New Zealand stunt professional says lessons from Baldwin shooting are needed
New Zealand film industry members are troubled after the deadly shooting involving Alec Baldwin.
Local industry associations say New Zealand safety standards are high, but fatigue, low budgets, and long hours can still pose risks to performers and crew members.
Filming of Rust camerawoman Halyna Hutchins on Thursday highlighted several suspected errors and the intricate work of professionals such as gunmen on film sets.
“Everyone is baffled that this could possibly have happened,” said Equity New Zealand actress and president Jennifer Ward-Lealand.
“It’s a tragedy. It is an absolute tragedy. I don’t know how the film should go on.
Ward-Lealand and her husband Michael Hurst have both worked with firearms and gunsmiths on local productions.
Ward-Lealand said gun masters in her experience always carefully instructed actors and followed several security procedures and controls.
“That’s why I probably know that I should never put my finger on the trigger.”
Hurst said he couldn’t understand how the Hutchins shooting came about.
“The gun never leaves the armorer’s eye.”
In his experience, Hurst said actors were waiting for verbal and visual confirmation from armourers.
“It’s too problematic when something goes wrong. All armourers must be qualified.”
Hurst said police were informed when firearms were being used in the theater and several security plans should be followed closely.
New Zealand stunt pro Stuart Thorp said gunsmiths are often former military professionals and the use of guns on local sets required detailed planning.
“The armory itself is a special position and they know all about the different types of ammunition. In fact, the first assistant director is in control of the set.”
Rust’s director Joel Souza reportedly told investigators that three people were handling firearms, which the gunsmith and first assistant director checked before giving actors.
Thorp said it appeared that some crews were shooting live projectiles to fire near the set of New Mexico.
“It’s an assistant director who took the hot gun off the cart and handed it to Mr. Baldwin.”
But Baldwin believed it was a cold weapon or an unloaded weapon.
“The live weapon should never be near the propeller ammunition.”
Thorp, a member of the Stunt Guild of New Zealand, said the use of guns in productions involved safety briefing and often collaboration between different departments.
“Let’s say if you have a science fiction show, a company like Weta or the arts department could be transforming weapons,” Thorp said.
“Generally the rubber guns are under the art department.”
Different stunts can require different weapons and techniques. Thorp said that computer generated muzzle flash was sometimes used in scenes.
“Even if it’s a rubber weapon, treat every weapon as it is loaded.”
Thorp said after further ad hoc approaches a few decades ago that New Zealand laws now hold manufacturers and department heads responsible for ensuring that safety is taken seriously.
“In New Zealand, in my experience, the standards for such things are very strict.”
Other dangers could be rigging, but Thorp said the movie industry has adopted best practices from arborists, scaffolders, or any other industry where rigging has been used.
He said the fact that the crew had raised safety concerns in Rust prior to the shooting made the tragedy even more alarming.
“Usually not one thing has gone wrong. There are multiple levels of failure that lead to tragedy.”
He said the only good thing that could come out of the shootings was if the industry learned a lesson.
“We learn from accidents at work, accidents in adventure tourism. You can see human errors, be it fatigue, budget cuts or time constraints.”
Equity director Denise Roche said members of the actors’ union had come forward to express their grief over the New Mexico shooting.
Roche said a senior member shared his memories of unsafe practices. The actor said some lax safety standards on local sets in the 1970s would never be tolerated today.
Industry in New Zealand is now generally much better at enforcing safer labor practices in many areas, including the use of weapons, Roche said.
“Much has been done in the area of health and safety. There are quite a few dangers involved … All kinds of preparations need to be made.”
However, she said concerns remain about long hours leading to fatigue and accidents.
Most people in the industry were independent contractors who hated turning down bids, even if it meant 16-hour days, she said.
Seven Rust crew members reportedly left the set citing safety concerns a few hours before filming.
Roche said this strike was exceptional. She said that many cast and crew would normally not speak up about safety concerns for fear of being blacklisted.
The New York Times said Baldwin was rehearsing a gun he learned did not contain live ammunition.
A district attorney told the Times an investigation focused on ballistics to determine what type of cartridge was in the gun and who put the ammunition in the gun.