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Coachella Valley filmmaker calls shooting at Alec Baldwin movie set ‘baffling’; explains precautions for weapons on set

Following the deadly shooting on the set of "Rust," Coachella Valley filmmaker Christian Sesma told Peter Daut the tragedy "hits close to home."

Sesma has made several action films, and his most recent involved shooting live fire blanks.

"It's a little bit baffling for us in the industry to hear about this and how this could have happened, especially when you're dealing with real blanks and real pyrotechnics. It's a very dangerous thing," he said. "There are many checks and balances we go through to make sure something like this doesn't happen."

Coachella Valley filmmaker Christian Sesma

A cinematographer was killed and a director wounded Thursday in the accidental shooting on the set of the Western film starring Alec Baldwin. Baldwin, 63, discharged the gun on the movie set in New Mexico, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.

On Friday, court records showed that an assistant director unwittingly handed Baldwin a loaded weapon and told him it was safe to use in the moments before the fatal shooting.

"The movie is the secondary thing. How does [the crew] move forward as individuals, how does the industry move forward from this to make sure this doesn't happen? I think it's going to get to the place where we're just going to be relying on visual effects."

Sesma's newest film, ‘Every Last One of Them’ is being released today. "Take Back," an action film shot in the Coachella Valley, premiered over the summer. IMDB lists three more films in post-production linked to Sesma.

Prop guns: What they are and how they can kill

<i>Tamir Kalifa/The Boston Globe/Getty Images</i><br/>Prop guns are used to make movie scenes look realistic. Gun props are shown here on a table backstage during rehearsal for the play
Boston Globe via Getty Images

By Lisa Respers France and Sofia Couceiro, CNN

The goal of movies and TV series is to make scenes look realistic. When it comes to prop guns, they don’t just look dangerous.

Such was the case in the death Thursday of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust” in New Mexico. The 42-year-old director of photography died after actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun, according to investigators.

The film’s director Joel Souza, 48, was also injured during the incident.

Prop master Joseph Fisher told CNN on Friday that extreme safety measures are taken when it comes to weapons on set.

“Typically we will do a safety brief with the cast and crew,” he said. “We’ll let them examine it, we’ll explain safety precautions that go with each type of prop weapon. In this case [the “Rust” incident], it was a blank firing weapon and with that there are inherent risks.”

Fisher mentioned the case of actor Brandon Lee who died in 1993 after a prop gun accident in which a fragment of a .44 bullet accidentally ended up lodged in the gun, which resulted Lee being wounded in the abdomen.

The prop master said even when there is no “bullet” in a prop gun, there are still projectiles, including gun powder and gas which can be dangerous within a certain range.

Ben Simmons of Bare Arms, a company in the UK that works with firearms on sets, told CNN a variety of “prop guns” can be used in TV and film productions.

They range, he said, from “a completely fake firearm that’s been constructed” from materials such as rubber or wood to an actual working gun or a formerly working gun that has been rendered inoperable.

Simmons explained that the type of gun used depends on the production, but often guns that fire blanks are used on sets.

In a regular gun, a charge fires the projectile which is a bullet. “Blanks” refer to a blank cartridge which usually consists of a shell or casing, gunpowder, but no bullet. Instead there is a tip that has has been “crimped” by wadding or wax, according to the “Handbook of Firearms and Ballistics.”

“It doesn’t mean the blank rounds are safe because if you were to get in the way of that or get too close to it, lots of dirt and debris can get thrown out the end of the gun, and that can cause harm,” Simmons said. “It’s extremely rare for it to happen and it’s even rarer for it to cause death.”

Dave Brown, a professional firearms instructor and a firearms safety coordinator, wrote a piece for American Cinematographer magazine in 2019 in which he explained that “CGI [computer generated imagery] may be used for close-range gunshots that could not be safely achieved otherwise, but yes, even with all the advancements in visual effects and computer-generated imagery, we still fire guns with blanks.”

“The reason is simple: We want the scene to look as real as possible. We want the story and characters to be believable,” Brown wrote. “Blanks help contribute to the authenticity of a scene in ways that cannot be achieved in any other manner. If the cinematographer is there to paint a story with light and framing, firearms experts are there to enhance a story with drama and excitement.”

The more gunpowder that is used, the bigger the flash and blast from a prop gun. Brown’s piece reiterated that using blanks still requires someone on set who is experienced with firearms.

“Blanks expel gunpowder and hot gases out of the front of the barrel in a cone shape,” he wrote. “This is harmless at longer ranges, but the explosion can seriously injure someone if it’s too close.”

Daniel Oates, former police chief for Miami Beach, Florida, and Aurora, Colorado, told CNN that in policing “you treat every gun as if it’s dangerous and it’s loaded all the time.”

And while prop guns on sets generally use blanks instead of live ammunition, Oates explained that they all use powder as a charge agent and wadding to create the noise and visual of an actual gun shot.

“Even at close range these weapons can be very, very dangerous,” he said.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation into what happened on the set of “Rust” is “open and active” and no charges have been filed.

Peter Daut

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