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DARK HISTORY

The Alec Baldwin shooting incident echoes earlier movie set deaths

The set of the film 'Rust'
REUTERS/Adria Malcolm
The set of the film 'Rust'
  • Adario Strange
By Adario Strange

Media & entertainment reporter

Published

A fatal shooting on the set of the new Alec Baldwin film Rust is stirring troubling memories from Hollywood’s past. Last night, Baldwin, the star of the film, wounded the film’s director, Joel Souza, and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while handling a prop gun on the movie set in New Mexico. 

No charges have been filed by local police, according to a report from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. Currently, details of what led to the accident are scarce, but a statement from IATSE Local 44 , the union representing set workers confirmed that “a live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor [Baldwin],” IndieWire reported.

Shooting accidents on film and TV sets have been a part of the business for decades

As the movie industry reels from the incident, some film historians are recalling another on-set shooting accident, which took the life of Brandon Lee, the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. That shooting, on the set of The Crow in 1993, still serves as a cautionary tale for on-set safety among film insiders and fans alike. In response to the Rust incident, Lee’s sister, Shannon Lee, took to Twitter to issue a stark reminder, as well as condolences.

While Lee’s death may be the most famous example of such an accident, a similar on-set tragedy took the life of actor Jon-Erik Hexum. In 1984, during the filming of the CBS series Cover Up, Hexum used a prop gun as a joke during a set break, accidentally killing himself. 

Although prior fatal on-set accidents happened decades ago, the danger related to handling prop firearms on set hasn’t diminished. But in the age of digital effects that can replace often dangerous practical effects and stunts, and the normally rigorous attention to safety measures on film sets, this latest production incident has taken the Hollywood community by surprise. It’s also raising questions about why live firearms are still on sets at all.

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