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Cinematographer Killed After Alec Baldwin Fires Prop Gun on Movie Set; Biden Puts Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D- AZ) in Spotlight on Spending Deal Holdups. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 10:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: On the set of Rust, a western, being filmed near Santa Fe.


She was pronounced dead at the hospital. The film's director, Joel Souza, also injured.

CNN's Stephani Elam joins us now. Stephanie, the film's producers, they are saying they're working with police. What more are we learning about the circumstances of this?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's a lot of holes at this point, no doubt about it, Jim and Erica, when you look at what's happened here. We do know that the sheriff's office says that they got a 911 call about a shooting on the set at The Bonanza Creek Ranch, and this movie set where they're filming this 1880s-based western. They said when they got there, there had been two people shot. We know who those two people are. We also know that they are talking to all the witnesses, the people who were there on the set, that they are interviewing everyone, that no one has been charged, but the investigation remains open.

As far as the company, the production company behind this movie, Rust, they are saying that they are devastated by today's tragedy, sending their deepest condolences to Halyna's family and loved ones. They've also halted production on the film indefinitely at this point as they continue to work with the authorities here and they are providing counseling to everyone that's on set.

And just looking at what this movie is about, according to, this film is about a 13-year-old boy who goes on the run with his grandfather, who's played by Alec Baldwin, who was also a producer on the film, after he sends the boy, sends to hang for an accidental killing of a local rancher. So, it's mirroring in some ways the theme of the actual movie there, but as you saw those pictures of Alec Baldwin looking completely distraught after this.

Of course, the question remains how could this prop firearm be in a condition it could potentially kill somebody, where were they that the director of photography, the cinematographer and the director could have been in the line of this gunfire, if you will. So, so many questions about that, and also worth remembering that blanks are still very dangerous.

And you can see that we are seeing some reaction from people on set, like Francis Fisher posted here a picture on her Instagram of Halyna Hutchins where she actually writes, rest in paradise, dear Halyna. I loved watching you work, your intense focus and vibrant command of the room. She goes on longer to talk about there and this really beautiful picture of those two members of the crew there. They must be just devastated after this really tragic accident. Hopefully, we'll learn more today about what exactly happened.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, absolutely. The shock must still be so raw for so many folks. Stephanie Elam, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, Halyna Hutchins, who you just saw there, in that photo, the cinematographer, tributes pouring in as Stephanie mentioned, and a lot of recognition for her work. She was a journalist who then became a filmmaker and really, by so many accounts, a rising the industry.


ADAM EGYPT MORTIMER, FRIEND OF HALYNA HUTCHINS: She was the kind of filmmaker who would stand in any uncomfortable place with her camera to get a shot that she thought would be the right shot.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss is Marcus Cooley. He's prop master, production designer, who's worked with weapons on movies such as Fast and Furious and Bad Boys. Good to have you on.

As we look at this, so many questions, Marcus, but a first one, so folks can understand, blank cartridges, the police statement says that there was a projectile that came out of this gun. Is that normal with the way blanks work?

MARCUS COOLEY, PROP MASTER AND PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Not in the sense of what we've seen happen here. There are particles of black powder that typically come out of the firearm once it's been discharged but not in the sense of what seems to have occurred here.

HILL: And what are some of the protocols on set in terms of how close people can be? I mean, these are props. You know, someone who's never spent time on a movie set, I have to say, you think of a prop and think, well, that can't be a real gun, it can't really harm anybody. And there are also, as I understand it, protocols in place in terms of distancing to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Can you walk us through what is supposed to happen?

COOLEY: Yes. The industry-wide labor management committee sets forth actually safety bulletin number one for just about every movie set. It's bulletin number one. There's very strict guidelines on the processes, what we're required to do to make sure these weapons are safe. And to be clear, anything that's called a prop weapon, when we're talking about shooting, is, in fact, a real gun. There are some small modifications that have been made to be used on movie sets but they're still very real. So, you know, we have blanks that we use. There are also dummy rounds, which are used for when we need to see somebody loading a weapon, but they've inert, so they have no black powder in them.


But the safety process to go through that is typically when we bring a weapon out, we have a big safety meeting with the first A.D., who is responsible for the safety management of the set overall. We usually bring in special effects, we bring in all the actors. Everyone inspects the gun, talks about exactly what's going to happen, where the camera will be when this happens, and then we present the weapon to the talent, we present the weapon to anyone who wants to inspect it, and that's generally to make sure that we see what exactly is going into that firearm.

