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Baldwin’s set highlights risks of rushed film production


Updated 44 minutes ago

NEW YORK (AP) – Alec Baldwin’s fatal shooting on a film set has put a microscope on an often invisible corner of the film industry where critics say the pursuit of profit can lead to unsafe working conditions.

With a budget of around $ 7 million, the western “Rust” was not a micro-budget indie. The previous Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Nomadland,” was made for less. But the New Mexico set where Baldwin shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins had inexperienced team members, apparent safety breaches, and a serious labor dispute.

For some in the business, failures reflect bigger issues in a rapidly changing film industry.

“Production is exploding, budgets are even smaller and budgets even smaller,” said Mynette Louie, a seasoned independent producer. “Something must give. “

Filming took place at a busy time: production is ramping up following the easing of restrictions linked to the pandemic. Streaming services are increasing the demand for content. And meanwhile, the industry is grappling with standards for movie sets.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was “some complacency” in the way guns were handled on set. Investigators found 500 rounds of ammunition – a mix of blank bullets, dummy bullets and suspected live bullets, although the set’s gun specialist, gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez Reed, said real bullets ammunition should never have been present.

Attention shifted to 24-year-old Gutierrez Reed, who had only worked on one previous feature film, and assistant director Dave Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin. According to a search warrant affidavit, Halls called out the “cold weapon” to indicate that it could be used safely, but told detectives he had not checked all of the weapon’s chambers.

The lack of proper weapons protocol has stunned veterans of the cinema.

“It was incompetence, inexperience and – I hate to say it – a lack of concern for your job. If there’s a whole bunch of ammunition in a box, that’s not how it’s done, ”said Mike Tristano, a longtime professional gunsmith.

Several members of the “Rust” film crew left the set amid disagreement over working conditions, including safety procedures. A new crew was hired that morning, according to director Joel Souza, who spoke to detectives. He was standing near Hutchins and was injured by the shooting.

The New Mexico branch of the union of the International Theater Workers Alliance called reports of non-union workers “inexcusable.” The union will soon vote on a new standards deal covering 60,000 film and television crew members – a deal struck with major studios after IATSE prepared for the first strike in 128 years of existence.

In a statement, “Rust” executive producer Allen Cheney said the film’s six producers collectively have over 35 years of film and television experience. He called “Rust” “union certified production.”

James Gunn, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker, has suggested that sloppy culture may be partly to blame.

“Dozens of people have died or been seriously injured on film sets due to irresponsibility, ignorance of safety protocols, inappropriate leadership and an established culture of mindless rush,” he said. Gunn said on Twitter.

The gaffer of “Rust”, Serge Svetnoy, accused the producers of the film of “negligence”.

“Sometimes to save a dime, you hire people who aren’t fully qualified for a complicated and dangerous job,” Svetnoy said in a Facebook post.

Veteran prop master Neal W. Zoromski told the Los Angeles Times he turned down an offer to work on “Rust” because the producers insisted one person could serve as both an assistant master. accessories and gunsmith.

Gary Tuers, property master of “Tomorrow War” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” said the shooting was “an indictment against modern production culture, which for the past 30 years has sought tax credits and found every way imaginable (and several that weren’t) to sacrifice crew health and safety in the name of fiscal conscience. ”

“This tragedy was an apparent accident,” he wrote on Instagram. “But it was also a predictable result of the incentive structure within the modern film industry.”

Several companies came together to finance and produce “Rust,” including Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures. The film, which is based on a story by Souza and Baldwin, was funded in part by Las Vegas-based Streamline Global, which describes its business model as “acquiring films with certain tax benefits” that can “reduce the cost of the film. federal owner’s income tax. responsibility for income from other sources.

BondIt Media, an independent film financier, also funded “Rust”. The Santa Monica, California-based company has helped fund other male action thrillers like Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief”, Mel Gibson’s “Force of Nature” and Bruce Willis’s “Hard Kill”.

Even before filming, “Rust” ‘s most likely destination was probably video on demand. Last year, Baldwin promoted the film to buyers in the Cannes Virtual Film Market. The actor told The Hollywood Reporter that the script reminded him of “Unforgiven,” a 1992 western starring Clint Eastwood.

A few days after filming, production of “Rust” was suspended indefinitely.

The film was made under a tax provision called Section 181, which applies to films costing from $ 2.75 million to $ 7.5 million. This can allow investors to break even before a movie hits a screen, especially in a generous tax credit state like New Mexico. The state has been a popular location for productions in recent years. Some of its regulations, including for weapons experts in the field, are less stringent than in California.

In his 30-year career, gunsmith Tristano hasn’t often known producers or crew members who cut corners on safety. But when security is involved, he did not hesitate to withdraw his team from a plateau.

“Every time I was on a set where there was a lot of panic, or the AD (assistant director) would rush in, I would say, ‘OK, I’m locking the guns in the truck,’” Tristano said. “I would say, ‘When you’re ready to do it right, we’ll do it. If you don’t like it, fire me. “


Follow AP Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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