Dave Halls, the Rust assistant director who handed actor Alec Baldwin the loaded gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins last week, had been fired from a movie set in 2019 over what producers are characterizing as the negligent discharge of a firearm.
A producer for the film Freedom’s Path confirmed to Rolling Stone that Halls, who served as an assistant director, was terminated on the spot after a gun “unexpectedly discharged” on his watch.
“I can confirm that Dave Halls was fired from the set of Freedom’s Path in 2019 after a crew member incurred a minor and temporary injury when a gun was unexpectedly discharged. Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged. Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site,” the producer said in the statement. “An incident report was taken and filed at that time.”
At least one cast member on Rust says he had no idea he had been working around so many prop firearms with an assistant director with such a history.
“I did not know that and definitely would have liked to,” actor Ian A. Hudson, who was cast as an outlaw character in Rust, tells Rolling Stone. “Hearing that upsets me and makes me feel even more unsure about the industry I’ve been so passionate about. I never anticipated starting my career like this.”
The actor says “more care should have been taken to assure everyone’s safety, from hiring, to on-set precautions. If people are overworked, tired or not following proper on-set protocol, production should stop, no excuses.”
In an interview with TMZ, Hudson said he felt powerful blanks hitting his face and body while shooting an “intense” scene with some 20 pistols and two rifles on Oct. 8. He said the camera behind him was protected with a shield, but he was not.
“I could feel the wind from the shotgun being discharged. It was heavy. It was strong,” he told TMZ.
According to CNN, which first reported Halls’ termination from Freedom’s Path, the discharge that led to his firing caused a sound-crew member to recoil from the blast and receive treatment from an on-set medic. The crew member, who returned to the production a few days later, declined to comment when reached by CNN.
Halls has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Rolling Stone.
Hutchins, 42, died Thursday after she was struck by a bullet fired by Baldwin from a prop revolver handed to him by Halls during a rehearsal inside a “church building” on the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Sante Fe, New Mexico, according to search-warrant paperwork released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
Halls “grabbed” one of three “prop guns” set up by the production’s 24-year-old armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, from a rolling cart “left outside of the structure, due to Covid-19 restrictions,” the search warrant states.
Halls handed the gun to Baldwin and allegedly yelled “Cold gun,” indicating the firearm did not contain any blanks or bullets and was safe to use for the indoor rehearsal that was underway, police say.
For the scene, Baldwin was sitting in a wooden pew and practicing a “cross draw,” in which he pulled the gun from its holster and pointed it toward the camera lens, director Joel Souza, who also was injured in the incident, told investigators.
Camera operator Reid Russell said the afternoon shoot went ahead even after “about six” members of the film’s camera crew walked out that morning amid complaints of mistreatment. The union crew was replaced by nonunion workers, and the production resumed after lunch. Shortly before Baldwin accidentally fired the bullet that killed Hutchins, the crew “had to move the camera at a different angle from Alec” because there was a shadow coming from the outside light, Russell told investigators, according to the search warrant.
Russell recalled hearing a loud bang from the firearm, noticing that Souza was bleeding and hearing Hutchins say she couldn’t feel her legs. He also said he considered Baldwin a conscientious actor who previously made sure a child wasn’t near him when he discharged a firearm for a prior scene.
Crew member Serge Svetnoy, who also witnessed the shooting, shared a scathing post on Facebook, in which he placed blame for the deadly incident on Rust producers for hiring a young, relatively inexperienced armorer for such a gun-heavy production.
“To save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job, and you risk the lives of the other people who are close, and your lives as well,” he wrote. “I understand that you always fight for the budget, but you cannot allow this to happen. There should always be at least one professional in each department who knows the job. It is an absolute must to avoid such a tragedy, like the tragedy with Halyna.”
Rust producers did not respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.
Neither Halls nor Gutierrez Reed have publicly commented since Hutchins died. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is planning a Wednesday press conference to give an update on its investigation.
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