I’ve worked on TV and film sets off and on for 15 years in Los Angeles, and dealt with a lot of prop guns as a performer playing soldiers, police officers, Federal Agents, and more. I’m also one of the few conservatives you’ll meet in LA; I’m a very big defender of the 2nd Amendment, and the Justice System.
With that in mind, I think this is a good time to separate out what happened on this set with a crime like murder. The tragedy that happened in New Mexico while filming “The Rust” is a case about liability and negligence. For murder to occur, there had to be means, opportunity, and motive. However, the sad tragedy of being on film sets is that accidental death is a very real thing: we deal with stunts and props all the time where something goes wrong and tragedy occurs. And unlike an accidental shooting at a home, there was a professional on set whose sole job was to ensure that the firearm was safe before handing it to the actor.
Make no mistake; someone lost their job on this production over this; in fact, the entire movie has been shut down, making the entire cast and crew unemployed, and more specifically, the props master or armorer will likely be blacklisted for a while. That’s if there isn’t a liability suit levied against them by the families of the fallen or charges filed by the state. However, my guess would be that due to the nature of the business, this would likely end up in civil court, not criminal, because it’s a question about how negligent all involved were and to what extent. In many ways, it’s similar to a multi-car car crash; right now it’s about sorting out what happened, why, and who is at fault. Due to the nature of the film making though, it’s very apparent that this was well and truly an accident.
As a performer, I can say that guns are a tricky thing on set. This was a low budget, (under 6 million dollar) indie film being made, and when I’ve worked on those features, it’s not nearly held to the same standards as films with enormous budgets. Believe it or not, sometimes that’s part of the fun of doing them: you get creative about problem solving, egos are checked at the doors, and your day can feel like it’s filled with more acting in it since the movie is going to hinge on the performers and the script and not special effects. And on any movie set, the days are long, the nights are short, and everyone is pushed to their limits. But stunts and props are two areas where there must be ruthless attention to detail to specifically prevent accidents like this from happening, and due to human nature, accidents will eventually occur.
But the downside is that you’re not going to have a lot of resources or coverage. One person might be the entire costume department and most of the characters might be wearing clothes that belong to the actors with only a few rented pieces. In the case of the props department, this production only had one person running the props. Did this person rent the prop gun from a prop’s warehouse in New Mexico? Did they pack their own charges to make blanks to save money? We don’t have a lot of details. “Live round” can mean a lot of things; but for this case to be murder, someone would have been planning to have this happen on purpose, which doesn’t appear to be the case.
On every set with prop guns, actors are told how to handle the weapons and safety meetings are done. But when a performer is handed a weapon, they are the last person in what should be a chain of people who have ensured the safety of that weapon. Even so, human beings are imperfect during filming; the days are long, the nights are short, and everyone is pushed to their limits. Stunts and props are two areas where there must be ruthless attention to detail to specifically prevent accidents like this from happening, but on a long enough timeline with human beings as part of the equation, accidents will eventually occur.
How did the Director and DP get shot?
My gut is telling me it’s because of a camera shot like this or something very similar. A lot of people assume that Alec must have been playing around with the gun for this accident to have occurred, which I find doubtful. Many of the sets I’ve been on have stringent rules for gun safety, even with the fake rubber and plastic guns. From my time on set, my first assumption, (because of who was shot), was that it was this kind of camera shot, where the camera and crew are in front of the gun, that was being done when the accident occurred.
When your gun is supposed to be firing blanks and the camera is trying to capture the action of the barrel of the gun and the performers face from the point of view of his target, you’re going to have the camera and crew in front of the gun. My guess is that the gun was pointed just off center of the camera where the DP and Director were standing, likely in a camera rehearsal.
It’s not uncommon at all for the director and DP to stand next to the camera as they are working out the shot during a rehearsal. I’m pretty convinced that’s how this accident happened.
This event is a tragedy, but according to the information coming out, it doesn’t sound like Alec Baldwin had pre-meditated murder in mind when handling the firearm. If anything, this is likely a negligence case and will be levied at the props master or the armorer for the film. Just because Alec was literally holding the smoking gun doesn’t make this a murder, or him a murderer.
I felt compelled to write this because I’ve seen some pretty harsh hazing from other conservatives on this, as well as some liberals. Having worked so much on set, I really feel for Alec. I can completely imagine the scenario where he is told as the actor to point the gun at or near the camera or the crew and fire the weapon, and can only imagine the horror of seeing two people fall down, injured as a result. As Michael Massee, who played Funboy on The Crow, and who fired the weapon that ended up killing Brandon Lee can tell you, it’s a guilt you carry with you forever.