‘Rust’ producers contest agency citation as Baldwin launches production company
The production company behind “Rust,” the low-budget western in which actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during filming last fall, contested a New Mexico agency’s findings that it violated its own safety protocols.
In a filing Tuesday, the Rust production disputed allegations that it breached industry safety violations and contested the proposed $136,793 penalty.
Rust Movie Productions (RMP) said it was not the employer responsible for supervising the film set, and alleged gun misfires on set were all addressed, the company said. It also challenged other findings, noting that a fire extinguisher that the agency said should have been inspected was in fact a special effects device.
“RMP disputes [the New Mexico Environment Department’s] citations and its summary of investigation because its bases for the citations are factually and legally inaccurate,” the company said. “The attempt to extend the application of a fire extinguisher regulation to a special effects device shows their misunderstanding of the film industry.”
The filing is a response to last month’s 11-page investigation into the tragedy by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, which found that the film’s managers “demonstrated plain indifference” to employee safety. The bureau levied its maximum fine for protocol breaches that led to the death of Hutchins and injury of director Joel Souza. The killing of Hutchins, which was followed by a wrongful death suit by her family, sparked industrywide calls for improved safety on film sets.
Baldwin, who was also a producer on the film, has denied any wrongdoing and an attorney for the actor previously said that the bureau’s report had cleared him, citing his belief that the gun held only dummy rounds and that his role in the film focused on script and casting.
Baldwin and another “Rust” producer, Anjul Nigam, revealed Tuesday that they had formed a new TV and film company, and would be selling their first project at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, first reported by trade publication Deadline. The news was confirmed by a spokesman for agency ICM, which represents Baldwin.
“We’ve been working with each other for several years now, and he’s been a tremendous talent to be in business with,” Nigam said in a statement. “This grew organically from the natural progression of things. The ride can be a roller coaster and I’m thrilled to be sharing it with Alec.”
The New Mexico agency said that the management of the production knew that firearm safety procedures were not being followed on set and failed to review work practices and take corrective action.
It cited correspondence among the crew as evidence that not enough training had been provided for the use of weapons, that the armorer had been stretched thin in her duties and that weapon misfires were not investigated.
Additionally, investigators said “Rust” managers or supervisors — including Sarah Zachry and Dave Halls, the first assistant director — did not follow safety guidelines for firearms and blank ammunition on set.
The agency said the “Rust” production did not develop a process to ensure that live rounds were not brought onto the set and didn’t give 24-year-old armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed enough time to inventory the ammunition.
Industry guidelines require sufficient training to handle weapons. But the production allegedly violated that protocol when unit production manager Gabrielle Pickle told Gutierrez Reed on Oct. 17 via text message that there would be no more training days, the investigators said.
In its response, the production company said all actors handling firearms received training, and additional safety protocols were put in place to protect a child actor. It said safety meetings were held, including the day of the fatality.
The company added it had instructed all personnel that they had so-called “Stop Work Authority,” the ability to stop working at any time until safety concerns were resolved. It said industry union representatives were present on site, including a designated crew member from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to ensure industry safety protocols were being implemented.
The company countered the agency’s allegation that Gutierrez Reed was not able to fully perform her duties as armorer as she was also tasked with handling other props. It cited a message from costume designer Terese Davis to prop master Zachry days after the shooting, alleging Gutierrez Reed had time to do the armorer work that morning while the camera team staged a walkout.
Hutchins was killed during a rehearsal in a church on the Bonanza Creek Ranch when Baldwin drew a weapon from its holster and pointed it at Hutchins and Souza. Halls had given Baldwin a replica of a vintage Colt .45 pistol, pronouncing it “cold,” meaning there was no ammunition inside, according to law enforcement records. However, the gun contained dummy rounds and at least one lead bullet.
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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