A New Mexico film and television union has criticized producers of the film Rust for replacing its crew with non-union members and turning a blind eye to complaints about the working conditions on the sets of the film. Last week, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on set after actor Alec Baldwin misfired a prop gun.
The union, identified as IATSE Local 480, represents film technicians working below-the-line on TV and movie productions. In a statement accessed by Variety, it said “We have 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.”
Director of the film, Joel Souza, who was injured in the incident and camera operator Reid Russell also confirmed to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department that several members of the camera department had staged a walkout on the day of the incident, in protest over pay and unsafe working conditions. The Los Angeles Times reported that after the camera crew- members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees- left, “several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them.”
It was after a few hours of their arrival, that the shooting resumed and the incident occurred.
“That is inexcusable. We are all awaiting the results of the investigation and are cooperating fully with the relevant authorities. In the meantime, we ask the public and media to respect our members’ privacy as they grieve this horrific event,” the statement from the New Mexico film and television union added.
The union also paid its tribute to 42-year-old Hutchins, who died after Baldwin, also a producer on the film, fired a prop gun that contained live rounds in it. While the investigation continues, an affidavit acquired by US media publications, stated that Baldwin was unaware that the gun had live rounds and the crew confirmed that the words “cold gun” were used on the sets.
Souza said that Baldwin was rehearsing in front of him and Hutchins “when he heard what sounded like a whip and then loud pop.”
Meanwhile, LA Times also reported instances of concern on the sets of Rust from several crew members in the past, about two accidental prop gun discharges. Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds last week after being told that the gun was “cold.”
Hutchins’ friend and colleague, Serge Svetnoy, who served as a gaffer on the film, posted a message on Facebook, addressed to the producers, and urged them to hire professionals. He wrote, “It’s the fault of negligence and unprofessionalism. The negligence from the person who was supposed to check the weapon on the site did not do this; the person who had to announce that the loaded gun was on the site did not do this; the person who should have checked this weapon before bringing it to the set did not do it.”
“I’m sure that we had the professionals in every department, but one – the department that was responsible for the weapons. There is no way a twenty-four-year-old woman can be a professional with armory; there is no way that her more-or-less the same-aged friend from school, neighborhood, Instagram, or God knows where else, can be a professional in this field,” Svetnoy added, referring to 24-year-old Hannah Gutierrez, who was the armorer for Rust, her second project.
In addition to this, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that lawmakers will have to strengthen safety guidelines for film productions if the film industry failed to do so, according to a report by the Albuquerque Journal.
“My expectation is the industry better step up and identify any number of additional improvements and safeguards,” Lujan Grisham said. “If the industry doesn’t come forward with very specific accountable safeguards, they should expect that we will.”
Production on Rust is currently halted.