Following the tragic shooting accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza on the set of Rust in Santa Fe New Mexico, experts in the B.C. film industry are expressing shock and speaking out about safety on set.
Dean Goodine, a property master with over 36 years experience in the film industry and based in Summerland, said he can’t believe a shooting death occurred on-set in 2021.
“It’s a gut punch. With all the safety measures that are in place now and the way that CGI has stepped in to help with gun safety and close-range gunfire — a lot of my peers who have been around a long time, we’re all shocked that this could have happened.”
Goodine is one of the few property masters in Canada with experience working on multiple Western films, working with top actors on films such as Inception, Unforgiven, Open Range and The Assassination of Jesse James.
In a phone interview with Black Press Media, he said that when it comes to western-style revolvers in film, the term “prop-gun” is a misnomer.
“It gives people the sense that some sort of non-gun was used. In reality, these are fully functioning weapons. The difference is, in our world, we only use blanks in them. We don’t use any live ammo.”
Even though live ammunition is not used on film sets, Goodine said property masters treat weapons seriously. The process involves loading revolvers with what are known as dummy rounds, which are bullets with no gunpowder in them and the primer has been struck so the bullet has no way of firing. Dummy rounds also have a marble in them so people know they are empty.
“I go to the first assistant director, I show them the weapon, I click it off for them to let them know it will not fire because we’re pointing it at people. I then go to the camera department — who are always in the most vulnerable positions on the set — and show them that the weapon the actor is pointing will not fire. When the actors come in I repeat the process.”
From there, the crew determines who is firing the weapon and how many shots they fire. Goodine loads the revolver with blank movie rounds, which do not have projectiles in them but create a muzzle flash and emit smoke. He then checks the barrel to make sure there is no obstruction or build-up that could potentially injure someone.
Before the shooting starts, Goodine asks anyone who does not need to be on set and asks them to leave. He will also set up Lexan barriers to keep the crew safe.
“You have to be consistent. You have to do it the same every time. What happens to prop masters sometimes if they don’t have lots of experience to be able to push back, it could be the sun’s going down and everyone’s in a hurry. The one thing you can never hurry the safety.”
With the advent of computer-generated imagery and special effects, productions often choose to edit in muzzle flashes in post-production to increase gun safety, especially when scenes are filmed indoors. That also enables most productions to use prop guns, which are typically made of rubber.
While most productions take safety seriously, Goodine said that low-budget films are more likely to cut corners on safety. He pointed to the explosive growth in the film industry as a reason why safety standards may not be followed.
“But in Canada, no matter the level, it is strict when it comes to firearms and rightfully so. We’re glad for it.”
Falls most common injuries on B.C. sets
According to WorkSafeBC, the film industry has an injury rate of 2.4 per 100 workers, which is above the rate for all industries, of about 2.15 per 100.
In 2020, there were 424 time-loss claims in the motion picture, commercial or television production injury, of which 74 were serious injuries. There have been three fatalities between 2016 and 2020 on B.C. film sets.
A review of injury data from the industry found that the most common injury is workers falling from heights or from the same level.
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