Filmmaker Michael Nell knew he needed somebody great to help him capture the darker side of Los Angeles, a world of low-rent motels, bar rooms and back alleys, for 'Blindfire'.
The movie, which was set to mark Nell's feature debut, was a tense police thriller that examined issues of social justice and race, and it would take a master of the camera to help him pull it off.
That's how the director first connected with Halyna Hutchins, a rising cinematographer who was making a name for herself shooting short films and low-budget indies like 'Darlin' and 'Snowbound', reports variety.com.
On Thursday, while Hutchins was in New Mexico shooting 'Rust', a Western starring Alec Baldwin, she was shot by a prop gun that contained a live round of ammunition and died at the age of 42.
Authorities have confirmed that Baldwin discharged the shot that killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, but an investigation is ongoing and key details about the lead-up to the fatal accident have yet to be made public, reports variety.com.
"When she came to the interview it was clear I was being interviewed to see if I was worth her time, not the other way around," says Nell.
Nell was impressed and tapped Hutchins to help him develop the look and feel of 'Blindfire'. During the long days and nights making the film, Nell's respect for his cinematographer, for her artistry and her professionalism, only grew.
"She brought a crew to the project that loved and respected her as a leader. She always treated them with the utmost care, while delivering an image that she believed in," he said.
Hutchins' own social media channels, in which she described herself as a "restless dreamer" and an "adrenaline junkie", show snapshots of life behind-the-camera, one that sometimes involved exotic locations and travel, as well as the mechanics of moviemaking such as dollies and massive cameras.
They also demonstrate her deep appreciation for moody, evocative imagery and a painterly command of light - sunsets, rocky shorelines, even lattes explode in bursts of vibrant colour.
Hutchins, 42, was born in Ukraine and started her career working on British documentary productions in Eastern Europe.
After moving to Los Angeles, she began working in production jobs and graduated from UCLA's Professional Producing program in 2010. She went on to graduate from AFI Conservatory, and in 2019, was selected as a rising star by American Cinematographer magazine.
Her credits include 'Archenemy', 'Snowbound', 'Darlin', 'Blindfire' and 'The Mad Hatter'.
Filmmaker Rachel Mason, a close friend of Hutchins, said the pair would bond and let off steam by going on hikes. They would sometimes talk about the difficulty of getting ahead in an industry that remains male-dominated.
Hutchins, who had over 32 credits which include short and feature films, "impressed all the guys", says Mason.
"She could do anythinga She commanded the world."
Sometimes the peripatetic nature of filmmaking meant that Mason and Hutchins couldn't meet up in person, but they remained in frequent communication by text.
"She was the most enthusiastic DP I could ever imagine because all she ever wanted to do was talk about working on the set," Mason says.
Despite that devotion to work and the demands of the job, Hutchins remained deeply enmeshed in the business of raising her son.
Hutchins' death, coming as her career was kicking into another level of prominence, has stunned the film industry and left her family, friends and colleagues reeling.
It's also spurring a wider debate about the need for more stringent on-set safety measures. But those discussions, important as they are, should not come at the expense of honouring Hutchins' life and legacy, her friends and colleagues say.
Nell says that Hutchins kept in touch with her AFI friends long after graduation, referring to them as her "family" at times.
He's one of many admirers who was left thinking not only of the personal tragedy of her death at such a young age, but also the great work and future triumphs that will now be lost.
"Her imagery has her DNA all over it, and I hope everyone goes and sees her art and understands the talent we senselessly lost,a he says.
"We lost a real one, an actual artist who stood out in a world of quickly thrown together content driven by business. There's no need for live ammo or even blanks onset in this day and age. We create distant planets and space creatures in post production. There is no reason to risk lives with gun powder on set."
"There is no excuse I can accept for this loss," Nell added.