A real-life tragedy happened on a movie set.
Police say US actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza in a New Mexico-set film. They were working on the movie Rust.
Tributes have been paid to Mrs. Hutchins, 42, while Baldwin is said to be upset. A local newspaper found him in tears outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
An investigation is ongoing and we still don’t know what went wrong. A Baldwin spokesperson said there was an incident on set that involved a blank pistol failing to fire.
While they seem harmless, both flare and blanking guns can be dangerous. Here’s what we know about them.
What is a prop gun?
Blanks are used in the film industry to mimic real ammunition.
The reason they are so compelling is that the blanks are essentially modified real bullets.
Modern bullets consist of a cartridge, consisting of a shell that contains a propellant powder. When a gun fires, it ignites the propellant, firing forward the bullet attached to the front of the bullet.
Instead of using a metal bullet, the blanks have material like cotton or paper attached to the front.
While prop guns could mean non-functioning weapons, such as hat guns, the term also applies to actual weapons used on movie sets.
Together they add authenticity to productions – shoot blanks using a prop pistol and you’ll get a loud bang, a recoil, and what’s known as a muzzle flash, the visible light created by burning the powder.
Has this type of accident happened before?
Yes. You might remember Brandon Lee, the actor son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
Brandon Lee died aged just 28 in 1993 while filming The Crow when he was shot at a prop pistol that had mistakenly loaded a dummy bullet.
Dummy bullets are used for close-ups and should have been removed when the blank was loaded.
After Lee was shot, the cameras continued to roll. It was only when he didn’t get up at the end of the scene that those on set realized something was wrong.
In another incident, in 1984, US actor Jon-Erik Hexum began joking on the set of a TV show after being frustrated by filming delays.
He loaded a blank revolver, swung the camera, pointed the gun to his head and fired.
Unlike Lee’s case, he wasn’t killed by a bullet, but the force of the blast was strong enough to fracture his skull. He died days later in the hospital.
How can blanks and props be used safely?
Hexum’s death highlights a problem with blanks – even without a bullet tip they can be extremely dangerous.
In addition to the risk, some film sets use extra powder to make the visual impact stronger.
Movie sets usually have strict rules on the use of prop guns. Specialized gunsmiths provide weapons for use on movie sets and advise their use.
“If someone really put a live bullet in it, number one they shouldn’t have been on set,” said Bill Davis, a weapons expert who has worked on several film and television productions.
“Number two, they should have first visually inspected the gun with a pencil along the barrel and a flashlight to make sure there were no obstructions in the mechanism and number three, they must inspect the shot that is going in there.”
Others who work in film have wondered why, at a time when the effects of firearms can be added at low cost using computers, blanks are still being used.
“There is no longer any reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set. It should be completely outlawed,” tweeted Craig Zobel, an actor and director whose credits include Westworld and Mare of Easttown.
“Stage weapons are guns,” TV writer David Slack tweeted. “Salvos contain real gunpowder. They can hurt or kill – and they do. If you are on a set where prop guns are handled without due care and safe handling, walk away.
“No show or shot is worth risking people’s lives,” he added.
- United States
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