Who are the producers behind deadly ‘Rust’ film?
When the low-budget action-thriller movie “One Way” was filming in Thomasville, Ga., in February, it was enough for a local TV news anchor to exclaim that executive producer Allen Cheney was “bringing Hollywood to his hometown.”
The grandson of a musician and the son of a banker, Cheney named his production company Thomasville Pictures, which he co-owns with business partner Ryan Donnell Smith, and filmed movies featuring the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Mel Gibson in southern Georgia.
Now, another movie with Cheney and Smith’s names attached is drawing the worst kind of attention. On a call sheet obtained by the Los Angeles Times, they are credited as executive producer and producer, respectively, on the film “Rust.” On its New Mexico set, actor and producer Alec Baldwin discharged a gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.
No charges have been filed in the case, which police are still investigating. Santa Fe County, N.M., Sheriff Adan Mendoza on Wednesday described the projectile that killed Hutchins as a lead bullet. The deadly projectile was recovered from Souza’s shoulder at an area hospital.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’
Among the roughly 500 rounds recovered on set were a mixture of “blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting were live rounds,” Mendoza said.
Investigators said they were still trying to determine how bullets ended up on the set of “Rust,” which would be a major violation of standard film safety protocols, according to experts in film production and firearms.
“Obviously I think the industry has had a record recently of being safe,” Mendoza said at a news conference. “I think there was some complacency on this set, and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico.”
In a statement, Cheney defended the credentials of the producers of “Rust.”
“The six credited producers on the independent film ‘Rust,’ Ryan Smith, Alec Baldwin, Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Matt DelPiano and Anjul Nigam, collectively have more than 35 years’ experience producing small to mid-level film and television projects,” Cheney said. “‘Rust’ is a union-certified production, in good standing with all of the major production unions and guilds, including IATSE, the Teamsters, SAG, and DGA. Consistent with financing partners across productions of all sizes, Streamline Global, Emily Salveson and I received executive producer credit on the film ‘Rust,’ having no involvement with the physical and day to day production.”
None of the other producers responded to requests for comment.
The Times reported last week that there were tensions on set before the deadly incident. Half a dozen camera operators and their assistants walked off the set to protest working conditions. A camera operator had complained, in a text message, about accidental gun discharges just days before the fatal shooting.
The limited liability company Rust Movie Productions said in a Friday statement that it is cooperating with the law enforcement investigation and was “not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set.” The company has since said it has hired lawyers to conduct its own investigation.
At least one of the camera operators complained last weekend to production managers about gun safety on the set.
Producers of independent movies commonly create limited liability companies for business and legal reasons, often named for the movie itself. Among the credited “Rust” producers, Baldwin is by far the biggest name. Baldwin’s producer credit isn’t a mere vanity title. He also shares story credit for the film.
As with other indie films, the producers listed for “Rust” are a hodgepodge of individuals, production entities and financiers. The responsibilities of producers and executive producers can vary widely in the film industry, ranging from the actual planning of production to the cobbling together of money to cover the budget.
Among the named producers on “Rust” is Smith, who co-owns Thomasville Pictures with Cheney. A Deadline story this month cited Smith as a producer of “Rust” “through Thomasville Pictures.” According to New Mexico business records filed this year, Rust Movie Productions LLC lists its address as the same one listed in Georgia by Thomasville Pictures.
Smith is also a partner in Streamline Global LLC, another of the backers listed for “Rust.” Las Vegas-based Streamline Global, founded in 2017 by Salveson, helps wealthy individuals get tax breaks by investing in movies that use government incentives, according to its website. Salveson and Cheney are both listed as executive producers.
DelPiano is Baldwin’s manager and a former CAA agent. Several of the producers, including Nigam, Klingher and Winterstern, were on the set the day of the accident, crew members said.
CAA Media Finance sold domestic distribution rights for “Rust,” while financier Highland Film Group handled international sales . Santa Monica lender BondIt Media Capital provided financing. (CAA Media Finance, Highland Film Group and BondIt Media Capital were not involved in the film’s production.)
With the number of producers involved in “Rust,” it’s difficult to determine who’s ultimately responsible, said Travis Knox, an associate professor of producing at Chapman University.
“Any producer that had worked on that film, that witnessed the alleged safety violations leading up to this, will no doubt have to hold a certain amount of accountability,” Knox said. “There is no way that all six companies are responsible because some of those are just production companies in name. In today’s world, producer credits get handed out like Tic Tacs, and that’s what’s happened here.”
