Safety procedures on the New Mexico set of the movie Rust were under increasing scrutiny on Sunday as colleagues, friends and family paid tribute to the cinematographer shot dead by the actor Alec Baldwin in what appeared to be an accidental misfire.
A vigil for Halyna Hutchins, the 42-year-old director of photography killed after Baldwin was handed a loaded revolver by the western’s production crew, took place in Albuquerque attended by industry professionals including a number of Hollywood actors including Jon Hamm and John Slattery, who are filming projects nearby.
In a statement, Joel Souza, the movie’s director who was struck in the shoulder by the shot that killed Hutchins, and released from hospital after treatment, said: “I am gutted by the loss of my friend and colleague, Halyna. She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better.”
Some of those who attended the vigil held signs calling for better safety protocols on film sets. “I think that it’s definitely a stark reminder for gun safety on set, and I am with the idea of banning real guns from set if that is possible,” Cheryl Lowe, a film worker, told Reuters.
Investigators from the Santa Fe sheriff’s department were focusing on concerns raised by crew members, including claims of “super unsafe” conditions on the set, and particularly the actions of the movie’s assistant director Dave Halls, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The film’s producers have said they had not been told about safety issues but will be “conducting an internal view of our procedures while production is shut down”. Such incidents on film sets are very rare.
A police search warrant states that Halls selected the weapon from a tray of three prepared by the movie’s armourer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, and handed it to Baldwin with the words: “cold gun”, indicating that the prop firearm was not loaded with a live round. The Guardian has contacted Halls for comment.
The Times has also reported tension on set between crew members and the veteran assistant director in the hours leading up to last Thursday’s tragedy, which took place just days into a scheduled three-week shoot in the New Mexico desert.
Sources told the newspaper that crucial safety protocols, including required regular inspection of weapons, were not followed. Meanwhile, on the day of the incident, at least six camera crew members had walked off the set in protest at working conditions, including that they were required to make a 100-mile round-trip each day to work.
Baldwin, 63, one of Hollywood’s best known actors, has cooperated with investigators. Hutchins’s father, Anatoly Androsovych, said he did not blame the actor for his daughter’s death.
“We still can’t believe Halyna is dead and her mother is going out of her mind with grief. But I don’t hold Alec Baldwin responsible. It is the responsibility of the props people who handle the guns,” he told the Sun on Sunday.
He said that Baldwin, best known for his roles in the NBC comedy 30 Rock and his satirical portrayal of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, had been in contact with Hutchins’s husband Matthew to send his sympathy to him and the couple’s nine-year-old son Andros.
“The little boy has been very badly affected. He is lost without his mother,” Androsovych said, adding that his son-in-law was considering legal action.
Baldwin paid tribute to Hutchins in his own statement last week. “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” he said.
Crew members who spoke anonymously to the LA Times said they were concerned about the relentless pace of the production shoot. “Every day on that set, it was just go-go-go. They were in such a rush to get things done,” said one.
Others said they were puzzled how Halls, 62, had handed Baldwin a loaded gun without checking it first, and stating wrongly that it was not loaded. In a recording of a 911 call made by the script supervisor Mamie Mitchell, obtained by the Albuquerque Journal, she said Halls had yelled at her earlier in the day.
“He’s supposed to check the guns. He’s responsible for what happens on the set,” she said.
Detectives have also spoken with Reed, 24. Her role on Rust was the second time that she had acted as head armourer, following the Nicolas Cage western The Old Way, filmed earlier this year.
Authorities have not given an update on the case since Friday, when they said inquiries were at “a preliminary stage”.
“At this time, we do not know if charges will be filed. We will look into all facts and evidence of the case with great discretion and have further information at a later time. Our thoughts are with all affected by this tragedy,” the Santa Fe district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies, said in a statement.
Efforts to reach Reed for comment were unsuccessful.