Dozens Of Cinematographers Sign Open Letter Refusing To Work On Sets With Functional Firearms In Rust Aftermath

New updates have emerged in the fallout from last month's fatal shooting on the set of "Rust," claiming the life of a crewmember and injuring its director. On October 21st, actor Alec Baldwin discharged an on-set weapon while rehearsing for a scene on his film (which he also produces), "Rust." Assistant director Dave Halls states in a Sante Fe County police affidavit that he handed the firearm, a functional 1880s-era gun, to the actor and indicated that it was a "cold gun," meaning that it contained no live rounds. At least one live round was in the chamber, which hit cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the chest from just two feet away before striking director Joel Souza in the shoulder. The director has since recovered, but Hutchins was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after the shooting. Now, as the dust settles around the incident, questions are arising over how such a tragedy could occur, and how to prevent any more like it from happening. Baldwin, Halls, and "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed (who was in charge of firearms during production) have all begun defending themselves to various degrees in the media as people ask who will be held responsible.

Reed's lawyers spoke to the "Today" show on her behalf, suggesting that the presence of a live round in a box of dummy ammunition could be the result of sabotage. The weapons table was "completely unattended at all times, giving someone access and opportunity," allege lawyers Jason Bowles and Robert Gorence. The pair also draws a line to six camera crew members who walked off the set prior to the incident. Bowles lays the groundwork for Reed's defense: 

"I think you can't rule anybody out at this point. We know there was a live round in a box of dummy rounds that shouldn't have been there. We have people who had left the set, who had walked out because they were disgruntled. We have a time frame between 11 (a.m.) and 1 (p.m.), approximately, that day, in which the firearms at times were unattended, so there was opportunity to tamper with this scene."

"These Guys Are Not Heroes."

The crew walkout was mere hours before Hutchins and Souza were shot. According to the Los Angeles Times, several camera operators and their assistants "were frustrated by the conditions surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours, long commutes, and waiting for their paychecks." Following the walkout, "Rust" producers hired a replacement camera crew that was initially reported as "non-union," but the film's costume designer, Terese Magpale Davis, disputed both the poor working conditions and the non-union hiring in a lengthy Instagram post on October 30. The post was shared by Alec Baldwin (under his official account @alecbaldwininsta) to his 2.4 million followers.

Speaking as someone who worked on the film, Davis denies that production was beset by long hours and poor accommodations. "We never worked more than a 12.5 hour shoot day," Davis states, and that the entire crew had just come off of an extended weekend, citing that the daily time sheets would back her up. She disputes the claim that the camera operators were not given reasonable lodging, asserting that "they just didn't feel they were fancy enough." While the costume designer desires better working conditions in the industry, she stops short of praising the six crewmembers who walked off. "These guys are not heroes," she says. When they did walk off, a replacement crew was hired from IATSE Local 480's Overflow list which, according to Davis, means the "non-union" label isn't quite accurate.

On the contrary, workers hired from the Overflow list are explicitly not yet or not currently members of IATSE, but are working towards the necessary requirements to make the cut. According to IATSE Local 480, "If a production cannot find members in one of our covered crafts who are available to work, we'll send them a list of Overflow people for that craft and they will hire off of it, or we'll send a blast out to the Overflow List and individuals can reply with a resume." The Local's website also tries to make it very clear that the Overflow list is not a viable source of regular work, stating, "we want to stress that most Overflow work is short and sparse. The Overflow List is certainly not a way to get consistent work. If your experience is different than this, please know that you are an exception, not the trend."

Calls for Change

As the investigation continues, industry professionals have rallied around Hutchins' death and called for change. Variety reports that an open letter with four pages of signatures calls for an outright ban on functional firearms on movie sets. Among the signatures are several cinematographers, including Rachel Morrison who worked on "Mudbound," Ed Lachman of "Carol," and American Society of Cinematographers president Stephen Lighthill. The letter's call to action extends beyond the "Rust" production, drawing a line in the sand and pledging to avoid projects that use functioning guns.

We vow to no longer knowingly work on projects using functional firearms for filming purposes. We vow to no longer put ourselves and our crew in these unnecessarily lethal situations. We have safe alternatives in VFX and non-functional firearms. We won't sit back and wait for the industry to change. We have a duty to effect [sic] change within the industry ourselves.

The open letter joins a petition addressed directly to Baldwin, calling for the actor and producer "to use his power and influence in the Hollywood film industry to make change and ban real guns on film sets," in a proposed "Halyna's Law." The petition was created by filmmaker Bandar Albuliwi and has gathered over 104,000 signatures so far including Lena Dunham and Sarah Paulson.

"Everything, at this point ... is on the table"

As calls for accountability for the shooting grow, Deadline reports that Hutchins' husband, Matthew Hutchins (an attorney, according to Reuters), has secured the services of an LA-based firm that specializes in personal injury-wrongful death litigation. The firm of Panish, Shea, Boyle, and Ravipudi will be representing Hutchins, with Brian Panish acting as lead counsel. Nothing more is known at this time about Hutchins' plans, but a wrongful death lawsuit appears likely. 

On October 25, Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies left the door open for persons involved in the shooting to be held criminally liable for the crewmember's death, though the investigation may take months to complete. "Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table," she says.