How to sell a screenplay

By Sheila Duane

The death of Halyna Hutchins and the injury to Joel Souza are terrible tragedies. Everyone at Mad Wife Productions is heartbroken and sends condolences to Halyna’s family. 

Since the recent accidental shooting on the film set of RUST in New Mexico, people in the industry, as well as those outside, are asking questions about the safety standards that are followed (or not followed) on film sets and how this could happen, AGAIN! The media was quick to remind that this is not the first shooting death on a film set: Brandon Lee was killed in an accidental shooting on a film set in 1993. 

The takeaway from the investigation of Brandon Lee’s death was that a fragment of a blank remained in the barrel of a prop gun and was propelled by another blank shot. The death was due to tragedy and negligence. 

While the preliminary information in the investigation of the RUST-set shooting also indicates negligence, the involvement of a live round could also mean that criminal charges may be filed.

On set shootings do not happen often but they should not happen at all. The industry has established precautionary procedures that should have prevented it. The Actors Equity Association has established the following safety procedures for the use of firearms:

  • Use simulated or dummy weapons whenever possible.
  • Treat all guns as if they are loaded and deadly.
  • Unless you are actually performing or rehearsing, the property master must secure all firearms.
  • The property master or armorer should carefully train you in the safe use of any firearm you must handle. Be honest if you have no knowledge about guns. Do not overstate your qualifications.
  • Follow all instructions given by the qualified instructor.
  • Never engage in horseplay with any firearms or other weapons. Do not let others handle the gun for any reason.
  • All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.
  • Never point a firearm at anyone including yourself. Always cheat the shot by aiming to the right or left of the target character. If asked to point and shoot directly at a living target, consult with the property master or armorer for the prescribed safety procedures.
  • If you are the intended target of a gunshot, make sure that the person firing at you has followed all these safety procedures.
  • If you are required to wear exploding blood squibs, make sure there is a bulletproof vest or other solid protection between you and the blast packet.
  • Use protective shields for all off stage cast within close proximity to any shots fired.
  • Appropriate ear protection should be offered to the cast members and stage managers.
  • Check the firearm every time you take possession of it. Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.
  • Blanks are extremely dangerous. Even though they do not fire bullets out of the gun barrel, they still have a powerful blast than can maim or kill.
  • Never attempt to adjust, modify or repair a firearm yourself. If a weapon jams or malfunctions, corrections shall be made only by a qualified person.
  • When a scene is completed, the property master shall unload the firearms. All weapons must be cleaned, checked and inventoried after each performance.
  • Live ammunition may not be brought into the theatre.
  • If you are in a production where shots are to be fired and there is no qualified property master, go to the nearest phone and call Actors’ Equity Association. A union representative will make sure proper procedures are followed.
  • State and federal safety laws must be honored at all times.
  • If any of the above safety tips conflict with the instructions given by a qualified instructor, abide by the instructions from the qualified instructor. If you are still not sure, contact your Equity Business Representative.


Whether these guidelines were followed remains to be seen. However, nothing changes the fact that Halyna Hutchins is dead. Her family, friends, and colleagues mourn her loss. Brandon Lee is also gone, and his family still mourns. Michael Massee, the actor who accidentally shot Brandon Lee, suffered emotional distress and guilt for the rest of his life even though he had no responsibility in the event. Alec Baldwin may experience the same kind of distress even though he has no responsibility in this event. In fact, everyone on the set may be traumatized.

Accidents do happen, but it should be the goal of every film set to set safety standards that will prevent injuries from happening – no one should die on film sets from accidents that were preventable!