Union Roundup: Will Anyone Take Responsibility for the Death of Halyna Hutchins on the Set of Rust?

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed
Halyna Hutchins
Halyna Hutchins

There was a time — though it’s hard to recall it now — when summer was generally thought to be the season of languors and idylls. Election politics didn’t begin ‘til after Labor Day (though once upon a time, neither did schools), the season wasn’t given to thousand-year droughts and recurring wildfires, and more prosaically, let us not forget the whole showbiz conceit of “residuals” was born, in part, out of the initial idea that no one was really going to be watching much TV then either — so let’s just rerun some old stuff (though sure, “syndication,” as streaming’s grandparent was called, played a role in that too).

And don’t forget about hiatus.

Now, of course, between hearings on attempted coups, the peddling of nuclear secrets by former TV game show hosts, consistently jarring weather events, and keeping up with the latest variants and poxes, “idyll” can often be the last thing that seems to describe a summer season that has become as frenetic as the rest of the year. And it’s easy for anything that might qualify as “news” to come and go as even larger, more unprecedented headlines take its place.

Thus, the latest twists in the saga of the on-set Rust shooting, which, of course, horrifically claimed the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, have already been usurped in current news cycles despite the fact that the FBI’s recent findings, which occasion this update, all came out since the last column appeared here.

Has it really been a week? Perhaps it was three months ago.

Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin image via ABC News

But earlier this week, as the crow flies and the column appears, NPR ran a rather well-done overview of where things stand in the Rust investigation at the present juncture, prompted, of course, by the FBI’s lab findings that Alec Baldwin had to have pulled the trigger in order for the gun to fire the fatal shot — something he has denied doing all along.

Presumably, not having pulled the trigger could make him look a smidgen less culpable, as his lawyers doubtless calculated. But not telling the truth about it isn’t, as they like to say now, “a good look.” Though this finding doesn’t absolve whoever was responsible for letting hot ammo, and a hot gun, on set.

The most eye-opening aspect of the article, however, isn’t necessarily this latest finding, or the reminder that “so far no one has been charged with any wrongdoing,” or even the reminder of Baldwin’s straight-out-of-D.C. (or Bedminster, perhaps?) quote that “someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is. But I know it’s not me.”

No, the most surprising aspect was the recap in the section that followed under the simple sub-head of “a number of lawsuits are ongoing.”

It shows — speaking of D.C., and the unending frenzy to try and shape public perception — numerous parties suing, counter-suing, counter-stating, or refusing to cooperate, all no doubt trying to “get ahead of the story” on the advice of whoever their counsel is.

There is, of course, the clearly understandable wrongful death suit from Hutchins’ family, who must still — and will always — feel the acute and searing grief of her shocking, inexcusable loss.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed

But there are other suits, too, such as the one from armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who you might consider to be in some legal jeopardy herself, “against an ammunition supplier for including live rounds in an ammunition box that allegedly was meant to include only prop ones.”

Rust Productions, meanwhile, is busily refuting allegations made by New Mexico’s own OSHA department about what were clearly unsafe conditions on that set in Santa Fe, and the article notes that “a spokesperson for the state bureau told NPR that the company has not been ‘cooperative’ and has yet to pay the fine,” a kind of stalling technique to run out the clock (or some of the bank accounts in question) to whatever degree possible, which has become practically de rigueur in legal proceedings like this.

Meanwhile “the film’s script supervisor, the lead camera operator, and the production’s main medic, have filed lawsuits over the trauma they went through,” but perhaps most interestingly, “Baldwin’s lawyers have also filed an arbitration against the production company, arguing that the actor’s contract includes language that protects him from any costs or claims against him. They are also seeking coverage for his legal fees.”

That would be a rather astonishing get-out-of-jail-free card, that indemnification from “any costs or claims against him,” showing the further conflation between the self-regard of many Hollywood actors (whether in the literal or general sense), and the political ones, where a phrase like “someone is responsible… but I know it’s not me,” is, increasingly, a modus operandi.

Halyna Hutchins
Halyna Hutchins image via Adam Egypt Mortimer

‘What’s that, you say? A subpoena in your hands? Interesting, but it clearly has nothing to do with me!’

Meanwhile, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office says they’re still waiting to receive phone records (a familiar motif this summer, as well), including Baldwin’s, before handing the case over to the district attorney for final decisions regarding any charges — or lack thereof.

Though as an addendum, don’t forget that California’s attempt to further regulate on-set gun safety in the wake of the tragedy — in the form of S.B. 831 — died in committee last session.

So, consequences, which can often seem to be in as short a supply in Hollywood as they are in D.C., have yet to truly arrive. Meaning it may be up to the legal system for there to be any galvanizing effects from the tragedy, evidently absent any legislative ones.

Though one thing this summer has taught us — languors or not — is that sometimes, while achingly slow in arriving, those effects and consequences do, on rare occasions, still actually arrive.


MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark London Williams’ Union Roundup column will appear every Tuesday. You can reach him to give him tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.