On a ranch in northern New Mexico, where the cottonwoods and the dusty foothills have formed the backdrop of Westerns since the 1950s, Alec Baldwin was filming a new movie that hinges on an accidental killing and its aftermath.
Now law-enforcement officials are investigating what happened on the set on Thursday when, they said, Mr. Baldwin, who was playing an outlaw, fired a gun being used as a prop — killing the film’s cinematographer, wounding its director and raising new questions about firearms safety on film sets.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office has shared few details of how the deadly incident unfolded on the set of the film, “Rust,” leaving it unclear what kind of gun was being used, what it was loaded with, and what exactly was happening when it was fired.
“We’re trying to determine right now how and what type of projectile was used in the firearm,” Juan Rios, a spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, said on Thursday.
But the results were deadly: Halyna Hutchins, 42, the film’s director of photography, was killed, and its director, Joel Souza, 48, was injured in the shooting, which took place Thursday afternoon at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe County.
“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,” Mr. Baldwin, 63, said in a statement Friday on Twitter. “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
There have been reports of labor unrest on the set of the film, which Mr. Baldwin was also credited as a producer on. Several members of the crew walked off the set earlier this week over working conditions, according to a person familiar with the shoot.
Three guards from a private security stood at the locked gate to the Bonanza Creek Ranch around midday on Friday, telling journalists that access to the property was restricted. Earlier in the day, several unmarked vehicles from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department and the medical examiner’s office entered the site. Helicopters, apparently used by news organizations, hovered overhead at times during the day.
On film sets, the safety protocols for using guns are well established and straightforward: weapons must be tightly managed by licensed armorers, cast members should be trained in gun safety, and live ammunition should never be used.
Productions typically use real guns that are loaded with blanks, which can still be dangerous since they involve gunpowder, a cartridge and paper wadding or wax, which provide a realistic-looking flame and spark. (When people are injured by firearms on sets, it usually involves a burn to the hand, safety coordinators said.)
Mr. Rios said on Thursday night that the Sheriff’s Office had not filed charges against anyone in connection with the shooting.
After the shooting, Ms. Hutchins, an up and coming cinematographer who was initially from Ukraine, was flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she later died, Mr. Rios said. Mr. Souza, the director, was taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe; he was later released.
In a statement Thursday, the movie’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, said: “The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones. We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with the Santa Fe Police Department’s investigation. We will be providing counseling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event.”
In a statement, John Lindley, the national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, and Rebecca Rhine, the organization’s national executive director, called Ms. Hutchins’s death “devastating news.”
“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event,” their statement said. “This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our Guild’s family.”
Larry Zanoff, an armorer for films who worked on the set of “Django Unchained” and was not involved in “Rust,” said that in general, only blank ammunition — a cartridge case with no bullet — is sanctioned on a film set. Productions sometimes use prop guns, such as rubber guns or replica guns, but oftentimes they use actual firearms firing blanks, he said.
“The safety guidelines that we live by on television and movie sets prohibit the use of live ammunition on a set,” he said. A production will typically institute rules for keeping a safe distance from the muzzle of a gun, which is usually 20 feet, he added.
A statement from the New Mexico Film Office on Oct. 6 said Rust Movie Productions would employ 75 crew members, 22 actors and 230 “background talent.”
The shooting echoed an accident on a movie set in 1993 in which the actor Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, was shot and killed during a scene when a bullet that was lodged in the barrel of a gun was discharged along with a blank cartridge. “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza,” Brandon Lee’s sister Shannon Lee tweeted late Thursday.
And in 1984, the actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head and died when he was playing Russian roulette on set.
Mr. Baldwin, an Emmy Award-winning actor, has had a long career in movies, plays and television. In one of his best known roles, he played Jack Donaghy, an oblivious, domineering TV executive on the sitcom “30 Rock,” which ran on NBC from 2006 to 2013.
He also portrayed former President Donald J. Trump on “Saturday Night Live” with a custom-made wig, glued-on eyebrows and puckered lips. He and Mr. Trump sometimes sparred on social media.
Mr. Baldwin also has a history of run-ins with the police.
In 2014, he was arrested after he rode his bicycle the wrong way on Fifth Avenue near 16th Street in Manhattan. Officers charged him with disorderly conduct after they said he became belligerent.
In 2019, Mr. Baldwin pleaded guilty to harassment in Manhattan Criminal Court and agreed to take an anger management course in a deal with prosecutors to dispose of charges that he had assaulted a man during a dispute over a parking spot.
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