‘Rust’ assistant director had a history of unsafe practices, prop maker says

LOS ANGELES — The assistant director on the set of “Rust” where Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins had previously allowed an unsafe working environment on productions, according to a prop maker who worked with him.

Dave Halls “at first he seemed like an older, affable first [assistant director] with the usual run of idiosyncrasies, but that facade soon disappeared,” according to prop maker Maggie Goll, who said she was called to work on Hulu’s “Into the Dark” anthology series in February 2019.

“He did not maintain a safe working environment,” Goll said in a detailed statement to NBC News. “Sets were almost always allowed to become increasingly claustrophobic, no established fire lanes, exits blocked … safety meetings were nonexistent.”

According to court records, Halls handed the prop gun to Baldwin before the fatal shooting at the Bonanza Ranch in New Mexico, indicating incorrectly that the weapon didn’t carry live rounds by yelling “cold gun.”

Alec Baldwin takes a call in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s offices after being questioned on the shooting.Jim Weber / The New Mexican

Halls did not respond to requests for comment Friday and Saturday.

Goll, an experienced special effects technician and pyrotechnician, said that in one instance on set, Halls attempted to keep filming even after the lead pyrotechnician had suffered a medical emergency and the set had become unsafe.

In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson for Blumhouse Television, which produced “Into the Dark” with Hulu, said, “We used non-firing, dummy firearm props during the production of Pure. No complaints were received via the studio’s anonymous reporting system EthicsPoint/Navex regarding safety concerns.”

Regarding complaints about Halls the Blumhouse spokesperson said, “We cannot comment on personnel matters.”

The gun Baldwin used that was supposed to contain blanks had misfired before on the New Mexico set, sources familiar with the situation told NBC News, prompting several crew members to walk off set just hours before the incident that killed Hutchins.

In a statement, Rust Movies Productions said it was not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set.

Investigators have not said whether the gun held blanks.

A 911 call alerting authorities about the incident hints at the panic on the set.

“We were rehearsing and it went off, and I ran out, we all ran out,” a female caller told the emergency dispatcher in the recording provided by the Santa Fe County Regional Emergency Communications Center.

When Baldwin pulled the trigger, he killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her. Souza, who is recovering after being shot, broke his silence Saturday, saying he was “gutted” by Hutchins’ death.

“There is absolutely no reason that gun safety should be ignored on set, even when it is a non-firing prop firearm,” Goll said.

On the set of “Into the Dark,” Halls “did not feel the same” and neglected to hold safety meetings or make announcements prior to the appearance of a firearm on set, Goll added.

“The only reason the crew was made aware of a weapon’s presence was because the assistant prop master demanded Dave acknowledge and announce the situation each day,” she said.

“The anthology series was a ‘side letter’ agreement … that allowed for lesser working conditions, no true jurisdiction over covered union work, aka non-preferential hiring and what amounts to poverty wages for the crew,” she added.

In an on-camera interview with NBC News, Goll said that when she worked with Halls “there was basic onset safety that wasn’t being followed. You know, restricting, restricting access to the set. Not having safe exists, not having safe fire lanes.”

Goll said that her speaking out, “could very well end my career, but we have to speak up.”

“There needs to be a culture change,” she said. “And that’s not going to come from the top right now. And so we’re going to have to push for it from the bottom.”

No one has been arrested or charged in the New Mexico shooting and the investigation is ongoing.

Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in “30 Rock,” “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” has described the killing as a “tragic accident.” He was a producer of “Rust.”

David Douglas and Diana Dasrath reported from Los Angeles; Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.

Alicia Victoria Lozano and The Associated Press contributed.

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