Manitoba

Winnipeg film community shocked by death of Halyna Hutchins, who worked in the city recently

Members of Manitoba's film industry are in shock after the death of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who worked in Winnipeg recently.

Death was avoidable and shouldn't have happened: Gun expert

Filmmaker Halyna Hutchins attends the 2018 Sundance Film Festival Official Kickoff Party on January 19, 2018 in Park City, Utah. (Sonia Recchia/Getty Images)

Members of Manitoba's film industry are in shock after the death of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who worked in Winnipeg recently.

Hutchins, the cinematographer who was fatally shot by American actor Alec Baldwin last Thursday on the set of the Western Rust near Santa Fe, N.M., was in Winnipeg over the summer for the filming of the young adult horror movie Time Cut.

"We're sitting there, and all of a sudden we read the name and it was like, 'Oh my God, we just worked with her two months ago,'" said Dave Brown, a Winnipeg-based firearms safety expert who met Hutchins in the summer.

Brown, who has taught firearms safety in Hollywood, said learning about the talented cinematographer's death has been emotionally draining for staff on set in Manitoba including his wife, an assistant director who worked with Hutchins for three weeks on Time Cut — a production he said used unloaded guns during filming.

This photo provided by Jack Caswell shows director of photography Halyna Hutchins on the set of Archenemy on Dec. 17, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Jack Caswell via AP)

"We did exactly the same safety checks that we would normally do, showing the actors, showing every single person, on set safety briefings. The whole thing from beginning to end, which is why this whole story is so tragic, is the fact that, you know, it would have been impossible for something like that to happen here."

Baldwin was rehearsing a scene that involved pointing a revolver toward the camera when the gun, which the crew had been told didn't contain live rounds, went off and killed Hutchins, according to an affidavit from the film's director, the New York Times reported. It's not yet clear how the firearm ended up potentially holding live ammunition.

Brown said he knew after reading early reports about the cinematographer's death that it was not an accident with blanks as it was originally being reported.

Live rounds banned on set: Expert

"A blank could injure somebody at an inch away. To go through two people and injure two people at once? Absolutely impossible, so we just said no, someone came to set with a live gun, live rounds, forgot to unload it, and that's what happened."

Nicolas Phillips, the president of IATSE Local 856 — the union that represents many workers in the Manitoba film industry — said it's been a difficult few days for crew members, who are already upset about the death of John Shopka.

Shopka died earlier this month following a fatal fall at Rainbow Stage. He was part of the carpentry crew working at the theatre in Kildonan Park, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

"So just those kinds of compounding incidents, I think people are feeling it hard," said Phillips.

Phillips, who is a film lighting technician, said the deaths have brought conversations around safety and long working hours to a head. But he said there are rigorous safety standards in place on Manitoba film sets.

"Safety is something that we always have to be consistently vigilant that no one should not come home from work. It's just that simple. There's no reason that somebody should not come home after a day of work."

Phillips has worked on sets with guns — including earlier this year — and said he never felt in danger.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins is seen in this undated handout photo received by Reuters on October 23, 2021. (Swen Studios/Handout/Reuters)

"We had very experienced people who were brought in to run that aspect of it, and they are people that I trust and that I've worked with for years and I've seen nothing but professionalism and all safety measures taken by them."

Brown said he thinks many key safety rules were broken during the filming of Rust — starting with possibly having live ammunition on set.

"There is never, ever, ever live ammunition allowed on a film set. And it doesn't matter where it is. I don't care — Canada, U.S., anywhere in the world. That is the number one cardinal rule, is no one ever has live ammunition on a film set," Brown said.

"It doesn't matter who that person is, it doesn't matter what kind of licence they have or anything else. They're not allowed, period."

He said a gun may easily go through 50-60 safety checks in a single day on set. He said only one designated armourer physically handles the firearm before it goes into an actor's hands while many other people oversee safety checks without touching the weapon.

"To hear the chain of events that happened … it was just absolutely shocking."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now