Hollywood production worker says fatal movie set shooting raises questions

Oct 23, 2021, 12:43 AM

SALT LAKE CITY Newly released court records indicate actor Alec Baldwin did not know a gun was loaded when he fired and fatally shot a cinematographer on a movie set in New Mexico.

According to the documents, an assistant director unknowingly handed Baldwin a loaded gun and said it was safe to use prior to the shooting that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead and director Joel Souza wounded. 

Crit Killen, a Utah resident who has worked on Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Star Wars Episode I (1999), as well as dozens of other movies in the fields of special effects, visual effects, art, writing, and props, said Friday the incident raises serious questions about how closely industry best practices and rules were followed.

“There’s a lot of interesting things on this that appear to be breakdowns here and there that I think will merit investigation,” Killen told KSL-TV. “The number one rule in the movie business is no live ammunition ever makes it to a movie set.”

Killen said for most major productions, prop guns — which are generally real guns with modifications or are equipped to fire blanks — are handled by a federal firearms-licensed special effects or props worker and are kept unloaded and off-set until they are used in scenes.

“It’s a check and a double-check and a triple-check to make sure the gun is empty,” Killen said. “In this case, it’s a Western, so I’m assuming it’s a single-action, Western revolver-type gun, so they would open up the gun, rotate the cylinder showing every chamber is empty.”

That’s if widely-accepted rules and practices were followed, Killen said.

He noted the rules have been almost universally used and adopted for major productions, which are commonly union jobs.

He acknowledged lower-budget, independent projects may not always adhere to the same standards.

“What happens is a lot of people have guns, so if they’re also filmmakers, they bring their own guns to the set,” Killen said. “They don’t necessarily have a person with budgetary constraints or talent — they don’t have someone that maybe has, A. that license and then, B. maybe has the experience to understand the real necessity of maintaining the protocol of making sure the gun is empty, etc, and passing that on to the actor.” 

Killen said he had lunch with actor Brandon Lee two weeks prior to Lee being killed in a similar incident during the production of “The Crow” in 1993.

“He was gaining ground and really going, and unfortunately, an incident happened where he was opposite a person with the gun, and evidently, there was a live round in that gun as well,” Killen said.

He said use of firearms on movie sets — even when they are loaded with blanks — can potentially be dangerous.

“You have to follow what’s tried and true and learned the hard way,” he said. “We have to follow those procedures.”

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Hollywood production worker says fatal movie set shooting raises questions