‘Rust’ Shooting Reveals Lack of Precautions

The movie industry has a legacy of accidents on set

David Bryskin, STAFF WRITER

   On Oct. 21, while filming a scene for the upcoming movie “Rust,” Alec Baldwin was handed a live firearm which discharged, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring film director Joel Souza. 

   While this shooting seems like a one in a million error, movie sets in the U.S. have seen many accidents like these. According to a Los Angeles Times article, since 1990, there have been 250 accidents on sets nationwide which resulted in a combined total of 47 deaths. 

   These accidents are the result of a variety of factors, ranging from freak accidents and human error to poor decisions and negligence. 

   During the filming of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” while filming a low flying helicopter in a chase scene, a special effects explosion on set caused the pilot of the helicopter to lose control, killing Vic Morrow and two child actors. According to film production teacher Donna Walker, an accident like this was a freak accident that could only be attributed to human error. 

   “Helicopters crash, and unfortunately, this helicopter crashed on set,” Walker said. “Most of these things happen because of human error. Not necessarily bad judgment.”

   Though sometimes accidents happen because someone made a poor call or was negligent. For example, during the filming of “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” actor Uma Thurman was injured in an accident because director Quentin Tarantino insisted that she drive rather than using a stunt driver. According to Walker, this wasn’t the result of a mistake, but rather it was due to a poor decision on Tarantino’s part. 

   But there is a difference between poor judgement and downright negligence on set, and nowhere is this better shown than in the production of the film “Midnight Rider,” in which camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed by a train after only being given a minute’s warning to clear the tracks of personnel and props. It was later found that the producers were criminally negligent and had not received permission to film on the railroad property. 

   Another major contributor to these accidents is poor choreography. According to senior and Film Fest Club president Isabel Tongson, poor stunt choreography and/or inadequate training has led to people being thrown off bikes, planes crashing and body parts being crushed. 

   “There are so many stuntmen out there who have died or been permanently injured,” Tongson said. “Seven have been actually paralyzed on set, because stunts weren’t properly and safely choreographed.”

   These accidents are made even worse considering they could have been easily avoided through the use of CGI. 

   “It’s very possible to just use CGI and keep the actors safe,” Tongson said. “Keeping everybody on set safe should be the priority.”

   Perspectives are divided on whether or not the industry as a whole is truly failing in terms of safety. Some feel that the fact that these accidents are happening on set in the first place is intolerable and that people should not be dying to create entertainment. 

   “Producers, actors, directors, anybody that’s there on set, they’re just there to do their job … it is unacceptable,” Tongson said. 

   Others like Walker feel that the film industry is doing fairly well where safety is concerned, and that accidents in the industry are the fault of individuals, rather than an industry wide problem. 

   This isn’t unprecedented, since according to the Los Angeles Times, in 2019 the U.S. had 3.5 fatalities due to injury per 100,000 full time workers, while the film industry over the last decade has only had a rough rate of .9 deaths per 100,000 workers. 

   “For the most part movie sets are safe,” Walker said, “Almost always, accidents are due to human error.”

   But even considering the recent “Rust” shooting, both Tongson and Walker as well as many others feel that this incident will end up leading to no real legislative change regarding safety on set. 

   “I think people will be more cautious but concerning regulations, I’m worried nothing is gonna come out of it,” Tongson said, “The film industry in general is such a hard thing to change because it has such a long history.”