‘Rust’ returns with fake guns, rubber bullets and watchful eyes

Alec Baldwin films a scene on the set of “Rust” at the Yellowstone Film Ranch on April 21, 2023. (Photo: NYTimes)
By the edge of a steep, snow-dusted gully just north of Yellowstone National Park, Alec Baldwin and the crew of the Western “Rust” gathered for their morning safety meeting as filming resumed a year and a half after it had been halted by tragedy.اضافة اعلان

It was anything but routine.

“I’ve said it, and I’m going to say it every single time: There are no weapons on set,” Gerard DiNardi, the film’s new first assistant director, reassured the crew Friday. “There is nothing that fires. There are a lot of facsimiles of weapons, from rubber to replicas.”

The movie’s new armorer, Andrew Wert, who handles all weapons and ammunition on set, added that even the dummy rounds — the inert cartridges that are used in movies to resemble real ammunition — were made of rubber and wood, and painted gold.

And with those reassurances, filming resumed. It was 18 months ago, on location in New Mexico, that the crew had been setting up a close-up of Baldwin drawing an old-fashioned revolver when the gun suddenly went off, firing a real bullet that killed the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, 42; injured its director, Joel Souza; traumatized its cast and crew; and led to lawsuits and criminal charges.

Roughly 200 cast and crew members are now working to finish “Rust”.

Not everyone was back: The film’s original armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, is facing involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with Hutchins’ death, and its original first assistant director, Dave Halls, pleaded no contest to a charge of negligent handling of a weapon. Cinematographer Bianca Cline has stepped in to finish the film that Hutchins began. Many are describing “Rust” as a tribute to Hutchins; her husband is now an executive producer on the film, and he has given his support to two filmmakers to make a documentary about her life and the completion of the movie.

But Souza, who was wounded in the shooting when the bullet passed through Hutchins and struck his shoulder, was back in the director’s chair.

And Baldwin was stepping back into the title role Friday when New Mexico prosecutors dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charges against him, after new evidence surfaced suggesting that the gun he had been using, which was not supposed to contain live ammunition, had been modified. But an air of uncertainty lingered over the leading man: Prosecutors said that they would continue to investigate the case, and that they reserved the right to refile charges against him.

As the crew gathered to resume work, Souza, who first worked with Baldwin on a draft of the script about five years ago, gave an emotional address.

“There have been days leading up to today when I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get out of bed in the morning,” he said, “and the reason I could was all of you.”

He said that they owed it to Hutchins to approach their work with joy, as she had.

“I know she’d be anxious for us to get to work, so why don’t we do that?” Souza said as the meeting wrapped up. “We get to make a movie today. We might as well make it a good one.”

All eyes on ‘Rust’
Not long after Baldwin was back in costume as Harland Rust, a grizzled outlaw who wears a cowboy hat, a long brown duster and high leather boots, he found himself in a scene that centered on a gun.

“Who in the hell are you, mister?” Patrick Scott McDermott, a young actor, cries, before snatching Rust’s own rifle and pointing it at him.

Each time the armorer, Wert, brings a weapon on set he declares that the guns being used are replicas, incapable of firing a shot.

Wert, a former US Army infantryman, built the rifles from individual parts so that they would look as real as possible but would not be able to fire under any circumstances. He drilled out the parts where the firing pins would go and modified the cylinders so that no ammunition could fit in them, and the rubber and wooden bullets were painted gold so that they would look real when tucked in Baldwin’s bandoleer.

“I didn’t want any question about where the guns came from, where anything comes from,” said Wert, whose career working with guns on film sets spans more than 20 years and includes “Dallas Buyers Club” and a 2016 Western starring Woody Harrelson called “The Duel.”

The question of armorers and gun safety on sets has been at the center of the investigation into how “Rust” turned deadly. Prosecutors have faulted the original armorer, Gutierrez-Reed, for allowing live ammunition on a film set, where it is supposed to be banned, and for failing to thoroughly check the revolver that was handed to Baldwin the day of the shooting. Questions were raised about how she and Halls, the original first assistant director, handled gun protocols. Gutierrez-Reed, whose lawyer has said she intends to plead not guilty, told investigators that she had checked each round, but acknowledged that she wished she had done so more thoroughly.

On the Montana set, Wert collected the rifles from the actors between takes and held them to the side; afterward, he stored them in a case locked with a passcode.

Navigating new terrain
The snow-capped mountains surrounding Yellowstone Film Ranch in Montana looked different from the drier terrain of the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the movie filmed for 11 1/2 days in October 2021 before the shooting brought it to a halt.

Because the script calls for Baldwin’s character to travel across the West on horseback with his grandson, the filmmakers believe that the changes in topography can easily be accommodated.

The movie’s costume designer, Terese Davis, has been working to make sure the new costumes blend in with the ones filmed on actors in New Mexico.

The outfit that Baldwin wore the day of the shooting had to be replaced because the original was taken into evidence by law enforcement. Many other costumes were destroyed in a warehouse fire in New Mexico a couple of months after the shooting.

So Davis has zoomed in on photos of the old costumes so she can build new ones with precisely matching colors and fabrics. Her team is laboriously painting a plaid pattern from one of the old shirts on a new one.

“My big goal has been that my work and any issues with it not distract from Halyna’s work,” she said.

Davis is among about 10 crew members who have returned to the movie. There was labor unrest on the original production, and lawsuits were later filed by some crew members who said that they had not received regular safety bulletins and cited two previous accidental firearms discharges of blanks. Rust Movie Productions, which is behind the film, has defended its safety record, saying that the crew responded to the accidental discharges properly. But the company agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement to New Mexico workplace safety regulators.

On the Montana site, safety is front of mind.

Two safety supervisors arrived on the Montana ranch about a month before filming began to perform risk assessments of areas including horse-handling and navigating rocky terrain. (“Do not text and walk!” is a common refrain.) Representatives from entertainment unions are there to observe higher-risk scenes. And the filming schedule, initially set for 22 days, is now 24, in order to prevent the crew from feeling like they are in a hurry, Smith said. The budget for the new production, which received new financing to begin filming again, is about $8 million, while the original was about $6.5 million, said a lawyer for the production, Melina Spadone.

“Of course we’re bringing an extra level of care,” Smith said, “because naturally we want everyone extremely comfortable, and because the production community and the world is watching.”

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