One of the most tragic production events of 2021 was the shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. It happened on the set of “Rust” last October. The weapon was in the hand of actor and producer Alec Baldwin and resulted in Hutchins’ death. Director Joel Souza also sustained injuries. The details are still being investigated today, but it should make us think about gun safety in video production.
Immediately following the events, there was an outcry to remove all real weapons from every set. The argument is that, in the current era, productions can use realistic replica weapons. Effects added in post-production make the weapon look like it was actually firing. Some Hollywood companies removed all live weapons immediately, like the ABC Police drama “The Rookie.” But is that the right move?
Others would say that weapons have been a Hollywood staple since the beginning, and there is a time and place for live weapons on set. Some situations you can’t replicate in post-production. This is especially true for small, independent productions. For example, you need a shot with a gun firing and a muzzle flash that lights up the scene. The argument is that the lighting will never look the same in post.
While both sides have a point, whenever a gun is brought onto a set, gun safety becomes everyone’s business. As a rule on a movie set, every weapon comes under the watchful care of the armorer. This includes all prop “dummy” weapons as well as “live” weapons that actually fire. The armorer also looks after every round of ammunition, real or blanks.
However, the armorer isn’t the only person with a responsibility to keep an eye on the weapons. The armorer will keep guns and ammo safe until the time they are needed on set. He or she will bring them out to the director, an AD or directly to the actor and demonstrate that the weapon has rounds or is clear or cold. Generally, they’ll hold a safety briefing before bringing any gun on set. Every crew member knows what is happening and any person can express additional safety precautions they would like to see put in place. For example, a camera operator might ask for an extra layer of plexiglass between them and the firing gun.
In those rare occasions where a weapon needs to be fired toward a camera, it’s common for the crew to set their shot, roll the camera and step away. This also includes those occasions when a blank is being fired. Depending on the type of load, even a so-called “blank” will discharge material.
The more complicated the scene and the more guns in play, the more precautions needed. The point is there always needs to be layer upon layer of safety. Additionally, everyone involved needs to be keenly aware of procedures for gun safety. And anyone should be able to shout “cut” if they feel the conditions are not safe. That includes all productions, small and large.