Rust Assistant Director And Armorer Have Hired Legal Representation

All eyes turned to the film industry last week when, through a series of grossly negligent circumstances and potential cost-cutting efforts, actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun on the set of the film "Rust," killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. As more news is released about the incident, it's becoming progressively clearer that this tragedy could have been avoided. 

This is the kind of news that is changing the industry, and the public's perception of it, as we speak. Already some sets are banning the use of live guns, and as more information is released, it seems likely that more changes will come. To keep you up to date with this evolving story, we've assembled today's news related to the "Rust" situation right here.

Politicians Call to Ban Live Guns On Set

ABC's "The Rookie" has already voluntarily banned live guns from their set, but politicians local to California and New Mexico (where the shooting took place) are calling for a more formalized approach. Councilman Paul Koretz (Los Angeles City Council, representing the Fifth Council District) has introduced a resolution to support legislation that would ban live guns and ammunition from all film and TV sets. As the councilman explained:

"The idea that even one misfire has caused danger is outrageous. The clear solution is banishing live guns and ammunition from the sets of television and motion picture productions to eliminate all possibility of human error in the handling of weapons so that flawless oversight and restrictions guarantee that these kinds of accidents never happen again."

New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham even issued her own statement on the matter, explaining that her state is prepared to introduce "very specific accountable safeguards" if standards don't start changing. It'll be interesting to see how the film industry responds to this in the wake of negotiations with IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), who are currently fighting to improve working conditions within the industry.

But Armorers and Weapons Masters Disagree

On the other hand, a collective of armorers and weapons experts have released a statement in response to these new calls to ban live guns on set, which they believe to be "misguided." Their five-point statement kicks off by offering condolences to the family of Halyna Hutchins and anyone who was affected by the on-set shooting and dives right into a breakdown of what they believe went wrong on set while also taking a macro look at the history of weapons used in filmmaking and the stats behind related on-set deaths. 

Despite the very real catastrophe that was the catalyst for this statement, it's an interesting and pretty in-depth look at a side of the industry most people probably don't know about. Their statement closes by calling out producers and budget-saving measures specifically, saying:

The tragedy in New Mexico is not an indictment of professional film crews' ability to safely perform their craft. It is an indictment of the modern production culture, which for the last 30 years has pursued tax credits and found every way imaginable (and several that weren't) to sacrifice crew health and safety in the name of budget consciousness.

Rob Ackerman, a union prop master who led the prop department on the "Saturday Night Live" film unit for more than 20 years offered a similar sentiment in an op-ed for CNN:

Production managers and assistant directors must create and enforce schedules, muscle work forward, expedite and control costs. The film business is, after all, a business. But the best production people understand that slower can mean faster, that patience and listening often lead to better decision making, that fairness will be met with gratitude and excellence.

One way or another, change is coming and it seems like the push and pull between better working conditions versus stricter rules around on-set weapons has already begun. In an interview with CNN correspondent Josh Campbell and Santa Fe district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney promised to support the governor, saying: "We have seen the worst-case scenario and it seems like there were multiple levels at which that could have been avoided ... And so I would certainly encourage and will stand behind the governor if she seeks out stricter oversight, stricter guidelines, and policies."

Meet the Rust Producers

Let's start off at the beginning, shall we? 

There's executive producer Allen Cheney, who is the son of a banker and native of Thomasville, Georgia, which bears the name of his production company Thomasville Pictures. Then there's producer Ryan Donnell Smith who is Cheney's business partner and a partner at Streamline Global LLC, which "helps wealthy individuals get tax breaks by investing in movies that use government incentives." What a delight.

And of course, actor and producer Alec Baldwin, who fired the shot. There are a few other producers floating around as well, including Nathan Klingher, Ryan Winterstern, Matt DelPiano, and Anjul Nigam. According to some "Rust" crew members, more than a few of them were on set that day. 

While the involvement a producer has in the actual production of a film varies, Cheney's statement paints a different picture than what we've heard from the set of "Rust," one where everything was 100% above board and absolutely none of the producers were involved:

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 ... "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.

Due to the number of producers and companies involved in the production of "Rust," it is harder than it should be to tell who should shoulder the blame for the on-set conditions that led to the murder, and while it's obviously not so they can get away with murder, it's definitely puts maximizing profits above all else. As Travis Knox, professor of producing at Chapman University, so eloquently puts it:

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 ... 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.

The Labor Violations Keep On Coming

This isn't the first time we've heard that a "Rust" crew member has a history of creating unsafe working conditions, and it probably won't be the last. The bad news just keeps on coming. This time it's about "Rust" line producer Gabrielle Pickle, who violated the National Labor Relations Act while working on the film "Keys to the City" in Atlanta in 2018. 

During production, the camera crew had started trying to flip their set from non-union to union due to safety concerns. Pickle fired the entirety of the seven-person camera crew after they signed union authorization cards and called the police on union members while they were picketing on a public sidewalk.

Luckily, IATSE filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board and the production was required to pay the fired crew members for the days they would have worked. It can't be mentioned enough how important groups like IATSE are when it comes to fighting for crew members' rights and keeping them safe on set.

Lawyering Up

To round out our "Rust" news for today, Veteran First Assistant Director David Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed have both officially procured legal representation. If their names sound familiar, it's because most of the news about the "Rust" shooting has circulated around them. Halls was the crew member who called out "cold gun!" before handing Baldwin the gun that shot Hutchins, while Gutierrez-Reed had only ever worked as an armorer once before accepting the job on the set of "Rust."

So far, no one has been arrested or charged with the murder of Halyna Hutchins. However, according to the district attorney, "All options are on the table ... No one has been ruled out."