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Inside the 70mm Western Halyna Hutchins Shot Before Her Death — and Her Director’s Attempts to Finish It

Before the accidental shooting on the set of "Rust," Hutchins was working on an ambitious immigration story with director Dennis Hauck, who now plans to finish it.

Gráinne Good in “Untitled 70mm Halyna Hutchins Project”

In October 2021, much of the world heard about the tragic fate of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed when actor and producer Alec Baldwin discharged a firearm on the set of the movie “Rust” in New Mexico.

However, that project was not the only undertaking that the 42-year-old Ukrainian DP had been working on at the time of her death. In September 2020, Hutchins joined director Dennis Hauck in Ireland for the production of a still-untitled 19th century period piece. Now, Hauck is trying to finish the work they started together. 

“She was definitely one of those DPs that lived and breathed filmmaking,” Hauck said in a phone interview with IndieWire. “She had no ego. She just wanted to talk to everybody and learn everything she could.” 

Hauck, who previously directed John Hawkes in the 2015 detective drama “Too Late,” serves as the sole producer of his second feature but described Hutchins as a key collaborator. He is currently seeking financing to shoot the remaining scenes, which take place in the U.S., and looking to cast additional supporting roles.

“We were purposefully making this under the radar,” Hauck said. “I never expected to be in a position where anyone would even be interested until the movie was finished. One day we’re going to finish it and it’ll be really great for people to see her work.”

The rare contemporary project shot on 65mm film — which is 70mm once it’s projected — the movie tells the story of a woman who “flees Victorian Ireland and must survive as a bounty hunter along the harsh terrain of the American frontier,” according to an official synopsis provided by the director. Hauck said that while there was a revenge element, “I wanted to go beyond a simple genre tale and explore more nuanced observations of the way men treat women, and the way we all treat each other. I think Halyna really responded to that.”

Hauck still wasn’t sure about a title for the project, but for now, he was referring to it as “Untitled 70mm Halyna Hutchins Project.”

“Untitled 70mm Halyna Hutchins Project”

Roughly 20 minutes have completed from the initial shoot with Hutchins. In a clip shared with IndieWire, the movie’s protagonist witnesses an outdoor duel between two men. The verdant backdrop and period-appropriate attire lend a unique feel to a playfully comic sequence with echoes of “Barry Lyndon.” Hauck was hoping to shoot the remaining scenes for under $3 million. “It was kind of a leap of faith for her to come onboard the project because we didn’t have all the money in place and still don’t,” said Hauck, who financed “Too Late” with a similarly piecemeal approach.

Hauck reached out to Hutchins in 2019 after seeing her listed among up-and-coming DPs in American Cinematographer. The pair ended up working together in Ireland for six weeks. They quarantined in the same house and spent much of that time conceiving of the movie’s distinctive look. The 65mm film, which Hauck acquired from discarded stock from Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” production, provided Hutchins with a rare opportunity to work with the material in a low-budget context. She even experimented with a homemade rig to hold the heavy camera before deciding to simply carry it herself for a handheld approach.

“You could just tell she really loved what she was doing,” said Desmond Eastwood, one of the two main actors who appeared in the Ireland scenes. “It really about the work for her. She really wanted to fulfill her potential. It was really contagious. You could tell how much she was enjoying it and that just rubbed off on you.”

Actress Gráinne Good, who stars in the movie, said that she forged a strong bond with Hutchins over the course of the shoot. “It was my first time working with a female DP, and that was really amazing, since the story centers around a woman,” Good said. “She was really collaborative. When we were done filming, we’d have dinner in the evening and she’d be chatting with me about ideas she had, future scenes we still haven’t shot. She treated everything with care and compassion. She just wanted to capture these little moments. It was amazing to have that relationship with a DP.”

The cast also shared warm memories of Hutchins sharing her backstory growing up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle. “She really did have that quality of someone you meet once and never forget,” Eastwood said. “She had this platinum blonde haircut and was really cool.” Hauck concurred. “She was a little bit rock ’n’ roll,” he said. 

“Untitled 70mm Halyna Hutchins Project”

Hauck last heard from Hutchins shortly before she started production on “Rust,” and said that she had planned to use it as an opportunity to scout possible settings for their own project, since parts of the script take place on the Western frontier. “She said, ‘I’m going to New Mexico to do a Western there and that could be good for us,’” Hauck recalled.

However those scenes take shape, he added, the hours of footage shot in Ireland are sufficient to complete the second passage of the film, a flashback that takes place five years prior to the rest of the rest of the story. “Obviously, we’re going to have to bring someone else [on] as a DP to finish the movie, but it won’t be one of those cases where you won’t be sure who shot what,” Hauck said. “The whole Ireland chapter is a self-contained thing, so everyone will know it’s Halyna’s work.”

At first, Hauck wasn’t sure whether he could proceed with the project, and didn’t share any mutual colleagues with Hutchins to discuss possible next steps. “There wasn’t a ton of time to get to know each other’s friend circles,” he said. “I felt like I had my own relationship with her, but no one else I knew really knew her.”

However, he stayed in touch with Hutchins’ widower, Matt Hutchins, and eventually saw him at a memorial service hosted by the American Society of Cinematographers. He encouraged Hauck to finish the project, and the filmmaker said he was working to ensure that residuals from the film would support her family.

In a statement provided to IndieWire, Matt Hutchins voiced his support for the production. “Halyna believed in this film,” he said. “She was proud of her work on it, and she would want to see the project completed.”

Halyna Hutchins and director Dennis Hauck

Dennis Hauck

Hauck recalled hearing about the “Rust” shooting incident on the news and growing frustrated by the sensationalism of the coverage. “You spend all this time reading about her and the headline is always ‘Alec Baldwin’ or lawsuits or the investigation,” he said. “You just sort of wish there was more discussion of her as a filmmaker and as a person.”

Good, who has since been cast in Anthony and Joe Russo’s upcoming Amazon series “Citadel,” said she remained committed to the completion of the project. “Halyna had such strong ideas for this project, so it’s hard to visualize it without her, but that work should still be shown,” Good said. “I think she really believed in the project and I feel it’s our responsibility to carry it on for her.”

Hauck’s bare-bones approach has limited his ability to seek additional financing, but he said he planned to attend the Toronto International Film Festival this fall to meet with potential supporters there. “Right now, I’m a one-man band,” he said. “I’m certainly open to working with other people on it. We just wanted to keep things very streamlined.” 

After Hutchins’ death, she was posthumously inducted into the American Society of Cinematographers. “One day, that will be up on the big screen,” Hauck said. “There will be a credit reading, ‘Halyna Hutchins, ASC.’ I think it’s some of her best work, and it will get out there.”

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