The assistant director who handed actor Alec Baldwin a prop firearm that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza on the set of “Rust” last week had been fired from a previous film in 2019 after an unexpected discharge on that set, according to a producer from that film.
Assistant director Dave Halls, who was identified in an affidavit as the person who handed Baldwin the gun, was fired from “Freedom’s Path” in 2019 after a crew member was injured following the unexpected discharge of a firearm, said a producer from “Freedom’s Path,” who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the current investigation.
“Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged,” the producer said. “Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site. An incident report was taken and filed at that time.”
Halls’s name appeared in an affidavit filed by a detective from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office after the recent fatal shooting on the set of “Rust.”
The document provides a fuller picture of how the tragedy unfolded on the set of the New Mexico production last week, down to some of Hutchins’s final moments.
Among the details: About six crew members had walked out on the film in protest of issues related to payment and housing, and they wrote a letter to producers about their disagreements over labor conditions.
The detective spoke after the Thursday incident with Souza, who said work started late that day because they hired another camera crew to step in for those who had walked out. They were only working with one camera, according to Souza, so the day also progressed at a slower pace than usual. He stood beside Hutchins that afternoon to view the camera angle for a scene set inside a church building at Bonanza Creek Ranch.
Souza recalled Baldwin sitting on a pew while rehearsing the scene, which required the actor to cross draw his character’s weapon and point it toward the camera. The director remembered someone saying “cold gun” before Baldwin was handed the firearm, a term used to confirm that the weapon did not contain any live rounds. (That person is identified as assistant director Dave Halls elsewhere in the affidavit.)
Baldwin was practicing that move when Souza heard what he described as “a whip and then loud pop.” He said Hutchins held her abdomen before stumbling backward. She was then helped to the floor. Souza saw blood on Hutchins and noticed he was bleeding from the shoulder.
In a separate interview with the detective, Reid Russell, a camera operator who stood near Souza and Hutchins that day, said he remembered the cinematographer saying she couldn’t feel her legs.
Both Souza and Russell told the detective everyone on set seemed to be getting along that day. Russell noted that Baldwin had been “very careful” while handling firearms on set, mentioning another scene in which the actor made sure to stay away from a child while discharging a weapon.
The interviews explain why Baldwin had been pointing the prop gun in Souza and Hutchins’s direction, but not why they were injured and killed, respectively, after it was discharged.
Hannah Gutierrez, the daughter of widely known Hollywood armorer Thell Reed, acted as the armorer on “Rust.” As such, she was in charge of managing firearms used on set and ensuring they were safely handled. The affidavit states that Gutierrez left three prop guns on a cart outside the building, from which Halls grabbed one and handed it to Baldwin for the rehearsal. Halls was under the impression it did not contain any live rounds when he said “cold gun,” according to the document.
Halls and Gutierrez did not return The Washington Post’s requests for comment.
Jeremy Goldstein, an Israeli military veteran and a Hollywood armorer himself, previously told The Post via email that he was alarmed Halls had handled the weapon.
“No crew member should be handling a weapon of any kind other than the armorer, designated prop person or actor. Full stop,” Goldstein said. “The armorer must clear all firearms with the [first assistant director] when bringing them to set, and verify that they are unloaded. Then the armorer does the same with the actor, but the firearm does not leave the custody of the armorer or designated prop person.”
In an emotional Facebook post Sunday afternoon, chief electrician Serge Svetnoy wrote that he was standing right next to Souza and Hutchins when Baldwin discharged the weapon. He considered Hutchins a friend, having worked with her before, and described “holding her in my arms while she was dying.” The tragedy, he said, was “the fault of negligence and unprofessionalism.”
Svetnoy called attention to the mismanagement of firearms on set, claiming that the “person who was supposed to check the weapon on the site did not do this.” He expressed concern over Gutierrez’s lack of experience as a 24-year-old armorer and wrote that budget-concerned producers sometimes cut corners by riskily hiring people “who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job.”
“Dear Producers, by hiring professionals, you are buying peace of mind for yourself and the people around you,” Svetnoy wrote. “It is true that the professionals can cost a little more and sometimes can be a little bit more demanding, but it is worth it. No saved penny is worth the LIFE of the person!”
The Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrews contributed to this report.