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Alec Baldwin v. Alec Baldwin: an Actor Failed by His Producer
Plus: A trip to swinging London, assigned!
Word came down yesterday that Alec Baldwin, along with prop armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the on-set shooting that took the life of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021.
Anthony Breznican’s writeup for Vanity Fair does a good job of breaking down the legal questions at hand, highlighting a few key factors—the foremost among them, to my mind, that live rounds were mixed in with dummy rounds—and noting that the investigation dispelled a few key myths (e.g., people at the set weren’t using the production’s guns for target practice, as some had suggested).
I am a little surprised that Baldwin has been charged and some of the statements by Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies are head scratching, at least in the context of this particular incident. “You should not point a gun at someone that you’re not willing to shoot,” she said in an interview. “That goes to basic safety standards.” I mean: yes, generally speaking, that is rule number one of gun safety. It is the rule that was drilled into my head as a gun owner myself. You should only point a gun at a person you want dead. But that particular rule doesn’t make sense on a movie set, where actors are constantly pointing guns at people they don’t actually want dead.
Which is why movie and television sets have lots and lots of other rules about gun safety, many of which seem to have been discarded on this set. Everything I’ve read about Hannah Gutierrez Reed’s performance on the set has led me to believe she was not taking her job nearly as seriously as she should have, from the crew members who walked off due (in part) to safety concerns—including accidental weapons discharges prior to the killing—to rumors (seemingly confirmed by Santa Fe officials) that live rounds were mixed in with dummy rounds, an almost unconscionably negligent act.
I’ve been on a set where a gun was being used before, and the thing that jumped out at me was how rigorous the safety precautions were: weapons were kept away from everyone until they were needed and when they came out there were multiple speeches, multiple checks to make sure the gun was either loaded or unloaded, multiple people (including, it should be noted, the actors) checking to make sure the guns were either loaded or unloaded and what they were loaded with if they were loaded, multiple people yelling “hot set” or something equivalent when a live weapon was on set, etc. A gun is not a toy, a prop gun is not like other props, and ammunition can kill you even if it’s a blank.
All of this is done to protect not only the actor who will have the weapon pointed at him but also the actor wielding the weapon. Actors need to trust (but verify!) that they’re being handed safe weapons so they can do their job.
All of which is to say that I am actually kind of sympathetic to Alec Baldwin, the actor, in this situation. He was failed in multiple ways and on multiple levels by multiple people. Unfortunately for Alec Baldwin the actor, Alec Baldwin the producer is one of the people who failed him. Even if Baldwin wasn’t in charge of hiring the armorer, the producer is the ultimate authority on a set. He’s in charge of everything, even above the director. If the work environment is unsafe, it’s on the producer as much as anyone else. To put it in crassly blunt terms: the producer’s the guy who gets the Oscar statue when a movie wins Best Picture, and if you want the glory you have to accept the responsibility as well.
From everything I’ve read, the shooting location of Rust was an absolutely unsafe nightmare of a set. The producers failed the cast and crew alike. And the producer needs to take responsibility for the environment he helped create.
Make sure to check out the bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle that went up this morning; we had a great time talking The Menu, available on HBO Max now.
And make sure to listen to the Bulwark Goes to Hollywood episode dropping tomorrow. I talked to Rene Reyes of the Paley Center about the upcoming PaleyFest LA, one of the most entertaining media events of the year. Tickets are on sale now, and you can subscribe to BGTH here.
This week I reviewed two one-word movies, Missing and Plane. They don’t really have very much in common apart from that and being in theaters now. But I still think it’s a pretty good joint review! You should click it, click it now!
Happy 77th birthday to David Lynch:
RIP to David Crosby of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young fame.
RIP also to Edward Pressman, one of the great independent producers of our age.
Film festivals are steering away from potentially controversial films because the people who staff those festivals are terrified of being dragged by morons on Twitter who denounce the movies that are scheduled to play for being problematic. There’s a certain reaping/sowing, leopards-eating-faces element to this that is amusing, but we shouldn’t allow schadenfreude to obscure that this is an artistic disaster for the world of independent film and beyond.
Assigned Viewing: Blow-Up (HBO Max)
I’ve been reading Jon Lewis’s recent book Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture in bits and pieces over the last couple of weeks, and the chapter on Michelangelo Antoniono’s Zabriskie Point reminded both of how little I like that movie and how much I enjoy the film that inspired American studios to throw money at him. Blow-up is just a wonderful piece of visual storytelling, from lead David Hemmings’s jaunt about swinging London to his attempted unraveling of the film’s central mystery (which asks if he accidentally caught a murder via his camera lens). It is both of its time and timeless.