Of course, gunshot fatalities on film sets are rare – probably rarer than in those made-for-TV movies. But the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the injury of director Joel Souza on the set of the low-budget western “Rust” should surely make the film industry, including local Massachusetts filmmakers, wonder. why in the age of digital technology. firearms with projectiles that can kill or maim are still so common.
Production on the film has been suspended indefinitely. Law enforcement officials in Santa Fe, where the film was filmed, and the New Mexico Office of Occupational Health and Safety are also investigating. The set, now officially a crime scene, had previously been the subject of a walkout by some crew members who left due to safety concerns, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times, including gun safety concerns and non-compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
Hollywood has long-standing protocols for handling guns on set – a task assigned to the production gunsmith, a firearms specialist, but not necessarily a specialist subject to any type of license. In this particular case, according to an affidavit Filed with the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office, the production gunsmith had three propeller pistols set up in a cart, one of which was seized by assistant director Dave Halls. Halls, who had had previously been fired from a film production in 2019 when a propeller pistol accidentally discharged, shouted “cold pistol” to confirm it was not loaded with live ammunition and he – not the gunsmith – handed it to Baldwin. Halls was wrong.
The industry-wide occupational safety and management committee, which issues security bulletins, is specific in its list of warnings, beginning with a capital letter in bold: “BLANKS CAN KILL”. And “TREAT ALL FIREARMS AS IF THEY ARE LOADED.” “LIVE AMMUNITION” SHOULD NEVER BE USED OR BROUGHT TO A STUDIO OR STAGE. “
Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed in 1993 by a propeller pistol that was found to contain a makeshift but fatal bullet. Actor Jon-Erik Hexum was killed on set in 1984 by a blank cartridge while pretending to play Russian roulette.
Industry security protocols were written in 2003. Today there is a growing school of thought – particularly in the aftermath of the “Rust” shooting – that the risk of shooting with a gun on the set far exceeds the artistic merits of the act.
“There is no longer any reason to have guns loaded with blanks or whatever on set,” the filmmaker wrote. Craig Zobel on Twitter. “Should just be totally banned. There are computers now. The shots on ‘Mare of Easttown’ are all digital. You can probably tell, but who cares? It is an unnecessary risk.
Post-production special effects can provide all the flash and boom required.
And if the film industry can’t – or won’t – clean up its act, there’s always an enthusiastic lawmaker ready to take on the job.
California State Senator Dave Cortese said in a statement over the weekend that he intends to introduce a law banning “live ammunition and firearms capable of firing live ammunition from movie sets and theatrical productions” in his state.
Cortese also mentioned more generally “the need to tackle the alarming workplace abuse and security breaches” in the film industry, something of a dirty little secret amid the glitz and glamor.
A 2016 Associated Press investigation found that at least 43 people had died on the set since 1990 and 150 had suffered life-threatening injuries. 37 others have been killed since 2000 while working on international productions. They weren’t from stunts gone awry, but often from falling equipment or other routine safety breaches.
States eager to compete for part of the film industry, looking to the industry for self-regulation and unions to protect their members. The Massachusetts Film Bureau, for example, informs potential filmmakers of a long list of state regulations pertaining to fire safety and pyrotechnics but does not mention anything about gun safety. Since so many movies shot here (think “Black Mass” or “The Town”) are essentially just taxpayer-subsidized montages of bad accents and gunshots, a few gun safety rules might apply. worth adding.
The fantasy world of cinema – so much needed during these dark days of COVID-19 lockdown – has always contained an element of risk. But the risk of actual on-set shoots is easy to eliminate – and one that filmmakers should take the lead on.
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