October 28, 2021

By now, we’ve all heard about the horrible tragedy that happened this past weekend on the film set of Rust, a movie produced by and starring Alec Baldwin, who fired the gun in a rehearsal that hit and killed 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Halyna was in Winnipeg earlier in the year working on the feature thriller, Time Cut.

While it is not the only accidental death on a North American film set in recent years, it is the second notable death by accidental shooting of a gun with a live round, the first being Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow back in 1993. The fact that there are 28 years between these two incidents makes it a rare and tragic occurrence; it is a testament to the meticulous safety standards of our industry and the professionals who work in it. That being said, there was obviously a breakdown in the procedures that are supposed to occur when it comes to firearm safety on the day that Halyna died.

Without knowing all the details of what happened, I can only comment that I know of NO reason why live rounds would ever be needed or allowed on set. I’m sure in time, we will see what the investigation reveals and hopefully there will be some sense made out of this needless death that has left our industry mourning and angry.

As an actor who has handled guns on set, I can tell you that the procedure should be that the Armourer or Firearms Safety Specialist will indeed go over the gun with you before handing it over, show you the empty chamber, and even fire it to show you it’s empty. Often, the gun may make an artificial popping sound, or it is a prop gun that does not fire at all, and if they DO require you to fire blanks to get the recoil and flash from the nozzle, you would be given a proper demonstration. This would also be supervised by the Firearms Safety Specialist because blanks can be dangerous at close range. However, I want to stress these points:

  1. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure safety on set, especially when it comes to handling a gun.
  2. You should never assume that a gun is safe without it being demonstrated or proven to you.
  3. If for some reason, you are NOT shown that the gun is empty (or that it doesn’t fire) before you must use it, you have the right to ask.
  4. You also have the right to ask if you can test-fire the gun as a precaution before they roll camera.
  5. Protecting your safety and the safety of everyone around you IS YOUR RIGHT. And you should never feel pressured or rushed to do something when you feel unsafe.

On the day, you may be focusing on your acting, staying in character, doing your job, and with everything going on around you, you might not think of it in the moment. I hope these reminders help you to remember your right to safety while working. And I also hope that at the VERY LEAST, what comes from this tragedy is a heightened awareness of safety on set, spurring people to be more vigilant about it. Workers in environments where there is risk can never become complacent about their safety.

Finally, handling a gun might be strange for you. Taking a firearms safety course to familiarize yourself with gun safety protocols is a great idea for any actor. You might see me at the next one!

Until then, take care.

Alan Wong
President and National Councillor
ACTRA Manitoba