Alec Baldwin’s role as producer on ‘Rust’ could play a key role in shooting investigation: former filmmaker

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Alec Baldwin’s role as a producer in the Western “Rust” has become a subject of growing scrutiny.

On Oct. 21, the star pulled the trigger on a prop gun while filming in New Mexico and unwittingly killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured Joel Souza. While it’s likely Baldwin the actor won’t be held criminally or civilly liable for the tragedy, Baldwin the producer might be, along with several others in leadership positions.

Carew Papritz, a former Hollywood filmmaker and an award-winning author, told Fox News “it depends on your key players” when it comes to the 63-year-old’s involvement in the hiring process for the movie.

Alec Baldwin serves as both producer and actor in the Western film ‘Rust."
(Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

“I would guess that the production designer, maybe your camera operators, some of your line people, you’ll secure,” Papritz explained. “You’ll probably secure your production manager. And if they’ve been in the industry long enough, they’ll bring in their crews. So when you hire your key people, that’s important. So my guess is he would be responsible for knowing the experience of those positions. But knowing that it was a low-budget project, he was probably a much more hands-off producer.”

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It’s known that Baldwin and Souza, 48, worked together on the 2019 police drama “Crown Vic.” And with a budget of a reported $6 million to $7 million, “Rust” was likely a passion project for Baldwin.

“This is a total low budget,” said Papritz, who has worked on film and TV sets with actors like Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, among others. “That makes me think it was one of those vanity projects. You can make your money back on $6 million without blinking. But that type of script may not have sold to producers. We just don’t know. Yes, he’s got power and all that, but the script and the fact that it was likely a vanity project may not have sold. How do you guarantee a significant return [of money] after it comes out? You can’t when it’s a low-budget project.”

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins is survived by her husband and their son
(Sonia Recchia/Getty Images))

“And the other issue when it’s a low budget project is you won’t excite the top people to get involved even with Alec Baldwin being a part of it,” Papritz continued. “Someone may go, ‘If I get involved, I’ll have to take my rate down.’ Someone may go, ‘You know, I don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere. I want to stay in a nice hotel.’ If you’ve been around this business long enough, right from the get-go, there’s going to be some penny pinching because the top dogs are just not going to bite… But one of those streaming services can go, ‘If you shoot this by x-amount of days, you’ll get a certain amount of money in return.’”

Experts predict a tremendous legal fallout from the tragedy, definitely in civil lawsuits and potentially in criminal charges. In addition to Baldwin, a call sheet for the day of the shooting obtained by The Associated Press lists five producers, four executive producers, a line producer and a co-producer. They, as well as assistant director Dave Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, could all face some sort of liability even if they weren’t on location.

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The payouts – which could be covered in part by insurance held by the production company, Rust Movie Productions – would likely be in the “millions and millions” of dollars, experts predict.

Director Joel Souza has since been released from the hospital.
(Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)

However, Santa Fe-based District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies revealed that the investigation remains in the preliminary phase and her office was far from making any decisions about whether any charges would be filed. She added that those involved in the production were cooperating with law enforcement.

Before the tragedy, problems were brewing behind the scenes. Hours before Baldwin fired the fatal gunshot, a camera crew for the movie walked out to protest conditions and production issues that included safety concerns.

Disputes began almost from the start in early October and culminated with seven crew members walking off several hours before Hutchins was killed. The crew members had expressed their discontent with matters that ranged from safety procedures to their housing accommodations, according to one of those who left.

The Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on Thursday, Oct. 21, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said. 
(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico workplace safety investigators are examining if film industry standards for gun safety were followed during the production. The Los Angeles Times, citing two crew members it did not name, reported that five days before the shooting, Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two live rounds after being told the gun didn’t have any ammunition.

A crew member who was alarmed by the misfires told a unit production manager in a text message, “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by the newspaper. The New York Times also reported that there were at least two earlier accidental gun discharges; it cited three former crew members.

During rehearsal at Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, the gun Baldwin used was one of three that a firearms specialist, or “armorer,” had set on a cart outside the building, according to the court records.

"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," Alec Baldwin tweeted. "I’m fully co-operating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred."
(Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for National Geographic)

Court records indicate that Halls grabbed a firearm off a cart and handed it to Baldwin, indicating incorrectly that the weapon didn’t carry live rounds by yelling “cold gun.”

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Reed gave an interview in September to the “Voices of the West” podcast in which she said she had just finished her first movie in the role of head armorer, a project in Montana starring Nicolas Cage titled “The Old Way.” As for Halls, he was fired from a separate project in 2019 after a crew member on “Freedom’s Path” incurred an injury from a prop gun.

According to the affidavit, Halls told an investigator that he didn’t check all the rounds in the gun he handed to Baldwin, as he should have.

Problems were brewing on the ‘Rust’ set before the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins.
(Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 44 Chapter, a union that represents crew workers in Hollywood, sent an email, which was obtained by Deadline, to members stating there was no union prop master on set the night Hutchins was killed.

“When the camera crew walked out, that should have been the end of it until everything was resolved,” said Papritz. “But what do they do? They bring in non-union people. And that just shows you where their heads were at. It was money over safety.”

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“I suspect this is a union/non-union issue,” he shared. “To get in the union, you have to work hard. You have to make your bones in the industry. You start at the bottom and work your way up. And the differences are extreme. You have to follow the rules of safety at all times and you have to make sure you’re properly compensated and get paid on time. There are penalties for the producer or production manager if they don’t follow the union rules. The rules can’t be made up as you go along. And a camera crew walking off a shoot is just unheard of. That’s beyond a red flag. That’s a bonfire.”

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil for Halyna Hutchins at IATSE West Coast Office on Oct. 24, 2021 in Burbank, California. 
(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

As the investigation continues, Papritz stressed this is a tragedy for everyone involved.

“We can go in circles on this, but ultimately, no one should ever get hurt on a film production,” he said. “It’s a world of make-believe and it should remain that way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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