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Is Alec Baldwin Being Singled Out?

I am somewhat rushing this off, and not researching the facts of the matter, if indeed anyone exactly knows them, but we are going to have a trial on them, so we will hear much more. Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins, Director of Photography on the set of the movie “Rust.” This is essentially charging him with criminal negligence, somewhat akin to driving a car at 100 mph. and hitting someone, or shooting a loaded gun into the air in celebration, and the bullet hits someone.

I think that most people did not expect the D.A. in this New Mexico town to charge Baldwin with anything. But she said that from the outset, her office was considering such a charge. They even let one of the other people who she said could have avoided this terrible tragedy, plead to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against Baldwin.

My first thought, fair or not, was that Baldwin was being gone after because of his well known liberal politics, or simply because he is a big name, and thus a trophy for the D.A. But I try not to jump to such conclusions, because I do not know all the facts. It does seem very unusual, though. SAG and AFTRA issued a statement condemning it; the headline saying that they called it “wrong and uninformed.”

Clearly, a precedent here would put every actor in any film which has guns in it, which unfortunately seems to be most of them, at risk. Someone said on TV yesterday that because Baldwin was listed as an Executive Producer, he had more responsibility than an actor. But apparently these responsibilities were limited to having some influence over which actors might be chosen for roles, or with regard to script issues. Not matters involving the set, or safety issues.

Supposedly, Baldwin was told by the person on set who was responsible for such things, that the ‘gun was ?cold,” not loaded. That would seem to be common practice when dealing with guns on set. Was Baldwin supposed to fire it into some bushes to see? Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to make one hundred percent sure that no weapon on set is loaded. But what was Baldwin supposed to do, more than any other one of a thousand actors in movies is supposed to do?

Danny Cevallos, a respected defense counsel, said today that Baldwin saying in an interview that he would never fire a gun, was a mistake, because he did probably pull the trigger in this incident, albeit thinking that there were no bullets in the gun. The idea is that if you say something which can be contradicted, then that is used by the prosecutors to throw all of your credibility into doubt. Fair enough, but again, what was Baldwin legally required to do to make sure that what he was told about the gun not being loaded, was correct?

I am no expert in movie-making, but I think I have seen all sorts of guns, presumably not loaded, being fired in films.I think that Bruce Lee, and then later his son Brandon Lee,, were killed in dreadful on-set accidents. In the movie “Twilight Zone,” the then-hotshot director John Landis staged a scene involving a plane in which actor Vic Morrow was killed. In the chariot race in “Ben-Hur,” two people were killed, I think. I even heard something on TCM about how legendary director Michael Curtiz was so determined to have a particular historic film look realistic, that he put real spikes in the ground for the battle charge scene, and at least two people were killed, and maybe horses, too, by running over the spikes.

I don’t think that anyone was charged in any of these tragedies, but one could look it up. And if not, that does not mean that a more enlightened era could not have charges result from such incidents, though we have not, until yesterday. But unless we hear something astounding in this trial, I just do not see how Baldwin was guilty of a homicide through criminal negligence. The penalty is over five years in prison.

It is not that I am a major Alec Baldwin fan, though he had a great scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and more significantly, I respect him caring about the country, and speaking out against Trump, which was never without risk. I cannot shake the suspicion that there is politics maybe beyond bagging a celebrity, involved here. If the facts show otherwise. I will accept that. But in a country where it seems that certain people can say, or incite, or threaten anything, and nothing happens to them, I do wonder.


8 Responses

  1. Check RD’s last comment thread for the usual Friday night links.

  2. I thought it might have had to do with alleged previous accidental gun discharges on the set and worker complaints I recall mentioned at the time. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/23/us/alec-baldwin-rust-shooting.html.

    • And if that’s indeed the case, I would think that (as the EP) Baldwin had a duty to stop production until safety concerns were resolved (but I admit that I’m a fiat justitia kind of guy). I also think that since we’re in the 21st Century and have really good CGI technology that there’s no good reason to ever have a live round (or a functional firearm, for that matter) on a movie set.

      Oh, and if you’re handling a revolver you ought to know damned well that you don’t have to “pull the trigger” to fire a round. If the hammer slips while you’re “cocking” it, it can cause a discharge. If you don’t know that, you shouldn’t be allowed to pick it up in the first place. Never point a gun at something you don’t intend to shoot. Even if you think it’s unloaded. Even if your finger isn’t on the trigger (and it shouldn’t be until you intend to fire). That’s gun safety 101.

  3. To be clear: I don’t think Baldwin should bear any liability as the actor who held the pistol when it discharged. I think he bears responsibility because he’s an Executive Producer and therefore in a supervisory position over the set as a whole. He’s responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for cast and crew just like any other workplace manager. If there were already safety incidents on the set involving firearms, it was his responsibility to take steps to mitigate them.

    And I still don’t believe that in this day and age there’s any conceivable reason to have live ammunition or even fully-functional firearms on a movie set.

    • I do think that his position involved some ability to choose actors, and maybe change the script a bit, nothing else.

      • If you want the fancy managerial title (and the cut of the proceeds that implies), then you have to do the job. Producers (supposedly) are responsible for the production. Yeah, in practice maybe a lot of performers who get EP titles shirk that responsibility. Maybe they shouldn’t.

        In any event, this should be up to a jury to decide.

        By the way, I wouldn’t expect someone from LA to be aware of this, but New Mexico leans Left. It’s voted Democratic in every Presidential election since 1992, with the sole exception of 2004. Not everybody in flyover country is a neo-f*scist troglodyte, you know.

        • I know that New Mexico is a blue state, we Californians are not necessarily insular! But a District Attorney might be of a different perspective, possibly, though I do not know hers. I just don’t see how someone is criminally negligent when the armorer told him that the gun was not loaded.

        • Thank you, Propertius, for your well reasoned comments.

          The DA in beautiful Santa Fe, a place known worldwide as a multicultural center for the arts (“this New Mexico town” as William refers to it), is a 45 year old Democrat. She was previously the assistant DA and before that a public defender. People describe her as a careful and thorough prosecutor who has no political ambitions beyond her current job. She is well established in the community. Her wife is a former police officer and they have two young children. The investigation took over a year before Baldwin was charged. It’s not like the DA slapped handcuffs on him the day after the shooting like some crooked lawman in a bad TV western and threw him into the hoosegow to rot. She has said she believes no one is above the law. I would hope all of us here believe the same thing. Now Baldwin will have his day in court, so to speak, unless a plea agreement is reached. That is a possibility.

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