Over the past month, there’s been a lot of discussion about the preventable death of DP Halyna Hutchins on the set of the indie Western, Rust, when a gun in the hands of actor and producer Alec Baldwin went off, killing her and wounding director, Joel Souza. There’s been a lot of discussion and analysis and statements from lawyers for those involved in the past couple weeks. One thing that has been brought up, again and again, is the 1994 Alex Proyas film, The Crow, on which star Brandon Lee was shot and killed on set.
As it happens, Below the Line was speaking with Oscar-nominated Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski about his two recent movies with Sir Ridley Scott, The Last Duel and House of Gucci, and it seemed only right to ask his opinion on Hutchins’ shooting. After all, he was the DP on The Crow — in fact, it was one of his earliest feature films.
“I can speak very openly about it, because The Crow experience was devastating to all of us,” Wolski told Below the Line in an exclusive interview. “Nothing was intentional, but it was a terrible mistake. When I read about what happened in New Mexico, it’s kind of similar. It’s basically negligence. You make low-budget films, and you really cut corners. You hire people that are inexpensive and inexperienced — [those two things] come together.”
“My movie [The Crow] was also low budget,” he elaborated. “We were very young, so we had all this energy to work 14-15 hours a day, but the bottom line was there was just not enough money to do it safely, that’s all. That’s the bottom line. Crow was a non-union film. In those days, the reality was that North Carolina was a right-to-work state. There was no law that an armorer had to be on the set. We had armorers on the set when we were doing big shoot-outs with lots of guns because we needed people to handle it, but when the action happened, there was one prop gun and the prop guy handled it. You just cannot blame someone for not having experience.”
Wolski went on to talk about other experiences on films like The Mexican with director Gore Verbinski, and others. “Since Crow, I’ve done a lot of movies with guns with proper armorers with proper propmen. If the procedure is done, right, there’s no way for something like this to occur,” he continued. “There’s no way that there’s a bullet on the set. There’s just no way. If you work with proper propmasters and armorers — and I’ve worked in New Mexico, New York, and then London and Ireland, all over the world — it just doesn’t happen. There’s just so many checkpoints in the course of shooting that this should not happen.”
“This happens when the [1st] AD is handing the gun – [an] AD never hands the gun to an actor. I’ve never seen that. Nobody ever calls ‘Cold Gun’ — this is a term that I’ve never heard of. All this stuff sounds so unprofessional. It’s because film is low-budget, and people should understand that you have to spend money on certain things if you want to maintain safety. There was a lot of financial problems that I heard from this film [Rust], and I’m sorry, but people in props should really look at it themselves, not just get away with it and brush themselves away. It should really be investigated properly, and if you’re called ‘producer,’ there’s a responsibility. There was no producer to look at this, like ‘What’s going on here?’ I’m outraged because I’ve seen a little bit of that.”
We also asked Wolski if the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 voting “no” against the recently-ratified 3-year IATSE contract had anything to do with Ms. Hutchins’ shooting and the guild’s inability to get further safety protocols into that agreement. “It’s like you can regulate, regulate, regulate, but if you want to produce the movie, you should just understand what you’re doing,” he replied. “You’re responsible for people’s lives if you play with guns. I’m just outraged at the whole thing.”
Below the Line‘s union columnist Mark London Williams may have more context to add to this story in Tuesday’s Union Roundup (formerly Strike Alert) column. And look for the rest of our interview with Mr. Wolski sometime in the next few weeks.