‘Rust’ Director Recalls Armorer’s Apology After He Was Shot: ‘I’m Sorry, Joel’

Rexa Vella

‘Rust’ Director Recalls Armorer’s Apology After He Was Shot: ‘I’m Sorry, Joel’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Joel Souza, the writer and director of “Rust,” told a jury on Friday about getting shot while filming a scene in an old Western church with Alec Baldwin in October 2021.

He said he heard a deafening bang, and that it “felt like somebody had taken a baseball bat to my shoulder.”

He stumbled backwards, dropped to his knees, and ended up lying on the floor, screaming in pain. He could see blood on the back of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was mortally wounded. He also recalled Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the film’s armorer, coming into the church and apologizing.

“She looked distraught,” Souza said. “I remember her saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Joel.” And I remember somebody just screaming at her and they just ushered her out.”

Gutierrez Reed is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’ death, and is accused of negligently loading a live round into Baldwin’s gun instead of a dummy. Souza’s testimony marks the first time he has publicly given his account of the shooting.

As he was laying on the floor, Souza said he still had no idea what had happened. He said he thought something might have been stuck in the gun barrel, but the idea that it was a real bullet didn’t occur to him.

He lay on the ground for several minutes, and exchanged a look with Hutchins — “She had the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen,” he said — before he was put on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. He said he asked to be taken to the same hospital as Hutchins, but was told that was not possible.

At the hospital, he was told that he had been shot. He still didn’t believe it.

“I kept saying, ‘You don’t understand. This is a movie set. That’s not possible,’” Souza said. “They eventually grew tired of my protesting about it. They showed me an X-ray of my back and there was a very large bullet in it.”

Souza also recalled the development of the film. He had directed an earlier film, “Crown Vic,” on which Baldwin had been a producer. After that, they talked about other projects they could do together. Souza wanted to make a Western, and Baldwin thought that was interesting and hired him to write the script.

He also recalled in detail his decision to hire Hutchins, saying he had been impressed by her earlier work. When they met over Zoom, they had a lengthy conversation, bonding over their respective filmmaking influences.

“She was really keen to do a Western — all filmmakers are. It’s just a really interesting thing to do visually,” Souza said. “We were really, really, really in tune about what we both thought the movie should be… My references would always tend to be a little more mainstream, and she would be talking about some avant-garde Russian filmmaker. That’s a hole in my game. She was going to fill it. I loved that.”

Souza said he had limited experience with guns on set. “Crown Vic” only had a few scenes involving firearms, and otherwise he had no familiarity with them.

“Outside of movies, I have nothing to do with guns,” he said.

He said he did not know what a “dummy” round was until after the shooting. He also said he was not familiar with the labor-management safety bulletins that govern the use of guns on set.

The bulletins are typically attached to the call sheets on a film set, but that was not done on “Rust.” Souza noted that the first assistant director, David Halls, was the safety officer, but that all members of the crew are responsible for safety.

Earlier on Friday, the defense cross-examined Sarah Zachry, the prop master on the film. Zachry worked with Gutierrez Reed to load guns. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, she unloaded two guns that were held by other actors and threw the dummies in the trash.

“I think it was a reactive decision,” Zachry testified Thursday, saying she was “in a state of shock and panic.”

The defense has implied that Zachry was acting on the instructions of Seth Kenney, a supplier of weapons and ammunition to the production. The defense alleges that Kenney was responsible for mingling live and dummy rounds, though the prosecution has presented evidence that it was Gutierrez Reed, not Kenney, who brought a contaminated dummy box to set.

After the shooting, Zachry texted Kenney “Emergency!” and then they had a brief phone call. Zachry said that Kenney seemed “mortified.” She denied that the call was linked to her decision to throw away dummy rounds.

“When you made that decision, was that Mr. Kenney directing you to do something?” asked Jason Bowles, the defense lawyer.

“No,” Zachry said.

A month after the shooting, Zachry came forward to police to acknowledge that she had thrown the dummy rounds away. Detectives were not able to recover them.

Zachry signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors last fall, agreeing to testify at the trial in exchange for immunity from prosecution for disposing of evidence.

Zachry and Gutierrez Reed clashed at times over Gutierrez Reed’s lack of attention to her duties as a prop assistant. Zachry testified that she wanted to fire Gutierrez Reed from her job on props. At another point on set, Gutierrez Reed called her an offensive expletive.

After the shooting, Zachry was clearly upset with Gutierrez Reed.

“I hope she’s put in jail,” Zachry said in a text message. “This is outrageous.”

Kenney is expected to testify on Monday.


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