You know, after a certain amount of time, people do get comfortable on set, the talent trusts us. I've worked with really big-name actors that after working so much they trust what we're giving them has been cleared and it is safe. And we always do that with the first A.D., so they trust and rounding it off (ph). There's no reason for them to check.

However, we still go through that process with the first A.D. to ensure that there's nothing that shouldn't be in that weapon.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I understand you're at a disadvantage there, all of us are, because we weren't on the set and there are still many unanswered questions here. But based on your experience, I mean, one of the remarkable details here is that two people were injured, one killed and one hospitalized. Can you imagine any circumstances with a prop weapon or a blank round where that could happen, where two people, right, could be injured or hit?

COOLEY: Yes. I mean, there are injuries that do happen from, you know, pop casings from guns when you're working with automatic weapons, it come off and people get burned, they can be hurt. But in the instance of what we've seen here, I don't see where this would be possible unless the camera was a foot away from the gun, which seems highly unlikely.

You mentioned earlier there's strict guidelines on distance and things like that. In particular, circumstances, you don't want anyone closer than 20 feet from the point of the muzzle. You don't want to be completely straight on to camera. We always want to be off axis so we're never pointing directly at the lens. And in certain cases where we do, we do what's called lock-off with the cameras set static, we remove everyone away from the camera and they do everything wirelessly. But if something were to happen or anything did come dislodged from the weapon, then nobody would be hurt.

In this circumstance, it's speculation, but, you know, it's hard to say what exactly happened. But in my experience, no. For two people to be injured in this way, it draws a lot of conclusions, I think, before we've gotten all the facts, but, yes, it's a tragedy. HILL: Yes, it certainly raises a number of additional questions. The family of Brandon Lee who, of course, died from a gun accident, noting this morning in their words, quote, no one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set, period.

Were there changes in the industry after his death?

COOLEY: Yes. You know, Brandon Lee's situation was, you know, similar. It was the lack of awareness and paying attention. I think that it certainly just like when Sarah Jones was tragically killed in an accident, it always brings awareness and more of a spotlight onto the industry on what safety measures are in place on film sets.

Firearm safety is number one. It always has been. Like I mentioned before, it's -- within our industry, we have an industry-wide safety committee. It's bulletin number one, firearm safety. Situations like this should never, ever happen. Unfortunately, whether it's inexperience, whether it's budgetary issues, whatever it is, it should never, ever have happened.

SCIUTTO: No question, devastating for all involved. Marcus Cooley, we appreciate you sharing some of your experience with us.

COOLEY: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, this morning, Democrats on Capitol Hill are continuing their push to reach a deal on a framework for President Biden's sweeping social safety net package. They're not there yet. Hopes dwindling for a deal to materialize by the end of today, which is one of the latest deadlines to get done. Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, their red lines on issues ranging from Medicare coverage to tax hikes on the wealthy remain sticking points.

HILL: Still, President Biden expressing optimism in his CNN town hall last night, optimism that, in fact, the finish line is near. Take a listen.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: One of the other things that Democrats are looking to do is to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing.

Will all three of those still be covered?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: That's a reach. And the reason why it's a reach is not -- I think it's a good idea, and it's not that costly in relative terms. But here's the thing. Mr. Manchin is opposed to that.

COOPER: There's a lot of Democrats in the House and Senate who are confused about where Senator Sinema actually stands on things.

Do you know where she stands?

BIDEN: First of all, she's as smart as the devil, number one. Number two, she's very supportive of the environmental agenda in my legislation.

Where she's not supportive is she says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period.



HILL: Joining us now, CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju and CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood.

Manu, let's start with you. President Biden and Speaker Pelosi, we've learned, having breakfast this morning. Apparently, Leader Schumer is zooming in for that moment. What has the reaction been this morning on the Hill to some of the comments from the president last night at the town hall? Are they having an impact this morning on those negotiations and this framework?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of the things that the president said last night confirmed what had been reported by us, by others about where things were headed. So, the president making very clear that a number of these issues are unresolved and still uncertain when a deal can be reached.

Remember, the Democratic leaders wanted to get a deal by today, an over-line, a framework, an outline of what this large social safety net package will finally look like after months of hard-fought negotiations between moderates and progressives. But they are not there yet.

The president himself made clear there are four or five issues that are outstanding and those negotiations with Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin still ongoing. Manchin telling us yesterday he doesn't think a deal can be reached by today, and others echoing that as well.