It’s not the first time questions about safety have been raised related to movies to which Cheney and Smith were attached.
In Georgia this year, first camera assistant Lisa Long raised safety concerns while filming the action thriller “One Way,” starring Machine Gun Kelly, Long said.
Long was bothered by what she saw as first assistant director Dave Halls’ disregard for safety protocols and reported his behavior to two producers and an IATSE Local 600 union representative, she said.
It’s not clear whether Cheney and Smith were made aware of the alleged safety issues at the time.
Halls was also a first assistant director on “Rust.”
Court records show Baldwin was handed the gun by Halls, who picked up one of three weapons that had been prepared by Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the set’s armorer.
According to an affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, Halls believed that the lead bullet that fatally wounded Hutchins on Thursday was supposed to be a dummy round. Halls told investigators that he did not check all the rounds in the gun before it was handed to Baldwin, a major breach of safety standards.
On “One Way,” Halls did not hold a safety meeting before shooting a dangerous scene involving a Russian Arm — a crane-like piece of equipment that is attached to a high-speed vehicle during filming, Long said. The highway had not been cleared of outside traffic when filming began, she said.
Additionally, the walkie-talkies were filled with so much chatter that instructions were muddled and two vehicles being used by the production nearly collided, she said.
“It got so bad that I had a meeting with production to tell them he didn’t care about our safety and it wasn’t right,” Long said.
Jared Tyree of Gravity Production Services, who was brought in to operate the Russian Arm, said he also raised alarms about the situation on “One Way.”
Molly Mayeux, the line producer on “One Way,” said in an email that filming a movie during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic came with inherent concerns, but that the production took safety seriously. Mayeux said she had not heard about the alleged near-collision until a Times reporter asked.
“We had safety meetings almost every day — most definitely at new locations, or when any set or situation was particularly challenging, which did not happen often since we shot 85% of the movie on a parked bus in a warehouse,” she said.
Paul Hazen, a post-production supervisor on “Rust,” as well as Thomasville Pictures-produced movies “One Way” and “Supercell,” which also stars Alec Baldwin, said his experience working with the producers has been positive.
“My experience has been great with them,” Hazen said. “They’ve been nothing but professional.”
Neal W. Zoromski has worked on movies big and small. But dealing with producers of “Rust” gave him “a bad feeling.”
A Thomasville native, Cheney moved to Nashville in 2009 after graduating from LaGrange College, where he majored in music and business, according to a bio on his foundation’s website. He began his career in Nashville writing and producing music but quickly turned to film, the bio said.
While in Nashville, Cheney and Smith, who was born and raised in Tennessee, launched a production company called Mountview Creative.
The company moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 2015, where they produced the independent feature “Some Freaks.” Cheney registered Thomasville Pictures in 2017, according to Georgia business records.
In a Thomasville Times-Enterprise article in June, Cheney and Smith said they started the company to bring more production to southwest Georgia. Its first project, “The Tiger Rising,” starred Queen Latifah and Dennis Quaid.
“A few years ago, Thomasville had never had any films or anything taking advantage of the wonderful Georgia film model,” Cheney told the paper. “So I decided to bring some of my projects down here (Thomasville) and see how they went and they took off and did great. I’ve brought a few more and everything seems to be going well.”
“The Tiger Rising,” which Cheney on Instagram called the first large feature film ever made in Thomasville, had a $15-million budget, with at least $1 million of it spent locally, Cheney told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
“Allen just had a dream of bringing film production to Thomasville,” Councilmember Jay Flowers said. “It was an amazing experience for the community and not every day you get a live tiger in town ... Their reputation locally is as pristine as any other entity that has come to town. We would welcome them back to do a movie here in town next week, with no hesitation.”
Cheney’s family is well known in Thomasville. His father is chief executive of Thomasville National Bank. In 2019, Cheney published a book he co-wrote about his grandparents, Fred and Winnie Allen. Fred Allen, Cheney said in interviews with local press, overcame childhood adversity to become a Juilliard-trained musician who later became a high school music teacher in Thomasville.
“Your soul takes notes from Fred when you’re around him,” Cheney told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
Apart from Thomasville’s work, Smith’s most recognizable credit is as one of the executive producers on Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” released by Netflix last year.
“Tyler Thompson from Cross Creek Media called me and said, ‘I have a once-in-a-lifetime project for you,’” Smith said in an interview with the movies website Film Daily. “When he sent it over, I knew it was special and something that I would fight like hell to help get made.”
— Times staff writers Meg James, Julia Wick, James Queally and Richard Winton contributed to this report.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.
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