NEW YORK, -- Alec Baldwin's fatal shooting on a movie set has placed a spotlight on an often-ignored corner of the film industry. Critics claim that the pursuit of profit can lead workers to unsafe conditions.
The Western "Rust", which had a budget of $7 million, was not a micro-budget gem. The Academy Awards' previous best-picture winner, "Nomadland," had a budget of $7 million. The New Mexico set , where Baldwin shot cinematographer Halyna HUTCHINS, had inexperienced crew members and safety lapses. There was also a labor dispute.
Some in the industry see the failures as a sign of larger problems in an ever-evolving film industry.
Mynette Louie, an independent producer of films, stated that production is on the rise, budgets are being reduced even more, and corners are being cut more. "Something has to give."
Filming took place at a busy moment: Production has been ramping up since the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Streaming services are gaining popularity. The industry is constantly trying to set standards for movie sets.
Adan Mendoza, Santa Fe County Sheriff, said that there was "some complacency” in the way weapons were handled. Investigators discovered 500 rounds of ammunition, which included blanks, dummy and suspected live rounds. This was despite Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the set's firearms specialist who claimed that real ammo shouldn't have been there.
The 24-year-old Gutierrez Reed was the focus of attention. He had only worked on one feature before and Dave Halls was the assistant director who gave the gun to Baldwin. A search warrant affidavit states that Halls called out "cold guns" to indicate the weapon was safe to use, but that he didn't check all of its chambers.
Veteran film workers were shocked by the lack of proper weapons protocol.
"This was incompetence and inexperience, and -- I hate this to say -- lack of care about your job. Mike Tristano, a veteran professional armorer, said that if a lot of ammunition is thrown in a box, it's not the way it's done.
Many members of the "Rust" camera crew walked off set amid disagreements over working conditions and safety procedures. According to Joel Souza (director), a new crew was hired. He spoke with detectives. The shot hit him as he stood near Hutchins.
The New Mexico chapter of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Workers union called reports of nonunion employees being brought in "inexcusable." The union will vote soon on a new standards agreement that covers 60,000 film and television crew members. This deal was reached with major studios following preparations by IATSE for its first strike in 128 years.
Allen Cheney, executive producer of "Rust", stated that the six film producers had a combined experience of more than 35 years in television and film. He described "Rust as a union-certified production."
James Gunn, the filmmaker of "Guardians of the Galaxy", suggested that a slipshod culture might be partially to blame.
Gunn stated on Twitter that "Dozens of people have died or been seriously injured on movie sets due to irresponsibility and ignoring safety protocols. Improper leadership and a culture of mindless hurrying."
Serge Svetnoy was the film's gaffer. He criticized the producers for their "negligence."
Svetnoy stated in a Facebook post that "to save a dime sometimes you hire people who don't fully qualify for the complex and dangerous job."
Neal W. Zoromski, a veteran prop master, told The Los Angeles Times he turned down an offer to work with "Rust" due to producers insisting that only one person could be both an assistant prop master or armorer.
Gary Tuers, the property master of "Tomorrow War", and "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," stated that the shooting was an indictment against modern production culture. They have pursued tax credits for 30 years and found many ways (and some that weren't) of sacrificing crew safety and health in order to meet budget constraints.
He wrote that the tragedy was "an apparent accident" on Instagram. "But it was also predictable because of the incentive structure in the modern film industry."
A number of companies joined forces to finance and produce "Rust", including Baldwin's El Dorado Pictures. Based on a story by Souza, Baldwin, the film was partially funded by Streamline Global in Las Vegas. It describes its business model as "acquiring movies that offer certain tax advantages" that could "reduce the owner’s federal income tax liability from income from other sources."
BondIt Media is an independent film financier that also funded "Rust." This Santa Monica-based company also helped finance other male-fronted action thrillers such as "Honest Thief," Mel Gibson’s "Force of Nature", and Bruce Willis’ "Hard Kill."
Before the filming, "Rust", the most likely destination was video on demand. Baldwin promoted the movie last year to buyers at the virtual Cannes Film Market. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Baldwin said that the script reminded of "Unforgiven," a 1992 Western starring Clint Eastwood.
The production of Rust was stopped indefinitely a few days after shooting ceased.
Section 181, a tax provision that applies to films costing between $2.75 million and $7.5 million, was used to make the movie. This can help investors break even before the film is released, especially in states with generous tax credits such as New Mexico. In recent years, the state has become a very popular location for productions. It has some regulations that are more stringent than California's, such as for experts in on-set weapons.
Tristano, an armorer, has never had to deal with crew members or producers who aren't committed to safety in his 30-year career. When safety is at stake, Tristano has never hesitated to pull his crew off a set.
Tristano stated, "Whenever there was panic on the set or the assistant director was hurrying, I would say, "OK, I'm locking my guns back in the truck." "I would say, "When you guys are ready and willing to do it right, then we'll do that." I'm open to suggestions, but you can't please me.