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‘Rust’ crew members claim set was not ‘chaotic, dangerous’ before fatal shooting

People on a Western set
Crew members on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set of “Rust” outside Santa Fe, N.M., on Friday, Oct. 8.
(Handout)
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Countering claims of unsafe working conditions on the low-budget western, a group of “Rust” crew members have sent a letter to their union and the New Mexico Film Office, saying depictions of the production “as a chaotic, dangerous, and exploitative workplace are false.”

The letter was shared Thursday on Instagram by the movie’s star, Alec Baldwin, who also is a producer on “Rust.”

“We, the undersigned, believe the public narrative surrounding our workplace tragedy to be inadequate and wish to express a more accurate account of our experience,” reads the letter signed by 25 crew members, including assistant director Tim Barrera, sound mixer David Stevens, production designer Bryan Norvelle and costume designer Terese Davis.

On the 12th day of a 21-day production, Baldwin fatally shot the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, with a replica of an 1880s-style Colt .45 single-action revolver, authorities said. Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza has said the gun contained more than one live round.

Sheriff’s investigators are still trying to determine how lead bullets ended up on the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set near Santa Fe — a clear violation of industry-recognized safety protocols. Mendoza said authorities recovered more than 500 rounds of ammunition, including blanks and dummies, from the set.

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The bullet that fatally wounded Hutchins also wounded the film’s director, Joel Souza, who was treated and released from a Santa Fe hospital.

Hutchins’ Oct. 21 death has become a rallying cry by film industry crew members, including members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who have called on producers to provide safer conditions on film and TV sets.

In the death of Halyna Hutchins, some film workers see the tragic result of a troubling trend in how producers of low-budget films place financial considerations over human ones.

Members of the “Rust” camera crew, including first camera assistant Lane Luper, had alerted “Rust” production managers about their safety concerns on Oct. 16 and Oct. 20 — the night before Hutchins was killed, according to documents shared with the Los Angeles Times. Hours before the fatal shooting, the camera crew had walked off the set in protest of the conditions.

There were two accidental discharges on Oct. 16, including one when the prop master, Sarah Zachry, shot herself in the foot. Zachry has declined to comment.

“Unfortunately, in the film industry, it is common to work on unprofessional or hectic productions to gain experience or credits,” according to the 25 crew members who signed Thursday’s letter. “Many of us have worked on those types of productions. ‘Rust’ was not one of them.”

The narrative echoes one that Baldwin has promoted in media interviews following the deadly shooting. Last week, Baldwin told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that he was unaware of any safety complaints on set. Baldwin said that all productions labor under financial constraints and that he was under the impression that the Albuquerque-based members of the camera crew were only upset over the lack of adequate housing, which required them to drive more than 100 miles a day to commute to the set.

“We were a very, very well-oiled crew shooting a film together, and then this horrible event happened,” Baldwin told photographers who were following him in Vermont about a week after the tragedy.

Since then, chief lighting technician Serge Svetnoy and script supervisor Mamie Mitchell have filed lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the ‘Rust’ set was unsafe. Svetnoy told The Times that, at one point during the production, he saw guns lying unattended in the sand. All the suits name as defendants the producers, including Baldwin, assistant director Dave Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin, and the 24-year-old armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who was in charge of gun safety.

How an armorer and a prop master with scant experience wound up in the middle of the Alec Baldwin “Rust” tragedy.


Halls told a sheriff’s detective that he did not check all the rounds in the gun before it was handed to Baldwin, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, has hired the prominent Los Angeles law firm Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi, with Brian Panish acting as lead counsel, to represent the family in a possible wrongful-death suit.

Internal “Rust” documents show there were about 150 crew members total, although not all were on the set every day. Half of the crew was made up of local New Mexico film workers, according to the New Mexico Film Office, which noted the production also employed about 230 background actors.

“We do acknowledge that no set is perfect, and like any production, ‘Rust’ had areas of brilliance and areas that were more challenging,” says the letter. It describes Hutchins as “at the heart of our production.”

“Halyna’s work ethic was inspiring and we were working to our highest ability to support her vision,” the 25 crew members wrote. “The days were scheduled tightly, but appropriately. We were keeping pace, not falling behind schedule.”

Producers halted the production following the fatal shooting.


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