Alec Baldwin gave his first official interview since the on-set death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October, sitting down with George Stephanopoulos for a special that aired on ABC. It was about as messy as you’d expect. Baldwin is obviously still stricken and upset, and how could he not be? This is a terrible tragedy, and no matter what any of the investigatory findings are, he has to live with it. But at the same time, a person is dead who can’t speak for herself, and every public statement issued from anyone connected to Rust just sounds like CYA maneuvering. I’m not sure what the point of Alec Baldwin even giving this interview is, except to get his side of the story out, ahead of any civil lawsuits aimed at him (there are already two filed against the production), and we certainly don’t need Halyna Hutchins’ death to turn into Baldwin and Trump sniping at each other in the press, which is what is happening. Can we not just wait for any one of the several official investigations to come back with their findings?
The threat of civil legal action says no, and so does ongoing wrangling over set safety. The IATSE strike has been averted, but the issue of set safety continues. Because of the Rust shooting, everyone is debating the use of real guns and/or ammunition on set. After all, the computer graphics are so good these days, why even have ammunition, even blanks, on set? But one thing we’re not talking about is the “do my own stunts” crowd. I love action movies and I appreciate the return to favoring practical stunts over the last decade after a twenty-year CG bonanza, but it has become entirely commonplace to hear about actors breaking bones on set or suffering concussions when a fight scene gets a little too real, which is a natural consequence of a filmmaking culture that too often emphasizes realism over safety. And this isn’t even mentioning the injuries tallied by the stunt performers. Stuntwoman Olivia Jackson lost an arm in a motorcycle stunt gone wrong on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in 2015, and another stuntwoman, Joi Harris, died as a result of a botched motorcycle stunt on Deadpool 2. Yet we don’t hear anyone arguing against the use of real motorcycles in movies.
The conversation about set safety is a lot larger than just Rust and guns, but that gets lost when all the noise is focused on covering potentially legally liable asses or mocking an actor who is not universally beloved because he’s involved in a legitimate tragedy. Risk of personal injury is built into filmmaking and has been since the beginning—an extra died in an accidental shooting on the 1915 silent film The Captive—and no matter what happens, unless and until every aspect of filmmaking becomes virtual, there will always be some degree of risk. Even the safest set, with the best planning and most intense safety protocols, can experience accidents. But we need to keep having conversations about set safety and working toward an on-set culture that values the safety and well-being of every person on set. And amidst the PR drama surrounding Rust, let’s not lose sight of Halyna Hutchins. In the coming weeks and months, as the investigations continue, there will be a lot of finger-pointing and blame-shifting and ass-covering, but at the heart of it is a woman who was just beginning to make her mark.
Live long and gossip,