A week before Alec Baldwin fatally shot the cinematographer of “Rust,” the film’s 24-year-old armorer was reprimanded for leaving guns unattended on set and for failing to sufficiently juggle two important roles, emails show.
The armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, had been hired to perform two jobs on the low-budget western: the armorer in charge of guns and gun safety, and also an assistant to the prop master, who was in charge of the props used to simulate 1880s Kansas on the movie set south of Santa Fe, N.M.
On Oct. 14, the film’s line producer, Gabrielle Pickle, scolded Gutierrez Reed in an email reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, saying the production office had received complaints that two shotguns had been left unattended on the set. Pickle also took Gutierrez Reed to task for allegedly not doing enough to support the film’s prop master, Sarah Zachry.
“We hired you as both Armor and Key Assistant Props,” Pickle wrote in the Oct. 14 email, according to a copy shared with The Times. “It has been brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on Armor and not supporting props as needed.”
Gutierrez Reed protested the demand that she devote more time to her props role, saying she needed to pay attention to gun safety.
“Since we’ve started, I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety,” Gutierrez Reed wrote, noting that on gun-heavy days during the filming, the assistant props role “has to take a back seat. Live fire arms on set is absolutely my priority.”
“When I’m forced to do both [jobs], that’s when mistakes get made,” Gutierrez Reed wrote.
Other emails viewed by The Times also showed producers tried to ensure that safety protocols were followed when a child actor was using guns during the filming.
A spokesman for Third Shift Media, Pickle’s employer, declined to provide a comment Friday night. A spokesperson for Rust Movie Productions also declined to comment. Pickle could not be reached for comment.
The email exchanges shed more light on the tensions and safety concerns on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set in the days before Oct. 21, when Baldwin accidentally shot the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who died later that afternoon, and director Joel Souza, who survived.
The fatal shooting has become a rallying cry in the film industry for safer sets.
According to law enforcement documents, during a rehearsal the film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, had handed Baldwin a replica of a vintage Colt .45 pistol, pronouncing it “cold,” meaning there was no ammunition inside. But the gun contained dummy rounds, and at least one lead bullet.
Gutierrez Reed, according to affidavits filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, had loaded the weapons that day, but she told sheriff’s detectives that she didn’t realize that actual bullets were contained in a new box of ammunition that arrived on set that day.
Gutierrez Reed told sheriff’s detectives that although she checked Baldwin’s gun that day before the unscheduled rehearsal, she “didn’t really check it too much,” because the weapon had been locked in a safe during a lunch break.
She also complained to deputies that she was stretched too thin performing her props role and was unaware that a rehearsal was taking place.
Santa Fe County authorities have not said where the live bullets came from. Law enforcement officials previously have said their investigation is focusing on the actions of Gutierrez Reed, Halls and Baldwin.
The Oct. 14 exchange with Pickle, who was the producers’ point person in charge of the day-to-day production, underscores how the young women in the props department, with limited experience, were struggling to keep up with the pace of the film’s production.
Other emails shared with The Times showed a second email conversation on Oct. 14.
In this exchange, second assistant director Tim Barrera asked Gutierrez Reed to explain what ammunition was being used. He wanted to know the decibel level of the shots so that the team could determine whether one of the child actors would need to wear ear protection during practice and shooting scenes. The assistant director also asked if Gutierrez Reed was present when the child actor was using his gun and whether any misfires had occurred.
“Do you check the barrel?” Barrera asked.
“Yeah as Armorer, it’s my job is to be present when all actors fire,” Gutierrez Reed wrote in the Oct. 14 message. “Misfires haven’t happened on any of my sets. I always check barrels, rip Brandon lee.”
Barrera declined to comment.
Brandon Lee, son of the late kung fu star Bruce Lee, died on the set of the movie “The Crow” in 1993, after a prop gun discharged an actual bullet.
The morning of the fatal shooting, several members of the camera crew walked off the set, in protest of a lack of housing accommodations in Santa Fe, a rushed film schedule and two accidental discharges the weekend before the tragedy. Most of the camera crew members live in Albuquerque, about 50 miles away from the ranch, which has long served as a popular movie location.
The email exchange between Pickle and Gutierrez Reed was first mentioned in a podcast, “America’s Untold Stories.”
Several crew members, including the gaffer Serge Svetnoy, complained about lax gun safety in the days before the fatal accident, when Baldwin aimed the gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal for a scene in an old wooden church. Hutchins was setting up a scene, in which the camera lens would stare down the barrel of the gun.
“The trigger wasn’t pulled. I didn’t pull the trigger,” Baldwin said during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them.”
One veteran prop master previously told The Times that he declined offers to join the film’s crew, in part, because he was concerned about producers’ insistence to combine two important jobs — armorer and props assistant — saying “this is an accident waiting to happen.”