Shannon Lee on ‘Rust’ Tragedy: Halyna Hutchins and Brandon Lee Deserve Hollywood’s Attention(Guest Column)

Shannon Lee Guest Column Brandon Lee Guns on Set Hollywood
Courtesy of Shannon Lee

In the original version of this story, I was one of the characters who suffered a terrible loss and who, alongside the main characters, had to learn to live again. It was a tale of darkness, the reverberations of which are still felt. It took 28 years to make the sequel, entitled “Rust,” and here I am reprising my role. Only this time, I play the seasoned veteran, the one who stands up at the town hall meeting and offers some sage advice, who sheds some light on the situation and attempts to set the stage for some measure of redemption.

To say that the main plotline of our drama revolves around an “accident” does not have enough reverence for the people involved or the level of negligence and its horrific consequences. One main narrative thread is that there is no need to change gun safety protocols because when they are followed, there isn’t a problem. After all, there have only been a few truly tragic incidents over the course of a few decades, so it’s a system that “works.”

But does it? The tragedy at the center grabs our attention, but this drama has multiple layers of complexity driving the narrative and creating tension — the untenable work conditions, the naiveté, the pressure to make schedule for a price, the fear of losing a job, the hunger to break into the biz, the arrogant attitudes, etc. These are the layers of our drama, and they’re not that original.

In a Hollywood plot, the senseless death of a key character would likely rally the community to make a stand. So I ask you, Hollywood, is a human life worth taking a moment to, at the very least, reassess the situation? At the minimum how about we have a constructive conversation? But before we begin, ask yourself (but really ask): If you lost your loved one to gross, avoidable negligence, would you want the culture that spawned that negligence to answer the question of how it might do better?

Twenty-eight years after losing my brother, Brandon Lee, to a very similar situation — one that allowed real bullets onto a film set and that made actors into agents of death — I’m finally in a sound enough mental and emotional space to raise my voice. So here goes. And I don’t take or want credit for these ideas, by the way. I’m just the sympathetic character who gets the good lines.

Could we require actors to receive mandatory gun safety training before handling a gun on a film set so that they can have some sovereignty over their safety and the safety of those they are pointing a firearm at? Could the person in charge of safety on a film set not be the same person in charge of making sure the production runs on time and on budget so there are no conflicts of interest or cutting of corners? Could a seasoned and competent gun safety specialist be required to be on set any time a real firearm is being used — even just for one setup? And could that specialist be the only person to handle the weapons and hand them to the actors?

Could we consider a shift away from using real firearms on sets as much as possible? And could we think of this shift as innovation rather than punishment?

For those in the “reactions are more realistic when the actors have real guns” camp, don’t you think actors could pursue specialized training to cultivate realistic reactions while using fake guns, much in the way they’ve had to learn to act with other innovations, such as green screens?

Hollywood, I know you know that guns that fire blanks on sets also unnerve and injure people. They create a lot of tension and anxiety for all involved. I’ve talked to some who are relieved now that their production is moving away from real firearms and blanks. Innovating away from real firearms could be seen as a level of care for the basic stress and mental health levels of cast and crew. And the technology exists. And if it doesn’t exist to your standards, then I encourage you to innovate even further. What new movie magic could you create if you put your mind to it?

I think Jon-Erik Hexum, Brandon Lee and Halyna Hutchins’ lives are worth the consideration. Let’s end this drama with an on-screen card about how the community came together to make change and there wasn’t another gun-related injury or death in Hollywood ever again. The End. Because absolutely no one wants the remake rights to this tragedy.

Thank you to Eliza Hutton (fiancée of Brandon Lee) for her support and for speaking out and to “The Boys” visual effects supervisor Stephan Fleet for all the insight and great ideas and to everyone else who has been standing up for change.

Shannon Lee is the daughter of Bruce Lee and sister of Brandon Lee, who was accidentally killed by a blank while filming “The Crow.” She is a producer, author and CEO of the Bruce Lee Family Companies and the president of the Bruce Lee Foundation.