Injuries or fatalities from prop weapons on set are rare: NPR

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Jon-Erik Hexum (left) died in 1984 as a result of a prop gun on a television set. The death of American actor Brandon Lee (shown here in 1986) while filming The crow attracted worldwide attention and led to changes in the handling of firearms on sets.

Wally Fong / AP; Lacy Atkins / AP


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Wally Fong / AP; Lacy Atkins / AP


Jon-Erik Hexum (left) died in 1984 as a result of a prop gun on a television set. The death of American actor Brandon Lee (shown here in 1986) while filming The crow attracted worldwide attention and led to changes in the handling of firearms on sets.

Wally Fong / AP; Lacy Atkins / AP

The shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a film set in Santa Fe, NM is a powerful reminder to the filmmaking community that while they work in the imagination, actions on set can have real world ramifications.

On Thursday while filming the western rust, film star Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.

A Associated press release from 2016 found that, from 1990 to the time of publication, at least 43 people died on sets in the United States and more than 150 were left with life-changing injuries.

Though Hutchins’ death is tragic and harrowing, film and television experts told NPR that injuries or deaths from prop fire guns are extremely rare.

“It’s an extremely rare occurrence for something like this to happen. Especially now with so many different procedures and policies, ”said Kevin Williams, director of props at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “It’s one of those crazy accidents.”

Williams has been in the prop industry for theater and film production for over 20 years. He spoke as a seasoned professional at handling props, but didn’t want to speculate on what was going to happen during the filming rust.

He said the industry standard was to adhere to strict safety rules.

“We proceed with the utmost caution and care when putting any kind of weapon into the hands of actors,” he said.

Hutchins’ shocking death on the set immediately drawn comparisons to the early death of Brandon Lee in 1993.

Lee, then 28 years old, was the son of the late martial arts star Bruce Lee. He was killed after being hit by a .44 caliber slug while shooting a death scene for the film The crow. The gun should have fired a blank shot, but an autopsy revealed a bullet stuck near his spine.

Lee’s death in 1993 was the last recorded accidental death from a prop gun on a movie set.

Previously, in 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum was killed on the set of the TV series Discover. Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head with a blank loaded gun.

Shannon Lee, who runs a Twitter account on behalf of her late brother, tweeted“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza and everyone involved in the Rust incident. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a movie set.

For property masters, safety should come first

Props masters are responsible for the props of a production before, during and shortly after the shooting. Together with gun masters – the crew members who work with the guns on set – and stunt coordinators, prop masters coordinate with actors, producers and the director during filming.

“When doing a training session with an actor, my main guideline, the heartbeat of the conversation, is to make sure he treats any weapon – be it a bladed weapon or a firearm – as if it could potentially kill someone. And those are usually the words I use, “said UCLA’s Williams.” It’s a serious situation and everyone has to play their game. ”

Hollywood holds on Security bulletins, written and distributed by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, for gun and propeller safety standards and other rules.

In the first bulletin, which deals with firearms and the use of blind ammunition, the document prominently states: “TREAT ALL ARMS AS THEY ARE LOADED.” It also states that live ammunition must never be used or placed on a set.

However, these are recommendations and not a binding law.

“There’s a lot of work involved in firing guns on set,” said Karl Weschta, vice president of guns for Independent Studio Services in Los Angeles. ISS supplies props and weapons for television and film productions.

In addition to safety instruction and practice lessons, actors are told to keep a safe distance from other crew members when handling a prop gun. Filmmakers often use film magic to make it appear like an actor is pointing a gun straight at another character – when they are actually pointing the gun at an angle or off-center.

“It’s really rare that a gun is actually aimed directly at someone,” said Weschta.

These weapons, too, are usually empty or loaded with empty cartridges. But even an empty cartridge fired at close range can cause serious damage.

In the case of Hexum’s death, a gun loaded with an empty cartridge did enough damage to kill the young actor.

Hexum was hit in the right temple by an empty prop gun he was holding. The force of the bullet broke his skull, like that a New York Times report from the time of the incident. this caused severe cerebral haemorrhage and irreversible damage.

Still, details on set are sometimes too difficult to control

Despite all the planning and safety measures, accidents can occur.

Weschta and Williams said much was still unknown how Hutchins was killed and Souza injured.

The type of gun, how it was altered, how it was handled, the positions of the cast and crew, even right down to the direction and strength of the wind, everything could have played a role in the shooting, they said.

On-set pressures can also be a factor that sometimes causes even seasoned professionals to lower safety standards, Williams said.


In this 1958 photo from a Hollywood studio gun department, Rodd Redwing (left) is checking the last shot Bob Lane made on a six-gun. Redwing is an actor and teacher in the use of western weapons. Lane is one of the men who fix and maintain the many guns in the studio arsenal.

David Smith / AP


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David Smith / AP


In this 1958 photo from a Hollywood studio gun department, Rodd Redwing (left) is checking the last shot Bob Lane made on a six-gun. Redwing is an actor and teacher in the use of western weapons. Lane is one of the men who fix and maintain the many guns in the studio arsenal.

David Smith / AP

“When you’re on set, dealing with creatives and asking them about certain circumstances, it can be hard to turn down those requests,” said Williams. “Much of our industry is relationship based, so people sometimes have to make questionable decisions.”

Williams warned against rashly blaming anyone for what might have happened on the set on Thursday rust.

“At the moment a lot of people are injured. We don’t have to worry about blaming, ”he said. “If there is a way [filming] Safer future, then we have to go this way. “



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