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'Rust' director recounts the moment he was shot on set, during testimony in trial of armorer

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Joel Souza, the director and screenwriter of the “Rust” film, took to the stand Friday in the involuntary manslaughter trial of the film’s armorer, to testify about the moment he was shot on set.

“There was an incredibly loud bang” unlike typical discharges on set, Souza testified. “This was deafening.”

Following the percussive outburst, Souza said, “It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my shoulder, I remember that distinctly.”

Souza had been standing directly behind cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, trying to get a closer look at the shot in the film’s camera.

“I distinctly remember (Hutchins) being lowered to the ground, people had her sort of on either side. I still didn’t know what had happened. Nothing made sense,” he said. “I remember initially thinking, ‘Had she been startled by it?’ and then I saw the blood on her back.” Hutchins was fatally shot during the October 2021 incident.

Souza recalled the chaotic scene unfolding and the presence of armorer Hannah Guttierez Reed, “standing there, looking distraught.”

“I remember her saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry Joel’ and I remember somebody screaming at her and they just ushered her out,” he recalled.

At the hospital, the filmmaker said did not understand he had been shot by a bullet.

“I knew something had got me, but they kept talking about this bullet and it just could not compute for me. I kept saying, ‘You don’t understand. No, no, no, this was a movie set. That’s not possible. You don’t get it,’ and, ‘It’s just not possible. It’s just not possible there’s a live round.’”

Doctors then showed Souza the X-ray of his back.

“There was a very large bullet in it.”

Testimony in the trial has hinged on whether Gutierrez Reed, who was in charge of handling weapons on set, or Alec Baldwin and the film’s production team, are ultimately responsible for the shooting.

The New Mexico prosecutor Jason Lewis has said Gutierrez Reed’s failure to properly implement safety checks led to the live bullets making their way onto set. Alternately, her defense attorneys have emphasized the film’s production team fostered a chaotic environment and Reed, just 24 years old at the time, was given an unreasonable number of responsibilities on set.

Gutierrez Reed has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges. Baldwin has also pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges stemming from Hutchins’ death.

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