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Halyna Hutchins, beloved cinematographer killed on ‘Rust’ set, remembered as rising star

Hutchins, 42, was the director of photography for Alec Baldwin's latest film, "Rust," where she was killed on set after the actor discharged a prop firearm.
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After wrapping his film “Archenemy,” director Adam Egypt Mortimer praised the people behind the scenes who made the project come to life. Halyna Hutchins, the director of photography, was the “wartime sister” of the group.

She was “fighting the battles to make this thing look amazing despite the unrelenting limitations and catastrophes that made us wonder if we’d been cursed by a witch,” he wrote in a Twitter thread in November, praising her “brilliant mind for light and texture.”

On Thursday, others who had worked with Hutchins in recent years echoed similar sentiments about the rising film industry star, who died at 42 after actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm that killed her on the set of “Rust.” No charges have been filed, and the investigation is ongoing, officials said.

Friday marked a day of mourning for many who knew Hutchins — including Mortimer — as they shared their memories of her across social media, where tributes flowed.

"Halyna Hutchins was a ray of light. Always smiling, always hopeful," her team said in a statement Friday. "She decided early on she would take the craft of cinematography by storm and the last couple of years proved she was well on her way. Her talent was immense, only surpassed by the love she had for her family."

"All those in her orbit knew what was coming; a star director of photography, who would be a force to be reckoned with," her team added.

Image: Halyna Hutchins
Halyna Hutchins attends the SAGindie Sundance Filmmakers Reception at Cafe Terigo on Jan. 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah.Fred Hayes / Getty Images file

The cinematographer, who is survived by her son and husband, was the director of photography for “Rust,” which was filming in New Mexico. She was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. Joel Souza, the film’s director, was also wounded.

Her husband, Matt, said the loss was enormous and asked for privacy as the family grieves. He said he has spoken with Baldwin, who he said was being very supportive.

“Halyna inspired us all with her passion and vision, and her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words,” Matt Hutchins tweeted Friday night.

Hutchins, who was Ukrainian, grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle where she was "surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines," according to her website. She entered the entertainment industry after she studied international journalism in Ukraine and worked as an investigative journalist with British documentary productions across Europe.

She later shifted gears and transitioned into the film industry, graduating from the American Film Institute conservatory in Los Angeles in 2015.

In 2019, the American Cinematographer magazine named her a “rising star.” She told the publication she was inspired to shift careers because she was “fascinated with storytelling based on real characters” and wanted to learn more about the “aesthetics of lighting — how you create the mood, the feeling.” 

Oksana Stefanyshena, the cinematographer's former college classmate, told NBC News on Friday it was Hutchins' raw "talent and perseverance and aspiration" that helped her achieve her dreams.

In her short-lived yet prolific career, Hutchins was credited for contributions to at least 45 films and TV and short video productions, according to her IMDb page.

Her rise in the film industry was "meteoric," said Andriy Semenyuk, another close friend and fellow cinematographer.

"She has always been modest and a shining star who never bragged about her achievements," he told NBC News. "Aside from her enormous talent, she was generous, giving and always the one who was willing to teach others like myself."

Stefanyshena, of Odesa, Ukraine, added that Hutchins was "a very famous cinema operator abroad" and "one of the people that glorified Ukraine through the work that she did."

Hutchins was best known for her cinematography work in the 2020 superhero-action film, "Archenemy," starring Joe Manganiello; director Mike Nell's film "Blindfire," which Hutchins described on her website as a "racially charged cop drama"; and the horror feature, "Darlin','" which was directed by Pollyanna McIntosh and debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in 2019.

Mortimer, who re-shared his thread about Hutchins from 2020, said on Twitter he was "so sad about losing Halyna" and "infuriated" how a death like hers could occur on a movie set.

"She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film," he wrote.

On Friday, Baldwin tweeted: "There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours."

The Emmy-winning actor said he was fully cooperating with authorities and that he was in touch with her husband and his family.

On her Instagram account, Hutchins shared several photos and videos on the set of "Rust," including a post standing in solidarity with the 60,000 Hollywood production workers who were preparing to go on strike earlier this week.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents the behind-the-scenes workers, said Friday it was "heartbroken and devastated to learn" of Hutchins' death.

The union continued: "Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something."

In her last Instagram post, Hutchins, wearing an infectious smile, is seen riding a chestnut horse through the desert brushes of New Mexico.

Hutchins, echoing other celebrities and colleagues, described herself on Instagram with three honorifics: "Restless Dreamer. Adrenaline junkie. Cinematographer."