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Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ shooting accident: Prop master advocates for stricter guidelines, frequent safety checks

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The shocking death of Halyna Hutchins has left the film industry stunned.

The cinematographer died Thursday after Alec Baldwin fired a loaded weapon that was handed to him by an assistant director who mistakenly believed it was safe to use on the New Mexico set of “Rust.” She was 42. Director Joel Souza was also hit and injured but has since been released from the hospital.

“[My reaction] was, ‘Wow, somebody messed up,’” prop master Lucien Charles told Fox News. “When you go to work, you’re not expecting to die that day. It’s just a bad situation.”

The 49-year-old, who is based in New York, has been a prop master for nearly 20 years. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he worked on “FBI: Most Wanted,” a television series executive produced by Dick Wolf. He’s currently involved with a Morgan Freeman film where the actor, 84, “does have a gun in it.”

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Filmmaker Halyna Hutchins is survived by her husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their son.

Filmmaker Halyna Hutchins is survived by her husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their son.
(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for AMC Networks)

“Props are anything that the actor will have in their hands,” Charles explained. “We’re responsible for preparing all the stuff that they need to tell the story. Whatever’s in the script – vehicles, weapons, newspapers. Even background actors, we’ll give them [props] to tell the story.”

A prop firearm is a loose definition that could apply to anything from a rubber toy to a real firearm that can fire a projectile, The Associated Press described. However, it’s considered a real gun if it’s used for firing, even with just blanks. A blank, the outlet noted, is a type of gun cartridge that contains gunpowder but no bullet. Still, it can seriously hurt or kill someone close by, the Actors Equity Association noted.

Charles said that on his sets in New York City, there are strict guidelines involved to ensure the safety of both cast and crew.

“We have a vendor where we rent guns that are specifically modified to shoot blanks if there’s any firing in the scene,” he explained. “And then once it gets to the set… we have to clear the guns with the police officers so they’re aware of what we have.”

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Alec Baldwin (right) was handed the firearm by assistant director Dave Halls (left), who believed there was no ammunition loaded.

Alec Baldwin (right) was handed the firearm by assistant director Dave Halls (left), who believed there was no ammunition loaded.
(IMDb/Getty Images)

According to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment for New York City, the NYPD Movie and TV Unit must be requested and assigned to a filming location when a project has a scene with prop firearms, weapons or actors in police uniforms. It states that all decisions about what is permitted are made by the Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting “working in close consultation with the NYPD Movie & TV Unit, and other key agencies.”

A rep for the New Mexico Film Office referred Fox News to IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Local 480, the film union hub in New Mexico, also didn’t immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Charles also noted that safety meetings are essential for the whole crew.

“We make the announcement about the weapons, how the weapons are going to shoot and what rounds we’re loading … ,” he said. “Once all of that goes through, we hand the gun to the actor. We make sure they’re aware if it’s either a hot gun, if it’s loaded with blanks, or if it’s a cold gun and it has no bullets in it.”

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Candles are placed in front of a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Oct. 23, 2021, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Candles are placed in front of a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on Oct. 23, 2021, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 
(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Charles said that whenever there’s a shooting scene involved, the crew has to “stay away from wherever the action is.”

“Usually a camera will be there,” he said. “We’ll give them shade shields [and] ear protection, depending on how loud the load is. I do a safety check every time before I hand a gun to an actor. If you do enough safety checks along the way, nothing should happen. But obviously, the gun on Alec Baldwin’s set was not checked. Because if it was, they would have seen the bullet in there. Because a blank and a bullet look like two different types of ammo. With a bullet, you know. You have the bullet at the end of the casing. But on a blank, the front is crimped.”

“They would have been able to tell the difference if they had done a proper safety check,” he added.

Charles said he’s never been afraid or worried that something could go wrong on any set he’s working on because there are always multiple safety checks involved before a prop gun is used.

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Mourners attend a candlelight vigil for Halyna Hutchins at IATSE West Coast Office on Oct. 24, 2021, in Burbank, California.

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil for Halyna Hutchins at IATSE West Coast Office on Oct. 24, 2021, in Burbank, California.
(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

“I know what I’m handing [the actor],” he said. “Plus, you can’t really load a real bullet into a prop gun that’s been modified. The casings for the blanks are a little thinner, a little smaller, and they modify the barrel. So a real bullet can’t be put in it.”

Charles also pointed out that when it came to projects he’s been involved with like “The Blacklist” and “FBI: Most Wanted,” the actors became well-educated with the props they were using – and what can occur if they’re not careful.

“They did send the actors to weapons specialists for theatrical gun training – how to hold a gun,” he said. “Because a lot of them, they don’t know how to hold a gun and never shot a gun before. So they get… the same class that union members take with the vendor weapon specialists.”

The weapons master is required to be on set whenever a weapon is being used. The Actors’ Equity Association’s guidelines state that “Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.” Further, “All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.”

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The investigation surrounding the "Rust" set that resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins is still ongoing.

The investigation surrounding the “Rust” set that resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins is still ongoing.
(Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

The specific circumstances of the “Rust” shooting are still being investigated.

“[I hope] people become more aware of doing safety checks and having stricter guidelines on set,” he said. “And hire a professional with the experience and the credentials to handle the job.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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