THE fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin on a movie set has put a microscope on an often-unseen corner of the film industry where critics say the pursuit of profit can lead to unsafe working conditions. With a budget around $7 million, the Western “Rust” was no micro-budget indie. For some in the business, the failures reflect larger issues in a fast-evolving movie industry.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was “some complacency” in how weapons were handled on the set.
Investigators found 500 rounds of ammunition—a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and suspected live rounds, even though the set’s firearms specialist, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, said real ammo should never have been present.
Attention has focused on the 24-year-old Gutierrez Reed, who had worked on only one previous feature, and assistant director Dave Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin. According to a search warrant affidavit, Halls called out “cold gun” to indicate it was safe to use but told detectives he did not check all of the weapon’s chambers.
The lack of proper weapons protocol stunned veteran film workers.
“This was incompetence, inexperience and—I hate to say this—lack of caring about your job. If there’s a whole bunch of ammunition thrown together in a box, that’s not how it’s done,” said Mike Tristano, a longtime professional armorer.
Several “Rust” camera crew members walked off the set amid discord over working conditions, including safety procedures. A new crew was hired that morning, according to director Joel Souza, who spoke to detectives. He was standing near Hutchins and was wounded by the shot.
The gaffer on “Rust,” Serge Svetnoy, faulted the movie’s producers for “negligence.”
“To save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job,” Svetnoy said in a Facebook post.
Veteran prop master Neal W. Zoromski told The Los Angeles Times that he declined an offer to work on “Rust” because producers insisted that one person could serve as both assistant prop master and armorer.
Gary Tuers, property master of “Tomorrow War” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” said the shooting was “an indictment of the modern production culture, which for the last 30 years has pursued tax credits and found every way imaginable (and several that weren’t) to sacrifice crew health and safety in the name of budget consciousness.”
“This tragedy was an apparent accident,” he wrote on Instagram. “But it was also a predictable outcome of the incentive structure within the modern film industry.”
Several companies came together to finance and produce “Rust,” including Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures. The film, which is based on a story by Souza and Baldwin, was financed in part by Las Vegas-based Streamline Global, which describes its business model as “acquiring films that offer certain tax benefits” that may “reduce the owner’s federal income tax liability from income earned from other sources.”
BondIt Media, an independent film financier, also bankrolled “Rust.” The Santa Monica, California-based company has helped finance other male-fronted action thrillers like Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief,” Mel Gibson’s “Force of Nature” and Bruce Willis’ “Hard Kill.”
The movie was being made under a tax provision called Section 181, which applies to films costing $2.75 million to $7.5 million. It can allow investors to break even before a film reaches any screen, particularly in a state with generous tax credits like New Mexico. (AP)