Austin film professionals talk safety guidelines after deadly shooting on Alec Baldwin movie set


AUSTIN (KXAN) — As stars, writers and fans gathered in downtown Austin under the lights of the Paramount Theater for the annual Film Festival, this year’s event held some shock and sadness, in addition to the usual excitement.

The day the event kicked off, news broke about a deadly accidental shooting on the set of an Alec Baldwin movie, just one state away.

According to officials in New Mexico, the actor discharged a prop gun on the set of his new Western, killing one of the film’s crew members and injuring another. On Friday night, reports began circulating that several members of the camera crew walked off the set of “Rust” in protest hours before the incident.

”There shouldn’t be any situation where anyone gets hurt because they are making a movie,” said Keefe Boerner, who oversees productions at the University of Texas Moody College of Communication. “When you are working on a film set, it’s like a big family –and nobody wants anyone in that family to get hurt.”

Boerner said he works to remind film students of the importance of slowing down and checking safety measures when they are dealing with any potential hazard: live animals, water, fire and any pyrotechnics.

“There’s a lot of adrenaline that you sort of get when you watch the film, but the actual process is very pedantic. You are just: one shot at a time,” he explained. “If there’s a weapon, they check the weapon.”

Boerner said they will always try to notify law enforcement when they are using a fake weapon for a production if they are filming out in the community or in a public space. That way, no bystander mistakes the fake weapon for a real violent or dangerous situation.

For student productions, he said they always use fake weapons.

Jason Hammond, a film prop master in Austin, said that’s become common even on professional sets in the last few years, using air-soft or replica weapons. He explained that if they are working with a real weapon, they only use blanks or “fake, dummy rounds,” with effects often added during post-production.

Overseeing Production Services at Moody College of Communication, Keefe Boerner tries to remind students that a film set doesn't need to be as "action-packed" as the film itself.
Overseeing Production Services at Moody College of Communication, Keefe Boerner tries to remind students that a film set doesn’t need to be as “action-packed” as the film itself.

“That’s the number one rule: that for no reason does an ‘armorer’ or a prop-master ever have live ammunition,” he said. “If you have to see into a gun and see bullets in there: those bullets are fake. Well, they are real bullets, but they don’t have powder in them, and they don’t have primers in them. The primers have been expended, and the powder — there is no powder, so they cannot go off.”

He explained that there are a number of steps and safeguards that should be in place to ensure accidents don’t occur.

First, the prop master will present the gun to the assistant director, who will visually inspect it. They are particularly checking to make sure nothing is lodged in the barrel of the gun. Then, an announcement is made that the prop weapon is on set. He said the actors pointing or handling the prop, plus anyone down-range of that gun, will also visually inspect it. If they are using blanks — — they will be added right before the scene begins, and it’s announced that the weapon is “hot.”

He said many of these changes came after the death of Brandon Lee, the son of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee. Brandon was killed when a prop gun loaded with blanks was fired in his direction on the set of “The Crow” in 1993. When the blank was fired, the gun dislodged an obstruction that had previously gotten stuck inside the barrel of the revolver — an obstruction that was not removed before the gun was reloaded with blanks. Lee was 28 years old.

“We never point — no one is ever on the other end of the gun. We always keep the gun off axis,” Hammond said.

According to court records released Friday, Alec Baldwin was handed a loaded weapon by an assistant director who indicated it was safe to use in the moments before the actor fatally shot a cinematographer. A search warrant filed in a Santa Fe court shows the assistant director did not know the prop gun was loaded with live rounds.

Hammond said the news sent shockwaves through the Texas film community and emphasized the importance of the safety protocols set forth by the film industry unions and guilds — and even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

“We’re making movies. Everyone should get to go home at night,” he said.

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