Bryan W. Carpenter believes the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins reveals an ongoing problem in Hollywood.
Authorities are investigating after confirming that a prop firearm discharged by Alec Baldwin while producing and starring in the Western film “Rust” killed the cinematographer and wounded the director.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s officials said Hutchins, 42, and Joel Souza were shot on the rustic film set in the desert on the southern outskirts of Santa Fe. Hutchins was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead by medical personnel, the sheriff’s department said. Souza, 48, was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center where he has since been released. Production has been halted.
“We all know that movie sets are very hectic, so following safety protocol becomes even more paramount at that point,” the weapons armorer told Fox News. “There’s no reason a live round should ever be within any distance of a movie set.”
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Carpenter is the founder and president of New Orleans-based Dark Thirty Film Services, LLC, which has been involved with several high-profile projects over the years, including “The Expendables,” “Bad Country,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Queen of the South,” and “22 Jump Street” among others.
“The primary role of an armorer on the set is to maintain the safety of the firearms being used,” he explained. “That’s the most important thing. The secondary responsibilities are to work with the talent and make sure they look correct while using the firearm while filming. We also work with the director to make sure the shots line up properly and safe distances occur.”
“I have worked on some lower budget shows, but I pick and choose the ones I work on and I know the crews are good and safe,” he shared. “You need to work with good quality studios, production offices and prop masters who follow safety protocol properly.”
Once a weapons armorer reviews the script, Carpenter said the appropriate firearms that complement the time period or character are ordered from reputable “prop houses” in the United States. Whenever they’re being used, multiple safety checks are required.
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“You check them to make sure they’re all clear,” he said. “You’re checking for blank rounds. There should never be a thought that there’s a live round in there. When you’re checking for blank rounds, you’re always looking for the possibility of anything else being there. You lock the weapons in the safe when they’re not in use and they must stay there. Those guns cannot be used for anything else. I always prep what I’m going to be using the next day in the safe. I separate everything and keep it locked. And above all, every time you open the safe, you check them.”
“You can never have too many checks,” he said. “If you think you’ve checked too much, check again. No one touches those weapons or uses them for anything else. The weapons only come out of the safe when it’s time to use them for a scene. And right before it’s handed to the talent, there’s a verification process. You make sure there are no obstructions in the barrel and that the cylinders, the chambers are clear. At a minimum, there should be two people present to verify that the weapon is in the condition that you say it is.”
Problems were already plaguing the “Rust” production before Baldwin, 63, fired the fatal shot. Hours before, a camera crew for the movie walked off the job to protest conditions and production issues that included safety concerns.
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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.
At a rehearsal on the film set, the gun Baldwin used was one of three that an armorer had set on a cart outside the building, according to court records. An assistant director, Dave Halls, grabbed a prop gun and handed it to Baldwin, indicating incorrectly that the weapon didn’t carry live rounds by yelling “cold gun.”
Carpenter said he’s been vocal over the years about the need for actors to attend safety training when handling weapons on set.
“It’s a dollars and cents thing,” he said. “They don’t want to spend the time bringing the personnel in to do it. They don’t want to spend the time paying the actor to have to come out and go through a training class and then have to bring their staff with them. Maybe it’s not in their contract. And if you think they were cutting corners before COVID, just imagine how bad it is now when they’re trying to save money because of all the dollars they’re spending on all the COVID regulations they’re putting out.”
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Carpenter recalled how he was part of a “gun-heavy show” months ago when he asked the studio “multiple times” if he could take the actors out for safety training. Carpenter alleged he was told no because “we don’t have that kind of money.”
“They just would not do it,” he said. “So on my own time, I got with the actors individually… One told me, ‘I want to know how to do this safely.’ So they took their own time to take a safety training class. You have studios that do care and want to do it the right way. But others just want to get through it and move on. But I do think safety training should be mandatory.”
In addition, Carpenter said there needs to be a national certification for armorers. Some locations like New York and California, he said, certify armorers. However, “the rest of the country pretty much doesn’t have anything.”
“If you’re down in the south and you’re hiring an armorer, anybody can convince a studio that they can do the job to potentially get it,” he explained. “There needs to be a vetting process where a professional armorer can provide their certifications, the safety schools they attended, their past work and what became of it, and why they’re considered a safe person to handle the job.”
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Without a national certification, studios, especially with a minimal budget, may be swayed to “save a dollar” and hire someone who has a lesser rate but doesn’t fully meet the qualifications, he pointed out.
“That’s a recipe for disaster if you ask me,” said Carpenter. “I had a show a few years back, a lower budget show. One of the line producers asked me if I would come in and work. I gave her my quote… She came back to me a few days later and said, ‘Some of the producers got a quote from another guy who is well under your quote.’ It’s a small circle. They called the guy’s name out and I had never heard of him. I called the union to check if they’ve ever heard of him and they haven’t either. With a little research, I found out he had worked as an extra on two movies in the state of Alabama. After working two shows as an extra, he’s now bidding on a job as a professional armorer who is, and I quote, ‘bringing his own guns.’”
Carpenter claimed he bowed out of the project and the person in question was hired.
“By the grace of God, no one got hurt,” he said. “But that shows you how things are when people are willing to save money but don’t care if [the individual is] trained properly or even has any experience whatsoever. Three things on a movie set can kill you fast – stunts, effects and armorer. And generally, they will cut the budget on all three of those more than they will cut on anything else.”
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New Mexico workplace safety investigators are examining if film industry standards for gun safety were followed during the production of “Rust.” 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.
One crew member said he never witnessed any formal orientation about weapons used on set, which normally would take place before filming begins. He also said only minimal COVID-19 precautions were taken even though crew and cast members often worked in small enclosed spaces on the ranch.
Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the film’s armorer, 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.
As the investigation continues, Carpenter hopes Hollywood will get its act together.
“This should have never happened,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.