The heartbreaking incident that resulted in the death of a cinematographer on a film set last week left doubts about the use of firearms in the entertainment industry.
Actor Alec Baldwin said his heart broke after he shot director of photography Halyna Hutchins to death with a prop gun in New Mexico on Thursday.
Director Joel Souza, who was standing behind Hutchins, was injured.
Who is responsible for gun safety on movie sets?
Responsibility for the use of pistols and other weapons rests with the proprietary master of each production or weapons expert.
They protect weapons when not in use and instruct actors on their correct and safe use. They also load the firearms and check them before and after each scene.
What are the rules?
There is no definitive regulation on the use of firearms in the film industry.
According to the AP news agency, the U.S. Federal Occupational Safety Agency does not regulate gun safety on set, and many states leave it to the industry to create and follow their own rules.
Professor Dan Leonard of Chapman University in California, who specializes in on-set regulations, tells the BBC “it is generally left to the industry to develop and control guidelines … and those guidelines, if followed, can enable the safe use of firearms on set “.
But even in this case, there is no definitive set of procedures and protocols.
Perhaps the closest to a list of suggested rules is that published by the Industry-wide Labor Directorate Safety Committee.
His recommendations include:
- Empty spaces can kill. Treat all firearms as if they were loaded
- Refrain from pointing a firearm at yourself or anyone else
- Never put your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot
- Anyone involved in the use of a firearm must be thoroughly informed during an on-set security meeting
- Only a qualified person should load a firearm
- Protective shields, eye and hearing protection should be used by anyone in the immediate vicinity or on the line of fire
- Any actor who is required to stay close to the line of fire should be allowed to witness the loading of firearms
But the committee points out that its guidelines “are not binding laws or regulations” and, as Professor Leonard points out, its security paper appears to have been last revised in 2003.
“There have been a lot of advances in digital special effects technology since then [then] which could be used to do much of this work in post-production, even in low-budget independent films, ”he says.
Movie studio Warner Bros has published its own gun rules, while the Actors’ Equity Association has tips for artists.
Will stricter rules be introduced?
Incidents like the one on the set of Rust are incredibly rare, but calls for a ban on real firearms on movie sets have grown, with a petition that garnered over 23,000 signatures by Monday. Actor Olivia Wilde was among those a give support.
California Senator Dave Cortese said Saturday it would push a bill banning live ammunition on movie sets in the state.
He said: “There is an urgent need to address alarming workplace abuse and security breaches that occur on the set of theatrical productions, including unnecessary high-risk conditions such as the use of real firearms.”
But some industry professionals said the problem wasn’t simply the use of real guns.
SL Huang, gunsmith, stuntman and writer, said on Twitter that if you follow standard procedures, accidents shouldn’t happen.
Gary Harper – who has worked as a gunsmith in films such as The Last Samurai and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – he told The Hollywood Reporter that direct close-up shots at the camera are often required and can be taken safely.
Use a perspex sheet between the actor with the gun and whoever is behind the camera, while the camera operator will also be dressed in protective clothing.
Professor Leonard believes that “there must be a more rigorous application of these [existing] policies and more regulation especially for low-budget independent films “.
And he adds: “This will save lives. Nobody should lose their life making a film.”
- What are prop guns and why are they dangerous?
- Baldwin was pointing his gun at the camera on the film set
- The world of cinema is crying “incredible artist” and looking for answers
So why use real guns?
“There is no longer any reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set. It should be completely outlawed,” he tweeted. Craig Zobel, an actor and director whose credits include Westworld and Mare of Easttown.
However he later admitted that live shows “have a role on the set”, but they made him nervous.
In an interview with Variety, property owner Dutch Merrick said the fake guns weren’t that convincing, but that safe environments were key.
“I work on the SEAL Team show and we do a lot of gunshots on this one. If you’ve told the actors to simulate the shooting with a toy or replica, you make it look like they’re shooting, that’s nonsense.
“You give him a real gun that really shoots, and he’s dangerous up front and the bullets come out to the side and he gives him recoil, and he puts him in the environment and now you have the realism that is the magic that is Hollywood.
“It’s completely safe, but he’s putting it in the environment, where it’s as real as possible. And it’s my job to make sure nobody gets hurt.”
In a blog for the American Society of Cinematographers published in 2019, Dave Brown wrote: “CGI can be used for close range gunshots that could not be safely obtained otherwise, but yes, even with all the advances in visual effects and computer generated imagery, we continue to shoot with blanks.
“The reason is simple: we want the scene to appear as real as possible. We want the story and the characters to be believable.”
He added that this can only be safely achieved by hiring expert firearms experts.
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