Ian Hudson stared down four pistols and a shotgun Oct. 3, bracing for his on-camera death for the movie “Rust," filmed southwest of Santa Fe.
Hudson raised his pistol, inviting a hail of fake gunfire — at least 22 blanks fired by actors about 20 feet away out of antique, fully-functioning firearms, he said.
The gunfire spat burning cardboard and other tiny projectiles at him, Hudson said, some of which hit his face. He depicted his character, a drunk outlaw, dying from his wounds anyway. Getting hit on a set like that is often just part of the job, he said.
The scene wrapped, so Hudson, who is from New Mexico, could finally leave after a 12-hour day. As he left the set, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins congratulated him on his work, he said.
“She was one of the last people that I spoke to on set at the end of the day, and she commended me for a job well done," he told Source New Mexico. “She made me feel really good about my performance and even took a selfie with me."
Hudson said he keeps thinking about that day, that interaction and especially those pistols. It's “very possible" that one of those same guns killed Hutchins as actor Alec Baldwin practiced with it and prepared to film a scene Oct. 21, he said.
“What really shook me hearing the news of Halyna's death," Hudson said, “was that could have been me. That could have been any one of my friends on set."
Sheriff's deputies are investigating the fatal shooting, which also injured director Joel Souza. News of Hutchins' death spread worldwide and fueled conversation about working conditions in the film industry.
Alec Baldwin was rehearsing a scene in which he points a handgun at the camera when the gun went off, according to a search warrant affidavit. Hutchins was near the camera. Investigators still have not said exactly what type of projectile was in the gun.
The film has a reported budget of $6 million to $7 million and is just the latest big-name film to shoot in New Mexico, a state with a newly flourishing film industry and new site of Netflix's $1 billion production studio.
Hudson's role was the biggest he'd landed in his career as an actor. He had five lines, the crew spent a full day on his scene, and his character's death affected the plot. It was a big step forward, he said, that brought him close to big stars he admired.
But Hudson, 32, is now reconsidering acting as a career, he said, which he's pursued since graduating high school. And he is speaking out in hopes the executives in charge of productions like “Rust"' stop treating employees as interchangeable cogs in a money-making machine.
“The higher-ups need to pay more attention to how they would feel if they were in the position of the cast and crew working 12-plus hours," he said. “They need to put themselves in their shoes and think about these people's families and these people's lives. For them it's about making money and saving money to reach their deadline."
'Faster and faster'
There was nothing noticeably lax about the safety standards on the “Rust" set, Hudson said, which is kind of the point. He's had parts in other local productions, like “Manhattan" and “Longmire," and he said he didn't immediately notice anything different.
In fact, he overheard director Joel Souza praise the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, for dutifully calling out when weapons were armed with blanks or were disarmed. The director told her she was well on top of things amid the breakneck pace, Hudson said.
“I thought the same thing," he said. “She was going with all the safety protocols. And she was moving at the speed that they were pushing us for, which continued to move faster and faster."
Hudson was not on set the day Hutchins was killed, and he has no specific insight as to whether the gun Baldwin used could have been improperly loaded with live ammunition or with so much gunpowder as to make a blank a lethal projectile.
But he did add that the pace of the film seemed unsustainable, even on the third day of filming, when he acted for his death scene. They were already a half-day behind on that day of filming, he said.
“I think that because of the rushed nature, an oversight was definitely something that could have happened," he said. “And because of that, it wasn't very surprising, but it was extremely surprising at the same time, right? Like, this shouldn't happen. What the hell?"
That artificial timetable is designed just to save money and is often why many crews cut corners, he said.
“But hopefully this brings some light to the big producers, bigger companies that are running the show here. Amazon, Netflix, all those people, they can relax," he said. “They've got huge amounts of money and resources. And the people who are working, they're doing it out of the passion for their craft, but they're also doing it to put food on the table for their family."
'Extra, extra safe'
He said the working atmosphere on the Old West set that actors seemed to trust themselves and the cast enough to not interrupt production with too many safety checks, he said. He also didn't feel comfortable putting himself out there to raise objections, as a new actor with such tight deadlines.
But he said the safety checks were adequate, at least based on what he'd expect in the industry.
“I was honored to be working with some of the bigger name stars, and before we operated our weapons, we all triple-checked our weapons to make sure that the rounds were, in fact, cold," he said. “We were trying to be extra, extra safe."
That doesn't mean existing practices are enough, he said.
To ensure safety, he said, there needs to be an entire day spent on protocols before production begins, instead of just pre-scene briefings. Filmmakers should eliminate the use of blanks entirely and instead foot the added cost of computer-generated gunshot graphics. And production schedules should be lengthened to help workers stay alert enough to avoid deadly mistakes.
“These people didn't intend to hurt anybody, whether or not they were rushed," Hudson said. “The circumstances on set could have been a lot safer, just because of scheduling and time constraints."
A handful of “Rust" crew members walked off the set early in production, incensed about low pay and long hours. That should have sent a message early on to slow things down and check in with employees, Hudson said.
“We're so focused in this day and age of rush, rush, rush, and never stopping to just take a breath," he said.
He said he hopes the tragedy of Hutchins' death sparks change. He suggested that the news would not have spread nearly as far if someone less famous than Alec Baldwin had wielded the gun in the fatal shooting. Lower-level cast and crew sustain injuries all the time, he said, and it doesn't make the news.
“I feel like if I were shot on set and hurt, this probably wouldn't be in the limelight as much as it is," he said.
Hudson said he appreciated how Hutchins took time to compliment him after a hard day's work. Her death is “truly a tragic loss," he said, one that has shaken him to his core.
He wishes he had the selfie she took, he said.
“But it is still on her phone," he said, before collecting his thoughts. “It was something that I felt inspired and empowered by. It was truly a tragic loss."
Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.