Hundreds of entertainment industry artisans gathered on Sunday evening in the crowded parking lot of IATSE Local 80 Burbank headquarters to pay tribute to Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer killed by a prop gun on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust.”
For those in attendance, the spirit of “solidarity” was mentioned many times, along with a sense of frustration that the industry is still not paying attention to the impact of long hours, demanding deadlines and low pay among over-worked crew members.
More from Variety
“We’re dying at work,” said Local 44 property member Chela Fiorini, who attended the candlelight vigil with her spouse, DGA and SAG member David Coennen. “Solidarity with my workmates brought me out here. We’re fighting for a contract that includes meaningful rest, that this crew was not getting. And it’s completely unacceptable, and we have to put an end to this right now.”
The vigil, which took place as the sun set, included speeches and tributes from Local 600 national executive director Rebecca Rhine and president John Lindley, as well as Michael Miller, IATSE 4th international VP/department director, motion picture & TV production, and AFI instructor Stephen Lighthill, who was a mentor to Hutchins.
Miller expressed solidarity with the crew of “Rust,” who “have been devastated by her death and the situations on set that may have led to it. But we’re here for crews everywhere that sharing this grief and the knowledge that it could have been any one of us… I’m afraid we are also gathered with some frustration and a little bit of anger. Anger that too often, the rush to complete productions and the cutting of corners puts safety on the backburner and puts crewmembers at risk.”
Miller mentioned a frustration that it’s been seven years since the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on another independent feature shooting on location, “Midnight Rider,” which also led to a discussion about working conditions for Hollywood crews.
“The circumstances are not identical, but they’re way too familiar,” he said. “The idea that there isn’t time for safety is just wrong. The concept that schedule is more important than safety or the budget is more important than people is one that simply cannot be allowed to persist. If you’re on a set, and your crews are telling you that it’s not safe, listen to them. Halyna’s death reminds us that our fight to protect the safety of ourselves and our co-workers is never over. It must continue each day in every workplace, and on every set.”
Lindley read a note from Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, who wrote that “her legacy is too meaningful to encapsulate in words. Our loss is enormous and we will need time to process our grief… Please take time to remember her, and we will all take time to honor her memory.”
Lindley said although he didn’t know Hutchins, he has “gotten a very clear picture of who she is by talking to her friends and family. And what’s clear to me is that she was beloved, respected, talented, and loving. She was one of us. She was part of the film family, she was passionate about the work and eager to succeed. And I’ve heard a lot about her bright future. But what’s really clear to me is that she had a very bright present, she had a husband and a son.”
But, he added, “It’s our nature to make sense of something like this that is senseless. And no matter what we ever learn about this, it will never make sense, because in my opinion, it was unnecessary. But here we are. What I asked them all of us is that we try not to let our grief turn to anger. But to spend this time, binding together with one another, and caring for each other, and also reaching out to her family and caring for them.”
Lighthill recounted meeting Hutchins at AFI and remembered her unique upbringing in the Soviet Union: “She described it as being raised with the reindeer out one window and nuclear submarines out the other,” he said.
“What impressed us when we interviewed Halyna was her determination,” he said. “And then what impressed us in her first year at AFI was her ability to take the criticism of the notes that we gave her, take them seriously without being defensive, and to really grow from those notes.”
Lighthill, a cinematographer who serves as that discipline’s head at AFI, also urged students, faculty and industry members to tell him “if there’s anything I can do better to prepare you for this world. If you’re an alum, if you’re a current student, if you’re faculty, please go to me and tell me because what has happened on ‘Rust’ should never happen. And if I can equip people better to go out to this world, I will.”
Lighthill emphasized that industry artisans need to “start a conversation about our addiction to long hours” with producers and fellow crew members.
“We need to start working normal days so we can have normal family lives,” he said. “And the last thing I’d like you to do is start a conversation about functional guns on sets. There is no place for weapons that can kill on motion picture sets. Rubber guns are totally acceptable now and can be made to look as real as they need to.”
The vigil resonated with attendees like special effects crewperson Maggie Goll, who said she came “to celebrate Halyna’s life and hopefully that this will help us make changes but also to recognize that it could have been any one of us. When we have a chance to be together we should take these times. This is solidarity.”
Said writers’ assistant George Nader: “This could have been any one of us. We’ve both worked on sets in the past and safety is a primary concern for everybody. It’s heartbreaking, it was so avoidable. That’s the thing.”
Fiorini and Coennen said they believed that Hutchins’ death will likely lead to more “no” votes on the IATSE contract that has recently been negotiated with the AMPTP. The tense contract talks over working conditions, hours and safety concerns led the industry to the brink of an IATSE strike for the first time in more than a century.
“This is really solidifying a lot of that vote right now, considering where this contract went,” Coennen said. “I’m not a member but I’ve been observing what’s been going on because I’m the spouse of a member. And there’s not a lot of members that are happy with what they ended up with. What was going on, on this set was unfortunately a tragedy waiting to happen. It was a failure at every level. It’s because of skimping, it’s because of having a tiered contract. Not wanting to spend the money on safety or rushing, trying to get it into 21 days of shooting… Her death should not be in vain.”
Best of Variety