will.”
Search warrants filed by investigators show that assistant director Dave Halls chose one of three prop guns left on a cart by armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, yelled “cold gun” – indicating it was unloaded – and handed it to Baldwin.
Baldwin faced the camera, Hutchins and Souza when he pulled the trigger and the gun discharged. Hutchins was airlifted to an Albuquerque hospital where she died and Souza was briefly hospitalized in Santa Fe.
Baldwin has said he is fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how the tragedy occurred.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting and has served search warrants on the set at Bonanza Creek Ranch. Nobody has been charged in the incident.
State Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, whose agency oversees New Mexico’s Film Office, said Tuesday she has been talking to industry officials about possible changes to film-set safety protocols.
She also said investigators with the state Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau have been on the set of “Rust” since the shooting.
“There’s just no reason there needs to be a fatality on the workplace anywhere, for any job,” said Keyes, who worked for the Walt Disney Co. and as film liaison for the city of Albuquerque before joining Lujan Grisham’s administration.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday that there had been previous prop gun misfires on the set and escalating tension over working conditions.
A half-dozen camera workers walked off the set in the hours leading up to the incident and were replaced by nonunion members, according to the newspaper.
New Mexico was one of the first states to launch a film incentive program – it was started in 2003 – and offers film companies a 25% rebate on qualifying expenditures, which can include goods and services. There’s an even larger 30% rebate for some TV shows.
The policies have made New Mexico one of the top states for film productions – even during the COVID-19 pandemic – as there were 18 film and 24 TV productions in various phases currently in the state, as of Aug. 31.