Actor Alec Baldwin, crewmember charged in accidental movie-set shooting

Haylna Hutchins was killed after a gun accidentally fired a live round during filming

Today's expression: Meet the definition
Explore more: Lesson #544
February 6, 2023:

Actor Alec Baldwin and another crewmember have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, after a gun accidentally fired and killed a cinematographer during the filming of a movie in 2021. Plus, learn the English expression "meet the definition."

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A crewmember was killed in an accidental shooting on the set of a movie in 2021—and now the actor Alec Baldwin has been charged with a crime

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with current events, trending topics, and English expressions. This is lesson number 544. That means JR has uploaded the full and complete lesson to PlainEnglish.com/544. The complete lesson includes a word-for-word transcript of all the audio that you hear in your ears. If you can hear it with your ears, you can see it with your eyes at PlainEnglish.com/544.

Coming up today: The actor Alec Baldwin and another film crewmember have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, after an accident with a gun killed a woman in 2021. In today’s lesson, you’ll hear what happened, what the charges are, and what big question is still looming over the investigation. In the second half of the lesson, we’ll talk about the expression “meet the definition.” And we have a quote of the week. Let’s dive in.

Charges filed in movie-set shooting

The town of Bonanza City, New Mexico was founded in 1830 after gold and silver were discovered nearby . Like many towns in the west and southwest of the United States, Bonanza City grew fast as prospectors rushed in to get rich off the mines. But then the town’s fortunes turned as the mines were depleted. In the early 1900s the town was abandoned.

Look at a map and you’ll see that Bonanza City consists of a collection of structures near a very rural road. It’s only about 15 miles from the state capital, Santa Fe, and an hour driving from the state’s largest city, Albuquerque. But nobody lives in Bonanza City. There’s no electricity, no roads, no residents, no services, no mayor. It’s a real ghost town—an abandoned town where the old buildings are still standing, but the people have gone.

Bonanza City is a popular location to film old Western movies that romanticize a certain period of American history, when people first settled the western part of the North American continent. The wooden buildings, dirt roads, unforgiving landscape, and mountain backdrops make it a compelling setting for an old western film. And it is there that the actor Alec Baldwin was pursuing a passion project. It was a movie called “Rust.”

Baldwin has had prominent roles in theater, television and film. He won an Emmy award for his role in the comedy “30 Rock.”

“Rust” was a low-budget film, but Baldwin co-wrote the script, played a character in the film, and he produced the film. It had a budget of just about $7 million—small potatoes in the movie industry. That budget allowed the crew just three weeks for filming.

But on October 21, 2021, something went terribly wrong. Haylna Hutchins, a Ukrainian cinematographer, was shot and killed. Joel Souza, the film’s director, was injured in the same incident. The gun that caused Hutchins’s death and Souza’s injuries was used as part of the filming.

Movies feature guns and shooting. And when movies are produced, the actors sometimes use real guns. The guns are not loaded with bullets: they are loaded with blank shell casings. These blanks, as they’re called, include gunpowder. When discharged, they sound like a gun being fired. They flash like a gun being fired. And they have real kickback, causing the shooter to recoil. A blank is still dangerous at close range, but there is no bullet—no live ammunition in a gun used on a movie set.

Movie sets have an armorer—a person in charge of the safety of the prop weapons like guns and knives. On the scene of “Rust,” that was Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. On sets, weapons used in filming are handled carefully. They are kept in a locked safe. They are checked before and after every scene. And the armorer gives detailed instructions to the actors and anyone else who will be handling the weapons.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But a gun loaded with live ammunition found its way onto the set of “Rust.” That gun found its way into Alec Baldwin’s hands during filming. The gun discharged. And a crewmember died as a result .

Was this a terrible workplace accident, or was there a crime involved? After the incident, a number of governmental agencies opened investigations. And last month, the local prosecutor, the Santa Fe County district attorney, charged two people with “involuntary manslaughter.”

Those people are Alec Baldwin, who was holding the gun, and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer. Baldwin’s attorneys say that the actor did not pull the trigger; they say that the gun discharged when he pulled back the hammer. Prosecutors dispute that, saying he pulled the trigger. But Baldwin’s attorneys also say that the actor was relying on the expertise of the others on set, and that others told him the gun did not have live ammunition.

Gutierrez-Reed, the person in charge of making sure the real guns handled on set were safe—she was just 25 years old during filming. If you would like to know what Hannah Gutierrez-Reed looks like, there is a picture of her online, with her arms crossed, holding a gun in each hand, and giving the camera a menacing look .

This was only the second time she served as an armorer on a movie set. The first time she did this job, she discharged a weapon without warning those around her. The actor Nicolas Cage stormed off the set in protest, saying she blew his eardrums out. It was an inauspicious start for someone whose whole job was supposed to be safety.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys say the charges are the result of a flawed investigation. In a statement after the shooting, she said that she had no idea where the live rounds came from, and that she was overworked, since she had another role on set.

The charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter describes a situation where a person dies as a result of another person’s actions, but those actions are not intentional.

In other words , prosecutors are not saying this was done on purpose. But they did say that if everyone had followed reasonable safety precautions, then Haylna Hutchins would not have died. The prosecutor said that every person who touches a gun on a movie set has the responsibility to make sure that it’s not going to fire a bullet and kill someone. As a result, they said, the actions of Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed meet the definition of involuntary manslaughter.

Some legal analysts say they think it will be a difficult case for the prosecution to make; they think it will be hard to prove that this was a crime, and not an accident. There aren’t many other cases in history that compare to the current situation. And prosecutors still don’t know how a bullet wound up in the gun used on set.

In New Mexico, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum of 18 months in prison and a fine. However, prosecutors will also give the jury the option to add a higher charge, which could lead to more jail time.

This is not a job for a 25-year-old

How do you let a 25-year-old be the one person in charge of gun safety on a movie set? I’m sorry—I know people can do extraordinary things at an early age. But certain things are just serious and they require judgment and seriousness that comes from experience. And I would think the one person in charge of gun safety…that should be a role that goes to someone who has demonstrated a longer history of taking safety seriously.

I’m thinking about the people in my life who trained me how to do dangerous things—rock climbing, for example, or how to drive, how to SCUBA dive, how to fire a rifle, what to do in case of a fire in a skyscraper—none of these people were 25 years old. And it’s not like gun safety is an unknown danger in America, of all places. What a tragedy.

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Expression: Meet the definition