Halyna Hutchins was a talented and passionate cinematographer who was clearly enjoying her job as director of photography on Alec Baldwin’s latest cowboy movie.
Over the past three weeks, she posted photos on her Instagram account from the film’s rugged set in the foothills of New Mexico. They included vivid sunsets and a cast and crew picture in which Hutchins is standing next to Baldwin against the backdrop a log cabin.
There is also a short video clip taken on Wednesday in which Hutchins – wearing a grey scarf and wide-brimmed hat – sets off on horseback with colleagues. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off,” she wrote.
Born in Ukraine in 1979 when the country was part of the Soviet Union, Hutchins’ journey from the USSR to Hollywood was an improbable one. She grew up on a military base in the Arctic Circle surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines. An “army brat”, she said she got interested in film because “there wasn’t that much to do outside”.
Hutchins started her career as a reporter after studying international journalism at Kyiv National University.
Yana Nestoliy, a close university friend, described Hutchins as “a real leader, but also calm and thoughtful – a unique personality really, she was a star among the crowd”.
Nestoliy added: “You could always see that she would go far, that she wouldn’t just stay in Ukraine. She always had a goal to go to America to work in film, that is all she talked about and dreamed of. And it’s so tragic that the one thing she loved killed her.”
After university, Hutchins worked on several British film productions in eastern Europe, travelling to remote locations, and saw how the cinematographer worked.
“I was fascinated with storytelling based on real characters,” she said.
Theodore Bouloukos, an actor who worked with Hutchins on the 2017 thriller Snowbound, described her as a “consummate professional” and mourned the “senseless loss” of her death.
“She was very committed to making the film look stunning … Anyone who has worked with her would tell you what a pro she was,” he said. “Halyna was a rising star and now she’s gone. It’s incomprehensible.”
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Hutchins documented her forays into extreme sports including parachuting and cave exploration. A decade or so ago, she decided to concentrate on film-making full-time and moved to California.
According to American Cinematographer, Hutchins took whatever production jobs she could find. She also dabbled in fashion photography to learn more about what she called the “aesthetics of lighting – how you create the mood, the feeling”.
Hutchins studied from 2013 to 2015 at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles. “It really made me rethink who I was as an artist and how I wanted to work,” she said. The experience taught her about the importance of developing “your own vision”, she added, but also of working with a director and a team.
Professional success followed. She worked on a series of narrative-driven films and was selected in 2019 as one of American Cinematographer’s rising stars. Her work included the 2020 superhero action film Archenemy, directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer and starring Joe Manganiello.
Other work includes Blindfire, a racially charged police drama, and Darlin’, a horror feature directed by Pollyanna McIntosh. She posted regularly on Instagram from film sets and premieres around the world. Last summer, she spent two months in Ireland, filming a period drama set in Birr castle, west of Dublin.
In an Instagram post, the film director Olia Oparina, who worked on a number of movies with Hutchins, remembered her as a “loving, supportive and understanding” friend.
“She worked tirelessly for 11 years, and her career just started to take off this year. And it ends like this?” she wrote. “Why did it take so long for such an undeniably talented and charismatic person to get there? Why does this industry take forever to notice a talent? I know if she were alive, she would go on to get an Oscar one day. At least I can say she died doing what she loved most.”