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  • Writer's pictureTammi Chenard

Accidents On Movie Sets

Shooting on 'Rust' Movie Set Raises Questions Over On-Set Safety

The recent fatal accident involving an improperly loaded prop gun on the set of Alec Baldwin's latest movie Rust has certainly gone viral, and everyone seems fascinated with the tragic story. Forefront on everyone's mind is the issue of workplace safety in the film industry, and whether the rules governing on-set practices are just too lax. Shockingly, between the years 1996-2016, there were 43 fatalities while filming in the United States alone. Not all of the on-set injuries were fatal, of course, and during that same time period, there were 150 serious injuries.

Across the Border (1914)

This unsafe trend in filmmaking is by no means a strictly modern issue. The film industry has experienced tragic and fatal accidents since the very beginnings of its illustrious and gilded existence. On July 1, 1914, actress Grace McHugh was filming a scene for the film Across the Border in which her character rides a horse across a raging river, with the Arkansas River in Colorado acting as a stand-in for the Rio Grande. Grace started riding through the river with no problem until she got about halfway across. That's when her horse stumbled and she fell into the water. One actor on horseback tried to rescue Grace but somehow failed to reach her. That's when cameraman Owen Carter jumped into the river to try and save her. They both disappeared beneath the water, and their bodies were found days later, miles apart from each other. Carter was later posthumously named a Carnegie Hero for his efforts.

The Twilight Zone (1982)

On the last scheduled day of shooting for the film The Twilight Zone, there was an absolutely tragic accident involving actor Vic Morrow, two child actors (aged 6 and 7), and a helicopter. The actor and the children were supposed to be running away from a helicopter that was vigorously chasing them. Everything was going according to plan in the stunt when suddenly some pyrotechnics caused the pilot of the helicopter to lose control, and he crashed right into the three victims. Five people involved with the film, including the co-director, John Landis, were charged with involuntary manslaughter in 1987, the first time in history that a film director was put on trial because of an on-set incident. All five people were acquitted.

The Crow (1993)

The notorious prop gun accident on the set of the iconic film The Crow bears some eerie similarities to the Rust prop gun accident. While filming a scene in which the main character, played by actor Brandon Lee, son of legend Bruce Lee, gets shot by a bad guy, everything went perfectly. Or so everyone thought, right up until "cut" was shouted and someone noticed the growing pool of blood under Brandon Lee's body as he lay on his mark. It seems that, at an earlier point in filming, they were out of blanks on set. So, instead of getting more, and halting filming until those special blank bullets were purchased, someone decided it would be just as good to hack the tips off of real bullets and use those as modified blanks. This brilliant solution worked fine, and two weeks later, the same guns were used, with real blanks loaded. Unfortunately for Brandon, there was a chunk of a bullet tip still in the gun used in his scene. He was rushed to the hospital but later died from the injury.

Syriana (2005)

In 2005's Syriana, George Clooney plays a playboy CIA agent who, in one scene, gets caught by the bad guys, and is tied to a chair. At one point, they are interrogating him and roughing him up, and the chair that George is sitting on is kicked over. That part was written in the script. What wasn't in the script was how when the chair was kicked over, George hit his head. Hard. He was immediately checked out by a physician, who cleared him. Soon, however, he began to develop crippling headaches and needed several surgeries to recover. He has stated that he still sometimes gets severe headaches to this day. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, but somehow it really doesn't seem worth it.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Beloved and respected actor Heath Ledger passed away months before the release of The Dark Night in 2008. That was not the only death connected to that film, as there was another tragic death involving a cameraman, Conway Wickliffe. He was practicing a very complex action shot that involved multiple vehicles, doing a dry run so that the filmed run would go perfectly. The shot involved him partially hanging out of the window with the camera to get a particularly amazing angle. Unfortunately, something went wrong, and the vehicle collided with a tree. The driver came out completely unscathed, but Conway died upon impact.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2009)

While practicing for a scene in which Harry Potter is supposed to be flying through the air, Daniel Radcliffe's stunt double, David Holmes, was tragically involved in an accident involving pyrotechnics. Something went terribly wrong with the pyrotechnics, causing the young man to fall to the ground with a great deal of force, despite being strapped into a harness. He suffered a fractured neck in the accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. He was only 25 years old at the time of the accident.

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