8 Months After ‘Rust’ Shooting, On-Set Gun Safety Hasn’t Changed

There’s been a lot of talk about preventing these tragedies, but artists are reluctant to let anyone pry the guns from their warm, soft hands
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A new story in The Hollywood Reporter checks in on the status of on-set gun safety following the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while filming Rust last October. It finds much of the tough talk in the immediate aftermath was just that: talk.

Eight months after the incident in New Mexico, in which Alec Baldwin fired an improperly prepared revolver that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, energy seems to be waning regarding substantial change in the industry.

“As outrage subsides, reform legislation is stalled or abandoned,” Gary Baum and Carolyn Giardina report. Though many of the film armorers they reached out to were “understandably” reluctant to trash their meal tickets publicly, the picture that emerges is one where legal proposals have stalled due to lack of compromise, and potentially switching to less lethal types of firearms on sets has been deemed, essentially, lame.

For example, one proposed replacement, Airsoft guns, “are replicas that don’t use gunpowder and shoot projectiles with vastly lower muzzle energy—in lieu of firearms retrofitted for blanks. When Airsoft guns are used, they’re augmented with visual effects, including smoke and muzzle flashes (typically the case when firearms are used, too).”

Execs like these low-energy props because they limit liability, obviously. Trouble is, they don’t look as convincing.

“The way the actors respond with real weapons looks better. You’re shooting an Airsoft gun and going pew-pew-pew—it doesn’t look as real,” South African armorer Bruce Wentzel, of Hire Arms, told THR. Even with graphic effects added afterward, it just doesn’t have the heft of the real deal. But visual effects specialists have pushed back on this notion, pointing out how much augmentation is already done on gunfire after filming.

Cinesite’s Chief VFX business development officer Drew Jones tells THR that “Gun shots/muzzle flashes are always added in post to some extent.” Transitioning to more digital, less real firearm usage would hardly be noticeable, in other words.

In the meantime, the jury is still out on whether Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson will stick by his November vow that “any movie that we have moving forward with Seven Bucks Productions—any movie, any television show, or anything we do or produce—we won’t use real guns at all.”

And legislative attempts at putting new rules into place have stalled over lack of compromise: “In mid-May, two competing California bills—one backed by industry trade group the Motion Picture Association, the other by several industry unions including SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild and several IATSE Locals—were killed in a state senate committee when both parties failed to reach a compromise on a unified approach.” Ever thus!

It all marks a sea change from the fiery rhetoric of last fall, when over 200 cinematographers and other film crew members signed an open letter calling for the end of using “functional firearms” on set.

“We vow to no longer knowingly work on projects using functional firearms for filming purposes,” the pros wrote. “We vow to no longer put ourselves and our crew in these unnecessarily lethal situations. We have safe alternatives in VFX and non-functional firearms. We won’t sit back and wait for the industry to change. We have a duty to effect change within the industry ourselves.”

More recent was an open letter published on the gun control site Brady United just a couple of weeks ago that didn’t call for actual firearm reduction on sets. Also boasting over 200 prominent film industry autographs—including those of J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Adam McKay, Judd Apatow, Shonda Rhimes, and Mark Ruffalo—the letter calls for changes in the way gun use is portrayed onscreen. Compared to the cinematographers’ letter, it’s pretty weak sauce:  “We are not asking anyone to stop showing guns on screen. We are asking writers, directors and producers to be mindful of on-screen gun violence and model gun safety best practices. Let’s use our collective power for good. Whenever possible, we will:

  • Use our creativity to model responsible gun ownership and show consequences for reckless gun use. We will make a conscious effort to show characters locking their guns safely and making them inaccessible to children
  • Have at least one conversation during pre-production regarding the way guns will be portrayed on screen and consider alternatives that could be employed without sacrificing narrative integrity.
  • Limit scenes including children and guns, bearing in mind that guns are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.”

Super.

Shortly before the release of this missive, Bill Maher pointed out a more glaring hypocrisy coming out of Hollywood: Why, in an industry that “bends over backwards” to parrot progressive values, are there still so many guns and gun-centric plots in movies, “functional” or otherwise? In a New Rules segment, he pores over a lengthy list of movies with “vengeance” in the title and makes some basic points that have been sorely missing from the Rust discussions, like:

– “The average American kid sees 200,000 acts of violence on screens before the age of 18.”

– “When it comes to the unbridled romanticization of gun violence, crickets. Weird. The only thing we don’t call a trigger is the one that actually has a trigger.”

– Countless major action films are, essentially, “One guy. Who’s the hero. Getting over a grudge by mowing down a multitude of human beings.”

One prescient reporter made a similar argument back in 2015. That got crickets, too, not counting the torrent of hate mail.

But not to worry: Christy Callahan, co-chair of Brady L.A., assures us in the THR story that “one of the only truly regulated places in the country for guns is a set.”


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