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Rust Producers Make An Eyebrow-Raising Production Decision After Settling Lawsuit

Nearly a year after the fatal accident on the set of "Rust," the parties involved are moving toward closure. While filming the low-budget Western in Bonanza City, New Mexico, a prop gun wielded by the film's star, Alec Baldwin, fired a live round, injuring director Joel Souza and script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and killing 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins.

Hutchins was a Ukrainian cinematographer hired to work on "Rust." She had previously worked on such films as 2020's "Archenemy" and 2019's "Darlin'." She was posthumously granted honorary membership to the America Society of Cinematographers for her work. Hutchins' death shocked those involved as well as the Hollywood community at large, with many scrambling to understand who exactly was to blame for a prop revolver firing a real bullet. 

The family of the victim filed a wrongful-death suit against several members of the film's crew, including Baldwin (who also served as one of the film's producers), citing a lack of proper safety precautions due to restrictive costs (via The Guardian). As of today, the parties involved have settled the lawsuit and are now attempting to move forward with the film.

Parties resolve a tense and emotional conflict

As reported by Variety, Halyna Hutchins' husband Matthew will join the crew of "Rust" as an executive producer per agreements made during the settlement. In a statement, Matthew Hutchins declined to ascribe further blame to any of the parties involved, including Baldwin, stating that "All of us believe Halyna's death was a terrible accident."

In an interview with Today's Hoda Kotb from February of this year, Hutchins was far less charitable in his assessment of events. Speaking about Baldwin and the actor's interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Hutchins told Kotb "The idea that the person holding the gun and causing it to discharge is not responsible is absurd to me ... I was just so angry to see him talk about her death so publicly in such a detailed way and then to not accept any responsibility after having just described killing her." In his own interview, Baldwin stated, "Someone is ​responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is, but I know it's not me." He also claimed not to have pulled the trigger (via Vanity Fair).

The future of Rust

Tensions seem to have subsided in the months since their respective TV appearances, with Hutchins now saying in the wake of the settlement, "I am grateful that the producers and the entertainment community have come together to pay tribute to Halyna's final work" (via Variety). Baldwin's attorney expressed all parties' interest in resolving this matter in such a way that benefitted the Hutchins' young son, while Souza separately expressed his discomfort in returning to the project without Matthew Hutchins' involvement and blessing, saying, "I am pleased that together, we will now complete what Halyna and I started."

Upon court approval, this settlement will pave the way for production on "Rust" to begin as early as January of 2023. While this will essentially see the end of Hutchins' wrongful-death suit, it may not be the end of the film's legal troubles. As the New York Times reports, New Mexico prosecutors requested enough of a budget to try up to four individuals involved in Hutchins' death in criminal court, with one of them being Baldwin. In his interview, Baldwin stated of the potential criminal charges, "I've been told by people who are in the know, in terms of even inside the state, that it's highly unlikely that I would be charged with anything criminally."

The incident and aftermath

Per a timeline curated by The Hollywood Reporter, the incident took place on October 21st, 2021, with production being shut down four days later to allow for a police investigation. In his interview with George Stephanopoulos, Alec Baldwin described his immediate shock and confusion, not realizing that there was a live round in the gun until 45 minutes after the shooting, thinking instead that Hutchins had fainted (per ABC News). The actor would not learn of her death until over an hour into his police interview. Baldwin initially signed away his right to an attorney after being told by authorities that the process was a formality (full interview accessed via Law & Crime on YouTube).

Matthew Hutchins and others have also held that Baldwin is far from the sole party potentially responsible. Blame has been previously ascribed to "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed and Dave Halls, the assistant director that handed Baldwin the prop gun and asserted that it was "cold," meaning safe to use. Both parties were named in the wrongful death suit, though Gutierrez Reed has herself filed suit against weapons provider Seth Kenny and his firm, PDQ Arm & Prop, claiming the ammunition provided was mislabeled (via LA Times).

In the aftermath, many have called for Hollywood to cease using functional weapons entirely to ensure that no accidents such as this can take place again (via Deadline).