'Rust' investigation involves NAU graduate

NAU graduate Hannah Guttierrez-Reed has been identified at the center of the investigation into the “Rust” shooting that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead. Courtesy of Associated Press

Creative Media and Film graduate, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has been identified as the center of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigation into the fatal shooting of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Gutierrez-Reed was named in a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office search warrant affidavit as the armorer on set when actor Alec Baldwin was given a prop gun he believed was safe. Baldwin later discharged the gun, fatally striking 42-year-old Hutchins and injuring 48-year-old director Joel Souza. No charges have been filed, but the investigation is ongoing. 

During an Oct. 27 press conference, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, who was joined by District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, said he believes there was complacency on the set, along with safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry. 

Moreover, Carmack-Altwies said her office is ready to help as the sheriff’s office continues to investigate the death of Hutchins. 

“We are assisting the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and have offered our full support to them,” Carmack-Altweis said. “At this time, we do not know if charges will be filed. We will look into all facts and evidence of the case with great discretion and have further information at a later time. Our thoughts are with all affected by this tragedy.”

Since the shooting, multiple sources on the “Rust” set have insisted this fatal accident was the result of failures from top to bottom, which stemmed from cost-cutting measures along with the production’s already low budget, according to The Daily Beast.

Further concerns were raised about Gutierrez-Reed on the set of her last movie, “The Old Way,” an upcoming Nicolas Cage film. The same article stated filming was briefly stopped after she allegedly gave a gun to an 11-year-old actress without checking it properly.

However, according to a statement from Rust Movie Productions LLC — the production company in charge of filming — it was not aware of any “complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set.” The company also noted it will conduct an internal review and cooperate with law enforcement. 

During an interview with the “Voices of the West”podcast in September, Gutierrez-Reed said Rust was only the second time she had worked as lead armorer on a film set. The recent NAU alumna also discussed pursuing a degree in creative media and film with the hope of working with cameras, before changing paths due to her father. 

“I originally had planned on working with cameras, and I really liked lighting too, but I kinda just tried it with dad one time, and I noticed I had a really natural knack for it,” Gutierrez-Reed said. “Growing up around guns my whole life, I have come to realize that this is a pretty sweet gig.”

Her father, Thell Reed, is a well-known Hollywood armorer whose credits include 1997’s “L.A. Confidential’’ and 2006’s “Miami Vice.” Reed was also a quick draw expert on Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film, “Django Unchained.” Gutierrez-Reed credited her dad for providing her with the resources and guidance to pursue a career in film production as an armorer. 

Additionally, she said in the podcast that Reed’s extensive Hollywood resume took her from being a novice to head armorer on the set for “Rust.”

“Dad has been teaching me about guns ever since I was 16, but I really got into the stuff in the last couple of years,” Gutierrez-Reed said. “He took me from being completely green and taught me everything that I know so far, and I’m still learning, but yeah my dad has taught me a lot of things. I also caught on by myself through watching him do things and learning how firearms work.” 

Kurt Lancaster, Head of Creative Media and Film, would not discuss Guttierez-Reed directly. However, Lancaster said the program provides a space for students to tell their own “distinctive, idiosyncratic and regional”stories instead of falling into tired Hollywood tropes. He added that UTV Studios is where students receive training and learn about the importance of crew safety on a variety of production sets. 

“We have UTV Studios, which is essentially a club for credit, and that is a studio environment where students get proper training in set etiquette, and training in what it’s like to work on a film set,” Lancaster said. “We don’t, however, teach or cover anything about working as an armorer. Anytime that there is a prop needed on set that is a weapon, students usually bring in a replica or a toy, something like that.”

Moreover, Lancaster stressed the significance of the program’s upper-division production classes. Students and faculty involved with UTV Studios further discuss the importance of maximizing safety on set, specifically when it comes to hanging lights and placing certain equipment.

Many production members on set the day of Hutchins’ death said Gutierrez-Reed failed to implement proper safety procedures and was not qualified to work both Baldwin’s “Rust” and Cage’s “The Old Way.”

In an Oct. 24 Facebook post, “Rust” Chief Electrician Serge Svetnoy wrote that he was standing next to Hutchins and Souza when Baldwin discharged the weapon, ultimately striking Hutchins. Additionally, Svetnoy called attention to the mismanagement of firearms on set and expressed concern over Gutierrez-Reed’s experience as a young armorer. 

“There is no way a 24-year-old woman can be a professional with armory; there is no way that her more-or-less the same-aged friend from school, neighborhood, Instagram or God knows where else can be a professional in this field,” Svetnoy wrote. “To save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job, and you risk the lives of the other people who are close and your lives as well. I understand that you always fight for the budget, but you cannot allow this to happen. There should always be at least one professional in each department who knows the job.”

In a statement responding to these claims, Guttierez-Reed’s lawyer, Jason Bowles, said his client’s top priority on set was the safety and well-being of others. Considering Gutierrez-Reed was hired to work two positions, he said she was denied ample prep time and was left scrambling to do her job. 

“Hannah was hired on two positions on this film, which made it extremely difficult to focus on her job as an armorer,” Bowles said. “She fought for training, days to maintain weapons and proper time to prepare for gunfire, but ultimately was overruled by production and her department. The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings. This was not the fault of Hannah.”

Lancaster said industry members need to discuss the use of prop guns on sets, as there are people who should be alive, but are not, due to the dangers surrounding their use. He also described how it would be easier, and more cost effective, if productions used a realistic gun without any firing capabilities, while adding a flash and smoke through special effects to achieve the same goal during post-production. 

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