Hollywood concerned about guns after Rust tragedy

Hollywood concerned about guns after Rust tragedy

In a studio near Los Angeles, a group of filmmakers are practicing framing a close-up of a rubber gun held by an actor when they are suddenly interrupted.

“He points the gun directly at the crew — that’s exactly what happened in ‘Rust,’” said Dutch Merrick, a veteran gunsmith who offers training on gun safety in the movies.

“Who will raise the issue and speak out if they see this situation?” he asks.

Merrick is referring to the infamous tragedy that took place in October 2021 on the New Mexico set of Alec Baldwin’s low-budget western “Rust.”

That day, Baldwin pointed a toy gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. He thought the gun was loaded with blanks, but a live round hit Hutchins.

Baldwin will be tried for involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday.

“It was a wake-up call for me,” said Virginia Brazier, one of Merrick’s training course participants.

She works as a production manager, responsible for hiring film crews, including gunsmiths and prop masters.

“I want to know what questions to ask people, to make sure that I’m vetting and hiring properly to make sure that we’re safe on set,” she told AFP.

– ‘Golden Rules’ –

During his lecture, Merrick points out that Rust was “under-budgeted.” He believes this led to a series of failures, culminating in an “industrial accident.”

It teaches students simple methods to help identify blank bullets, such as their characteristic ridged tips.

And he has participants learn and repeat out loud the three “golden rules” of firearm safety.

Always point the firearm in a safe direction. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. And always treat a firearm as if it were loaded.

“These are valuable building blocks for an industry that has been strained by the Rust tragedy,” said assistant director Ryan Taylor.

“Generally speaking, a lot of the crew are a little more nervous,” he said at the workshop.

Crew members now often want to inspect the propellers themselves and want all cartridges in the propeller guns to be “fully shown” before use, Taylor said.

While the “Rust” tragedy has prompted some calls for a complete ban on firearms on film sets, Hollywood has generally favored less radical measures.

The industry’s guidelines for firearms use were revised last winter for the first time in 20 years. Among other changes, they now specify that only a gunsmith can issue a weapon to an actor.

In “Rust,” prosecutors said Baldwin was given the gun by the film’s first assistant director, who later pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon.

California will also require that productions seeking tax credits be accompanied by a safety advisor. This experimental measure will be implemented starting next year and will last until 2030.

– “Overcorrection” –

However, some productions have decided to ditch real firearms altogether.

“Walker,” a recent reboot of the popular 1990s TV series “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and the police series “The Rookie” both used only “air” guns or rubber weapons.

Action superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has announced that his production company will no longer use real guns.

Instead of firing blanks on set, the flash and sound of gunfire would be added later using computer effects.

The magnitude of these changes felt across the industry is difficult to quantify.

A major Hollywood prop maker, asked by AFP to confirm reports of a significant drop in gun rentals, declined to comment.

“There was a severe overcorrection, which should not have been done in this manner,” Merrick said.

As a gunsmith with three decades of experience, Merrick believes that real firearms, when used safely, give actors and audiences an unparalleled sense of “authentic action.”

For example, he said it is impossible for artists using rubber guns to accurately imitate the recoil of a gunshot.

Air guns – or “airsoft guns,” which do not fire metal bullets – create a “false sense of security” but could theoretically be deadly if used incorrectly, he added.

As Baldwin’s trial begins, Merrick fears that distrust of guns on film sets will grow even greater.

“It’s going to have a weird effect on artists if he’s convicted,” said Leilani Barrett, an actress attending the class.

“As an actor, I think about achieving my goal, memorizing my lines, embodying my character, following instructions.

“The last thing I really want to worry about is what accessory I’m using.”

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