Among the issues that are still outstanding, you're seeing right there, climate change, paid leave, Medicare expansion, prescription drug pricing, as well as taxes. That is the key issue. How are they going to finance this program? Kyrsten Sinema says she will not support raising taxes on corporations and high earners. So they're scrambling to find alternative ways.

I caught up yesterday with the chief tax writer in the House side, Richard Neal, who met with Kyrsten Sinema, and tried to impress upon her about why he believes it's necessary to raise taxes, and she made clear her position.


REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): I do point out it's the ninth inning. We're (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: What was her rationale for opposing that? What was her rationale?

NEAL: Yes. She didn't express any to me. There wasn't by intransigence on her part. There wasn't any never, it was just a free- flowing conversation. But she laid out her interest and I laid out mine.


RAJU: So, she did not explain why she opposes those tax hikes, but she has indicated that she is open to supporting efforts to raise revenue in other ways, including increased IRS tax enforcement, dealing with other issues with high earners. They have not provided more details about that but they're talking about potentially taxes on billionaires, maybe a minimum corporate tax. But still those questionings had to be vetted.

And the concerns that Richard Neal and others have is that the new ideas coming in may not be fully vetted and get done in time, just dragging out these talks for months. So, again, a key moment, but still how quickly can it end? We just don't know yet.

SCIUTTO: John Harwood, the president and really his strongest terms to date, saying he's open to altering the filibuster both on potentially the debt limit and voting rights. I wonder, is there a White House plan to do so? And does the White House believe it has the votes to do so?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They don't now, but they may have the votes later, Jim. The president was more explicit last night in talking about filibuster reform. He has said before that he was open to the idea of returning to the talking filibuster, which is a way of making the filibuster more difficult to execute. He's also hinted at the idea that on things as fundamental as voting rights that he might be open to altering the filibuster.

But it's a question of sequencing, and as he's getting increasing pressure from voting rights advocates, people interested in things like immigration reform or other issues, what Joe Biden said tonight at that town hall with Anderson Cooper was is it's a matter of strategic patience. Take a listen.


COOPER: Are you saying once you get this current agenda passed on spending and social programs that you would be open to fundamentally altering the filibuster or doing away with it?

BIDEN: Well, that remains to be seen, exactly what that means in terms of fundamentally altering it, whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.

COOPER: When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue? Is that correct?

BIDEN: And maybe more.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARWOOD: That was an interesting allusion there at the end, Jim. What you hear from President Biden is that, first, I need to get the votes of Manchin and Sinema for this economic package, which is his top priority. They are the same people resistant on the filibuster. But while he's working on the economic package, he's also trying to build a case for filibuster reform. So, Joe Manchin's voting rights bill was filibustered by Republicans this week. What better way to get Joe Manchin to reconsider his position than to watch Republicans spurn his voting rights bill, which he intended to be bipartisan, trying to build a case.

It's also the case the White House understands that if you're going to have a big fight over voting rights and the filibuster, it might be better to have that in 2022 when you're got an election campaign to run than right now when you're trying to pass your economic package.


SCIUTTO: Boy, still a lot in the sequence there to get right. Well, Manu, John, we know you're going to be watching closely. Thanks so much.

Up next, this hour we're going to speak with a key lawmaker in those ongoing negotiations. Moderate Democratic Congressman Ami Bera gives us his take on what or who is to blame if Democrats miss another deadline.

Plus, a Michigan city is in crisis. In Benton Harbor, lead pipes make the water undrinkable. Officials warn some people should consult their doctor before using the water at all. We're going to speak with the mayor on what's being to help.

HILL: Plus, the House is asking the Justice Department now to criminally prosecute Steve Bannon for defying that subpoena. So, what's next at this point for Steve Bannon and the January 6th investigation?

Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Right now, sources tell CNN that President Biden is now meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Democrats work toward an agreement on their domestic agenda. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is joining that meeting by video as key and big sticking points remain regarding climate policy, paid leave and corporate and individual tax rate increases.

Joining me now to discuss, Congressman Ami Bera, he's a moderate Democrat from California, he also sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

REP. AMI BERA (D-CA): Jim, thanks for having me on. SCIUTTO: So, given we've busted through so many deadlines at this point, can you give us a realistic one? Is there one?

BERA: You know, when I was over at the White House on Tuesday, the president was pretty optimistic. He went through in granular detail some of the areas where there was agreement. I think they're in the last mile of this, you know, trying to iron out those last four or five things that, yes, there's still a little ways to go.

