The 42-year-old rising cinematographer died on Thursday from injuries sustained by the discharge of a prop firearm in an on-set accident involving Alec Baldwin. She is survived by her husband and a 9-year-old son.
'We lost a truly unique artist'
Following her death, colleagues and friends in the industry offered remembrances of the cinematographer. "We lost a truly unique artist, and it pains me to think of the images she never had a chance to create," said fellow cinematographer Stas Bondarenko.
Born in Ukraine, Hutchins lived in Los Angeles and graduated from the American Film Institute in 2015. She is known for her work on Archenemy (2020), Darlin' (2019) and Blindfire (2020). In 2019, she was named a rising star by American Cinematographer magazine. Hutchins also received the English Riviera Film Festival's Jury prize for best cinematography for the short film Treacle in 2019.
She was selected a rising star by American Cinematographer magazine in 2019 and was making a name for herself on productions such as Archenemy, Snowbound, Darlin', Blindfire and The Mad Hatter.
A GoFundMe campaign has also been established by the guild for union members and others to donate money to help support Hutchins' family.
Many directors and colleagues have paid tribute to Hutchins since the news of her untimely death. Director James Cullen Bressack commented on Hutchins' most recent Instagram post: "I will miss you friend ... This is devastating."
Tragedy reflects troubling trends in entertainment industry
The details of what went horribly wrong on the New Mexico set of Rust will be gathered in the coming weeks through multiple public and private investigations.
But as production veterans grappled with the tragic news that cinematographer Hutchins was killed on 21 October in a gun accident, knowledgeable sources pointed to a number of concerning industry trends that are reflected in the behind-the-scenes story of the low-budget independent Western.
Inexperience among crew members: The huge spike in the demand for content during the past decade has stretched below-the-line talent beyond its breaking point. "In some places you can't find qualified people for these jobs so you are taking (crew) with very little experience," said a veteran producer.
Inexperience among producers: The low barrier to entry in producing for streamers who pay production costs upfront has allowed smaller companies and startups to attempt large-scale productions without adequate staff, skills or equipment.
Complacency: Many producers and crew members have been working at the kind of a high volume and pace that can breed a sense of complacency and over-confidence in key positions.
Attorney Jeff Harris, who represented the family of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed in 2014 in a horrific accident on the set of indie movie Midnight Rider, said that in his experience accidents are often the result of complacency about requirements to follow safety bulletins and protocols dangerous activities.
"You live in this fantasy land where you're fake shooting people and blowing things up," says Harris, of Atlanta-based Harris Lowry Manton, who also represented the family of The Walking Dead stuntman who died of a head injury on set in 2017. "It's easy to get into a false sense of complacency of 'Oh we've done this a million times.' "
Producers were quick to blame the Peak TV phenomenon for stretching the talent pool for below-the-line, craft and technical crew positions well beyond its breaking point.
The strain at every level created by the spike in the number of original scripted TV series is reverberating throughout the creative community. The pace of production has more than doubled in a decade, rising from 216 scripted series airing across broadcast and cable networks in 2010 to 532 across broadcast, cable and streaming in 2020, according to research by FX Networks.
The biggest evidence of the tension caused by the windfall of so much work was the strike drama that gripped Hollywood this month. IATSE, the union representing most production workers, threatened to strike over quality of life issues in volatile contract talks that may yet be influenced by the jolt of Hutchins' death.
"As an industry, in Peak TV times, we did this to ourselves," said a producer.
Multiple sources pointed to the importance of having experienced skilled technicians on set when weapons are involved. The details of "Rust" situation are not clear, but industry veterans noted that Westerns typically involve a number of firearms for multiple actors.
"On some shoots you might have a truck full of (firearms) and somebody has to keep track of every one of them and how they're being used," the producer said.
The armourer on set typically "spends a lot of time coaching people how to handle a gun safely," the producer said. "In between takes that person is always standing around coaching."
Source: Adam Egypt Mortimer via AP
The producer added that there can often be problems with actors not taking the gun safety training seriously - that's another reason for having experts on the set and maintaining safety protocols down the letter. "This protects people from themselves," the producer said.
Production veterans say the industry needs to work to promote a zero-tolerance approach for anyone who tries to avoid or ignore safety protocols. In the case of firearms, producers also said that so much can be done easily now with inexpensive post-production editing that there is no excuse for pushing the envelope on safety.
"You can add a muzzle flash so easily now with five minutes of green screen," the producer said.
Producers also need to deeply understand the gravity of what they are getting into when they go into production, particularly on location. And industry veterans say that safety protocols need to be a point of pride for producers who need to adopt a buck-stops-here attitude on set.
"We are asking you to do dangerous things," the veteran safety officer said. "We put you in airplanes, we put you on mountains, we put you in speeding cars. It's up to (producers) to make sure everyone gets home safe."