Prop gun fired by Alex Baldwin on movie set loaded with ‘a live single round’, says Hollywood union - National Post

Baldwin said on Friday "my heart is broken" after the cinematographer died when he fired the gun

Author of the article:


Publishing date:

Oct 22, 2021  •  5 days ago  •  6 minute read  •  172 Comments

Alec Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers on the set of Rust. Alec Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers on the set of Rust. Photo by Instagram

LOS ANGELES — The gun that killed a movie cinematographer on an Alec Baldwin film set in New Mexico contained a single live round, a Hollywood union said in a memo to members, according to movie industry trade publications.

In the email that IATSE Local 44 sent to its members, the fatal shooting was described as an “an accidental weapons discharge” in which “a live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor, hitting both the Director of Photography, Local 600 member Halnya Hutchins, and Director Joel Souza.

“Local 44 has confirmed that the Props, Set Decoration, Special Effects and Construction Departments were staffed by New Mexico crew members. There were no Local 44 members on the call sheet,” Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Pawluc said in the email, according to Variety and IndieWire.

Baldwin fatally fatally shot the cinematographer and wounded the director when he discharged the prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday. The shot came in the middle of a scene that was either being rehearsed or filmed, the New York Times reported.

The production company said immediately after Hutchins’ death that it involved blanks, but police have since added it was too soon to determine what type of round was fired.

Bill Davis, a weapons expert who has worked on film and television productions, has said on his website that the prop guns used on set “are to be considered extremely dangerous and should never be handled by anyone other than a legitimate firearms expert.” He reiterated that warning to the BBC about Thursday’s incident involving Baldwin.

“If someone actually put a live round in there, number one that shouldn’t have been on the set,” he said. “Number two, they should have visually inspected the gun first with a pencil down the barrel and a flashlight to make sure there’s no obstructions in the mechanism and number three, they need to inspect the round that’s going in there.”

Baldwin said on Friday “my heart is broken” after the cinematographer died when he fired the gun, adding that he was cooperating with a police investigation to determine how the incident occurred.

“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,” Baldwin wrote in a statement on Twitter.

“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.”The incident occurred on Thursday afternoon on the set of “Rust” at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.

Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the University of Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Baldwin, 63, is a co-producer of “Rust,” a Western movie set in 1880s Kansas, and also plays the eponymous character who is an outlaw grandfather of a 13-year-old boy convicted of an accidental killing.

The sheriff’s office said late on Thursday that no charges had been filed and the investigation remained “open and active.” Baldwin voluntarily gave a statement about the shooting at the sheriff’s office, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported.

As firearms experts, writers and producers wondered aloud how Hutchins’ death happened, there was a renewed spotlight on prop guns, their history in film and TV, and why firearms are still showing up on set.

While some producers insist on using prop guns with blanks to closely capture the sound and look of a real gun firing, others have been calling for them to be banished from film sets, saying that computer-generated imaging offers a safer alternative.

“There’s no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore,” tweeted director Craig Zobel, whose credits include the 2020 film “The Hunt” and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.” “Should just be fully outlawed. There’s computers now.”

Juan Rios, a spokesperson for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, said detectives are investigating what type of projectile discharged from the prop gun, as well as how many firearms were on set and how they were handled. Rios said he expects the sheriff’s office will have more information early next week.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

While it’s thought of as a nonfunctional weapon, the term “prop gun” also refers to real guns on TV and film sets that are loaded with blank cartridges, which are essentially modified bullets.

“Prop guns are guns,” tweeted TV writer David Slack, whose credits include “Magnum P.I.” and “Person of Interest.” “Blanks have real gunpowder in them. They can injure or kill – and they have. If you’re ever on a set where prop guns are treated without proper caution and safe handling, walk away.”

A regular bullet is composed of a cartridge that’s made up of a shell holding a propellant powder. When a normal gun is fired, the propellant is ignited and the bullet attached to the front of the shell is activated. In comparison, the blanks used in prop guns usually have a material such as paper, cotton or wax attached to the front of the shell instead of a metal projectile. The material is inserted to hold in the gunpowder.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

“They’re supposed to be built in a way to prevent them from even being able to accept real ammunition,” tweeted Stephen Gutowski, a gun-safety instructor and firearms reporter for

These prop guns with blanks are used on Hollywood sets because of the authenticity they add to filming. Firing a blank with a prop gun will produce three things that computer-generated imagery sometimes struggles to match: a recoil, a loud bang and a muzzle flash, which is the light created when the propellant powder combusts.

Dave Brown, a Canada-based professional firearms instructor who has worked on films and TV shows, wrote in American Cinematographer magazine that although visual effects and CGI can help with close-range gunshots that cannot be filmed safely, firing guns with blanks makes a scene look as real as possible.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

“Blanks help contribute to the authenticity of a scene in ways that cannot be achieved in any other manner,” Brown wrote in 2019. “If the cinematographer is there to paint a story with light and framing, firearms experts are there to enhance a story with drama and excitement.”

Blanks can nonetheless still be dangerous: Even if there isn’t a bullet inside, anything near the end of the prop gun’s barrel can be a threat thanks to the muzzle flash and superheated gas expelled from it. As a result, significant, and even fatal, damage can be done when the trigger is pulled.

Directors such as Zobel have shifted to CGI instead; he noted that the gunfire featured in “Mare of Easttown,” the crime drama starring Kate Winslet, was all digital.


This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

“You can probably tell, but who cares?” he said. “It’s an unnecessary risk.”

There is a history of prop-gun incidents resulting in deaths on movie sets.

Jon-Erik Hexum died days after accidentally shooting himself in the head with a prop gun on the set of the CBS show “Cover Up” in 1984. Authorities said at the time that Hexum, 27, was pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum revolver when the gun fired a blank cartridge that killed him.

In 1993, about nine years later, Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old actor and son of actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, died on the set of the film “The Crow” after actor Michael Massee shot him in the abdomen. The prop gun used, which was supposed to be loaded with blank and “dummy” rounds, was somehow loaded with a .44-caliber bullet, police said. The North Carolina district attorney later said the shooting was caused by the crew’s negligence.

Hutchins, 42, who was originally from Ukraine, was named one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019. Her last social media post, two days ago, shows her grinning under a wide-brimmed hat as she rides a horse. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off:)” she captioned the video.

April Wright, a writer, director and producer, was among friends paying tribute to her. “I’m in disbelief,” wrote Wright. “So young, vibrant, and talented. Such a wonderful soul. My heart goes out to her son and family.”

With additional reporting from The Washington Post

Posted Newsletter logo

NP Posted

Sign up to receive the daily top stories from the National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.

By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You may unsubscribe any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300