Witnesses said actor Alec Baldwin was "practicing" with a gun when it went off on the set of the film "Rust," striking and killing a cinematographer, according to court records released Sunday. They also revealed that a camera operator told authorities Baldwin had been careful with weapons on the set.
Cameraman Reid Russell told a detective that Baldwin was rehearsing a scene Thursday in which he was set to draw his gun while sitting in a church pew and point it at the camera. Russell said he was unsure whether the weapon was checked before it was handed to Baldwin.
The camera wasn't rolling when the gun went off, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Russell told a detective according to a search warrant affidavit.
Authorities said Friday that the assistant director, Dave Halls, had handed the weapon to Baldwin and announced “cold gun,” indicating it was safe to use. When asked about how Baldwin treated firearms on the set, Russell said the actor was very careful, citing an instance when Baldwin made sure a child actor was not near him when a gun was being discharged.
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The affidavit released Sunday also includes statements by director Joel Souza, who was standing behind Hutchins and was also wounded. He said Baldwin had been practicing Thursday when the gun went off.
The document details the moments before the shooting and shows that there was turmoil on the set the day of the shooting. Several members of the camera crew walked off the production in a dispute over payment and lodging, Russell said, and he was left with a lot of work to do. Only one camera was available to shoot, and it had to be moved because the light had shifted and there was a shadow.
Souza said that he was focused on how the scene would appear on camera. He said he recalled hearing the phrase “cold gun” being used before the shooting.
He said the scene they were shooting did not call for the use of live rounds.
Souza described the gunshot as sounding like a whip and a loud pop.
On Sunday, a crew member who worked with Halls on another project said she had raised safety concerns about him in 2019.
Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, said in a statement that she filed an internal complaint with the executive producers of Hulu’s “Into the Dark” series in 2019 over concerns about Halls’ behavior on set. Goll said in a phone interview Sunday that Halls disregarded safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics and tried to continue filming after the supervising pyrotechnician lost consciousness on set.
Halls has not returned phone calls and email messages seeking comment.
The production team making the film sent a letter to cast and crew on Sunday that was obtained by NBC News. It said that the work on the film would be halted at least through the duration of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office investigation. Authorities are still trying to determine the exact timeline around the handling of the gun before it arrived in Baldwin's hands.
The fatal shooting and previous experiences point to larger safety issues that need to be addressed, Goll said, adding that crew member safety and wellbeing were top issues in recent contract negotiations between a union that represents film and TV workers and a major producers’ group.
“This situation is not about Dave Halls. ... It’s in no way one person’s fault,” she said. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture.”
The film’s chief electrician Serge Svetnoy blamed producers for Hutchins’ death in an emotional Facebook post on Sunday. Svetnoy said he had worked with Hutchins on multiple films and faulted “negligence and unprofessionalism” among those handling weapons on the set. He said producers hired an inexperienced armorer.
Hollywood professionals say they’re baffled by the circumstances and production crews have quickly stepped up safety measures.
Jeffrey Wright, who has worked on projects including the James Bond franchise and the upcoming movie “The Batman,” was acting with a weapon on the set of “Westworld” when news broke of the shooting Thursday at a New Mexico ranch. “We were all pretty shocked. And it informed what we did from that moment on,” he said in an interview Sunday at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
“I don’t recall ever being handed a weapon that was not cleared in front of me — meaning chamber open, barrel shown to me, light flashed inside the barrel to make sure that it’s cleared,” Wright said. “Clearly, that was a mismanaged set.”
Actor Ray Liotta agreed with Wright that the checks on firearms are usually extensive.
“They always — that I know of — they check it so you can see,” Liotta said. “They give it to the person you’re pointing the gun at, they do it to the producer, they show whoever is there that it doesn’t work.”
A vigil for Hutchins was held Sunday in Southern California, where attendees exchanged tearful hugs and speakers echoed calls for heightened safety standards.
Baldwin, who is known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” has described the killing as a “tragic accident.”
Flaccus reported from Portland, Oregon. Michelle Eaton in Newport Beach, California, contributed to this report.