SCIUTTO: One of them is the possibility of raising taxes to pay for this. You each heard that Kyrsten Sinema opposes that although there's been some signaling that she's willing to talk within some buckets, as she calling them, for potential revenue increases. I mean, a key question is can you pay for these expansions and benefits without raising some taxes on someone or some corporations?

BERA: You know, I think that's probably one of the final details. Most of us think a 25 percent corporate tax rate is fine. But, again, when you only have one senator that can bring the whole thing down and Senator Sinema has said she won't raise the corporate tax rate, I think we've got to go looking for other revenue.

The president wants this paid for. I think all of us want to make sure this is all paid for and doesn't raise the deficit. So, yes, I think that's one of the final details.

SCIUTTO: So, where are you going to find that other revenue? Do you put it on high earners? Is some of this going to be fuzzy math? I mean, it wouldn't be the first time a spending bill was passed in Washington by Democrats or Republicans where the math doesn't really add up.

BERA: Well, there is congressional math. I do think you could see a tax on billionaires. I think you could see maybe a minimum corporate tax rate for those corporations that really are paying effectively zero taxes. So, I think there are some options here.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Other issues, when you look at the big picture here, though, it's a lot smaller, right, than initially discussed. And, by the way, Democrats have the White House, they have the Senate, slim margin, but they got the Senate and they have the House, slim margin, but they have the House.

But a lot of these things are much smaller, I mean, from 12 weeks paid leave to 4 week, eliminating, for instance, the free community college, reducing the expansion of the child tax credit perhaps just an extension of one year. I mean, is that too small, in your view? Are you willing to vote for something that's much smaller than initially envisioned?

BERA: You know, this isn't that small of a bill though. $1.7 trillion is pretty big. I think there's more we could have done, but that is the art of legislating and negotiation. These are good policies that will help, you know, stronger female participation in the workforce as we come out of the pandemic, paid family leave, child care, you know, enhanced home care. It might not be as big as the president initially wanted, but this still is a pretty transformational policy.

SCIUTTO: I want to talk about something that the president brought up last night, and that deals with voting rights. Because, as you know on the Senate side, Republicans voted down the compromise plan that Manchin had negotiated with the intention of getting some Republican support. He said he is open, at least, to changing the filibuster in some way for voting rights and perhaps the debt limit. Are Democrats in agreement on the need to do that?

BERA: You know, on the House side, I think we probably would be. Again, this is a place where you've seen Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema say they wouldn't go there. In a very narrow way, some of these voting laws that are being enacted around the country in Republican states really are eroding our democracy. So, I'd be supportive of in a narrow way on voting rights to get rid of the filibuster.

SCIUTTO: Okay. You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. One of the most notable moments last night was when the president was pressed on the question of Taiwan. And he said more than once, in effect, that the U.S. would come to Taiwan's defense.

You're well aware of America's strategic ambiguity, which is sort of an almost don't ask, don't tell kind of approach to the issue there.


But on the central question, do you believe the U.S. will, should leave open the possibility of going to war to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion?

BERA: Well, I think there's always that possibility. I don't think the president was changing our policy, which still is a one-China policy. But we've always talked strongly about the autonomy of the Taiwanese people and their sovereignty. You're seeing, you know, the European Union, you're seeing, you know, Japan, the G7 all talking about Taiwan's sovereignty. And I don't think that policy has changed.

And I think the message that the president was trying to deliver to Xi Jinping and the PRC was don't change that policy. We're not changing the policy. They're acting much more aggressive here.

SCIUTTO: The crucial question, though, is will, should the commander in chief send U.S. service members potentially to die, right, or at least risk their lives to defend Taiwan? I mean, that's the key question there. Should it?

BERA: And it's not just Taiwan, though, right, because as you see Chinese aggression in the region, you see what they did in Hong Kong, you know, if they were to invade Taiwan, you know, Japan is right there in close proximity, you know, Korea is certainly watching. And we've got a lot of troops in Okinawa, and our marines there.

So, the message to China is, you know, this region has been pretty peaceful and stable and prosperous, don't change that calculus right now.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ami Bera, good to have you on the program this morning.

BERA: Great. Thanks, Jim.


HILL: Still ahead, yet another water crisis in Michigan, officials warning some residents they should consult a doctor before drinking tap water, using tap water. We're going to take you live to Benton Harbor, Michigan, next.

And there is a lot happening on this Friday. Here's a look at what to watch.