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New Mexico governor suggests state may push stricter safety protocols for filming

Entrance to a ranch with a closed gate
The entrance to Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, N.M., where the shooting occurred during production on the film “Rust.”
(Cedar Attanasio / Associated Press)

On Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested that the state may push to adopt stricter safety protocols for productions filming in New Mexico.

The governor’s comments come days after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot by a prop gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of “Rust” outside Santa Fe, N.M.

Safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on the set, several crew members told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. The New Mexico film industry, which has been on the rise since the early 2000s, has grown rapidly in recent years thanks to a generous film incentive program helmed by the state.

At least one of the camera operators complained last weekend to production managers about gun safety on the set.

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“My full expectation is that the film and television industry will, at the conclusion of the investigation into this tragic incident and once all the facts are in hand, bring forward comprehensive new safety protocols to ensure this kind of incident never, ever happens again,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement shared with The Times. “If that sort of comprehensive new approach does not materialize, the state of New Mexico will take immediate action, throughout whatever means are available to us, to ensure the safety of all personnel on all film and television sets here in our state.”

Lujan Grisham first publicly addressed the issue during an economic development news conference Tuesday, as reported by the Albuquerque Journal. The Journal also reports that State Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes has been talking to industry officials about possible changes to film-set safety protocols.

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday, New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said he hoped to see the film industry and the New Mexico film union come up with a plan to address safety issues but would also be open to legislative options.

“There’s a whole bunch of unanswered questions about what exactly happened there,” Wirth said. “So we need answers to those questions. We need to see what the industry is going to do in response. And then determine if it makes sense to do anything from the legislative perspective.”

Wirth characterized film and television production as “a critical industry” to New Mexico’s economy, which has historically been heavily reliant on oil and gas.

“It’s just imperative from my perspective that workers participating in movies here in New Mexico are doing so in a safe environment,” he said.

New Mexico’s all-volunteer state Legislature convenes for one session a year. The 30-day 2022 session will begin in January, according to the governor’s office.

The investigation into the fatal shooting on the “Rust” set, which also injured director Joel Souza, remains ongoing and authorities are still trying to determine what kind of projectile killed Hutchins. The New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau is also investigating the incident in coordination with law enforcement.

The Santa Fe County sheriff and district attorney are expected to hold their first news conference on the investigation Wednesday morning.

Before the revolver fired, Alec Baldwin was rehearsing how to point it toward the camera, says an affidavit laying out new details of the shooting.

A former Sheriff’s Office insider with direct knowledge of how murder investigations typically play out in Santa Fe County said he expects the case will move slowly.

First, law enforcement has to complete its investigation. He expects that will take at least half a year because even if no one is ever charged with homicide, it is still considered a murder investigation, which is typically a lengthy process.

After that concludes, he said the district attorney’s office will decide how to proceed with the case, most likely bringing it before a grand jury.

“This type of investigation takes a long time, and then it has to go to the D.A.’s office,” the former Sheriff’s Office source said. “It would be six to eight months for this, unless the D.A. wants to fast track it and get it off their plate for some reason.”

In the newly released document obtained by The Times on Sunday night, Souza said the weapon had been described to him as a “cold gun,” meaning it did not have any live rounds.

But the gun discharged, striking Hutchins in her chest and Souza in his right shoulder, according to a Santa Fe County, N.M., sheriff’s detective’s affidavit used to obtain a search warrant. Hutchins was pronounced dead at an Albuquerque hospital.

In a 911 call obtained by The Times, script supervisor Mamie Mitchell — who was standing close to Hutchins and Souza when they were shot — told the operator that she could not say whether the gun was loaded with a real bullet.

On Tuesday, attorney Gloria Allred announced that she would be representing Mitchell and would be “conducting our own investigation of what happened because there are many unanswered questions.”

“Mamie has been interviewed by the Sheriff’s Department,” Allred said in a statement. “She has information and evidence which she believes will be helpful in this investigation.”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480, which represents “below-the-line” crew members working on film and television productions in New Mexico, also issued a statement Tuesday, saying it was “devastated by the death of our union sister who is remembered as a leader amongst her peers, a talented and rising star in her craft as a Director of Photography, and as a wife and mother.”

“Her death should never have happened,” the statement continues. “Union sets should be safe sets.”

The statement also said Local 480 has been “greatly disturbed by media reports that the producers employed non-union persons in craft positions and, worse, used them to replace skilled union members who were protesting their working conditions,” calling the prospect “inexcusable.”

Local 480 did not address Times questions about whether specific individuals on the crew who have been rumored to be nonunion were, in fact, members of its local or questions about whether the union had been contacted about any issues on “Rust” before the shooting.

Times staff writer Wendy Lee contributed reporting to this story.


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