Film-Set Shooting Raises Host of Crisis Issues

Dylan Johnson 10.28.21

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Alec Baldwin’s now-infamous shooting accident on a film set in New Mexico had many people and groups scrambling to communicate their response. While most statements were appropriate and provide decent examples of crisis communications, the film company may have been remiss in a crucial part of crisis management: putting safety first.

The Oct. 21 accident during filming of Rust was a typical crisis in that at the onset information was murky about what had happened. Baldwin (pictured) fired a prop gun that released a projectile that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. Beyond that, many questions remain. At a press conference yesterday, both Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza and District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said it was too soon to determine whether criminal charges would be brought.

Details about working conditions on the set trickled out. We learned that camera-crew members left in protest before the accident and were replaced by non-union workers. The film’s chief electrician, Serge Svetnoy, posted on Facebook that the incident was due to “negligence and unprofessionalism.” Fingers now point to the film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, who was in charge of prop safety and reportedly handed the loaded gun to Baldwin, declaring it safe by shouting “cold gun.” Halls has not publicly commented on the situation.

Health Services

The film company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, put out a statement fairly quickly. It said safety was its first concern (that remains to be seen), it had no reports of problems with prop safety (ditto) and it was conducting an internal review. “We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time,” it wrote.

So, while the statement wasn’t particularly empathetic, at least it showed action in launching the internal probe and providing counseling. The company also shut down the movie set, though it’s unclear whether that was voluntary.

Of course, actor Baldwin needed to comment. He was initially taken in for questioning by investigators in the sheriff’s office. The next morning he tweeted, “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.” That was a better show of empathy.

‘Outrage, Shock’

Understandably, union members are upset at the situation. Liz Pecos, president of Local 480 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, spoke at a vigil for Hutchins in Albuquerque on Saturday. “We share the outrage and shock at her life being cut short in such a devastating way,” Pecos said. “Everyone deserves to go to work knowing they’ll be able to return home safely.”

As the law-enforcement investigation continues, it seems likely that the production company will continue to feel pressure. More information is coming out about the flouting of safety rules. To state the obvious: The best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent one.

The accident has opened a wider public discussion about on-set safety procedures and working conditions. A Change.org petition with more than 65,000 signatures has been launched to ban live firearms on set.

Photo Credit: PAN Photo Agency/Shutterstock

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