What Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s involuntary manslaughter conviction means for the film industry


Hannah Gutierrez-Reed watches closing arguments in her manslaughter trail on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (via Law&Crime). Inset: Alec Baldwin holds a gun on the set of the movie

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed watches closing arguments in her manslaughter trail on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (via Law&Crime). Inset: Alec Baldwin holds a gun on the set of the movie “Rust” (Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office).

Earlier this month, a jury found Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on the set of the Alec Baldwin film “Rust” — during which cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot — guilty of involuntary manslaughter. On Oct. 21, 2021, Hutchins was shot and killed while cast and crew were setting up a scene on the set of the film, and when Baldwin was explaining to crew how he planned to draw a firearm, the revolver discharged a single time, striking Hutchins in the chest.

On Jan. 31, 2023, Reed and Baldwin were both charged with involuntary manslaughter, only for the charges against Baldwin to be dropped in April 2023 and then revived again in January 2024. Despite this, the charges against Reed remained and the public waited eagerly to see when her trial would take place and what the final result would be.

While the “Rust” case was undoubtedly a terrible tragedy, it also sparked questions about what impact it would have on many areas, including the film industry, gun control, and even the legal world. While tuned-in viewers still need to wait to see how the Baldwin trial will unfold, it is clear that the outcome of Reed’s case has already created a large impact on the film industry and the rules that govern sets.

The role of film armorers

When Reed was convicted, many members of the industry agreed with the verdict, expressing concern about the way the set was maintained and the apparent disregard for general protocols. Members of the film industry have witnessed rapid changes since the “Rust” charges were initially brought, particularly in the rules regarding armorers and what is expected of them.

The role of an armorer on any film or television set is to ensure the safety of the entire cast and crew when any kind of weapons are used. Typically, an armorer is someone with a military background who maintains the weapons, ensures they are locked up properly, and guarantees they are being handled safely by those on set. Many allege that Reed as the armorer failed to ensure that the gun handed to Baldwin was loaded with dummy rounds, yet it contained a live bullet instead.

Since the shooting and Reed’s conviction, numerous initiatives have been implemented to ensure armorers are abiding by more stringent procedures. Recently, California has passed a law that mandates armorer training, which should take effect next January. Further, just last year, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee — a group of industry representatives which issued guidelines regarding the use of firearms on sets — revised its guidelines to address dummy rounds. Lastly, committee members have expressed the need for addressing further safety procedures when it comes to physically handing over weapons to actors and hiring more experienced armorers.

Yet while it is clear that numerous procedures are being implemented to strengthen the skill requirements of armorers, the role still remains largely unregulated, with many hoping restrictions will become more narrow as time goes on.

Union overhaul

In the wake of the shooting, it was reported that the producers of the film had replaced workers with non-union members and did not address complaints about working conditions on set. In fact if Reed, whose job on the set of “Rust” marked only the second time she worked as a film armorer, had worked on a project protected with more union guidelines, the training she would have had to undergo would have been much more stringent. If she had been working on a union-based set in California, Reed would have had to take gun safety classes and retain an entertainment firearms permit.

By May 2022, numerous film unions and entertainment studios were working together to implement stricter firearms rules, yet those discussions came to a halt and the proposed bills reflecting those plans were stalled. By April 2023, it was reported that the studios and unions were closer to a potential deal on the new laws, and in November 2023, they were working together to even further update the Committee’s Safety Bulletins #1 and #2. Despite all these advances, if a project is non-union, there is much less room for implementing stronger protections, yet there is no doubt that since the tragedy that occurred on the set of “Rust,” many industry players are more keen to have their productions be unionized.

Digital effects

Many sometimes wonder why, in this age of digital advancement, visual and sound effects, and even AI, real guns are even required on sets at all. Industry members have proposed alternatives, such as using effects in the editing stage to implement the sounds of gunshots or creating other forms of computer graphics to even substitute the appearance of a CGI-enhanced weapon in place of the real thing.

It seems many productions are already implementing this: after Hutchins’ death, the ABC police drama “The Rookie” announced it was forgoing using live weapons and instead using replica guns with pellets rather than bullets, and utilizing lighting effects in the post production process to create the effect of a gunshot. Meanwhile, the HBO miniseries “Mare of Easttown” only used digital gunshots, and in 2021, the Amazon comedy “The Boys” pledged to only use muzzle flashes via visual effects, vetoing any guns with blanks on the set. With numerous prominent projects now foregoing having the traditional set of weapons that have been historically used on sets for decades, many are hoping this new trend will be here to stay.

Now looking forward, Baldwin’s trial is set to go underway in July, and while many will be watching to see how his case plays out, it is clear that the impact from this tragic death and Reed’s ultimate verdict has already started to seep into the film industry as a whole.

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