The New Mexico Bureau of Occupational Health and Safety (OHSB) issued a voluntary-serious citation last week against Rust Movie Productions, LLC (RMP) for the preventable death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the serious injury of director Joel Souza on the set of the film. Rust on October 21, 2021.
Hutchins, 42, was a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory and considered a rising star in the industry. She was killed when actor Alec Baldwin, who was also the film’s producer, accidentally fired a prop gun while rehearsing a scene from the western. Souza, 48, was injured in the shoulder by the same bullet.
According to New Mexico state law, a citation must be issued within six months of a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act or related rules. The New Mexico Environmental Division (NMED), which oversees the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, released the citation on the eve of the deadline.
In a statement, NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said, “Our OSHA investigators have determined that Rust Movie Productions, LLC has failed in its duty to provide a workplace free from known hazards. Specifically, there have been multiple management failures and more than enough evidence to suggest that had standard industry practices been followed, the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins and the serious injury of Joel Souza would not have occurred. .
The investigation found that the film production company was guilty of “sheer disregard for the recognized dangers associated with the use of firearms on set, which resulted in death, serious injury and unsafe working conditions. “.
He further found that RMP asserted that it would adhere to the industry union-management safety committee safety bulletin No. 1 “Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and the Use of “Blank Ammunition” “, but did not do so on the set of the film.
Some of the most egregious violations included the lack of daily security meetings; bring live ammunition to the board; pointing a gun at someone without proper preparation and consultation; leaving firearms unattended; load guns before a scene is shot.
According to the investigation, less than a week before the tragic accident, there were two firearms misfires on the same day and both were fired by management. However, “[C]New members have verbally expressed surprise and unease at Rust management’s lack of action on the issue of site safety.
The report further states, “When the gunsmith (who is responsible for all guns on a set) has used most of his contract-limited ‘gunsmith days’, he was given a written instruction to concentrating less on his duties as a gunsmith and spending more time assisting the props department. When the gunsmith expressed the need to ensure the actors were able to safely handle a firearm with a holster, the executive producer told them that the gunsmith would be briefed if necessary. When the gunsmith was to train the stunt team in gun safety, he was told that the stunt coordinator would handle it instead.
In other words, gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was only working on her second film, was forced to do two jobs for eight days during filming. His complaints and the complaints of others were ignored. “We cited everything from the lack of payment for three weeks, the withdrawal of our hotels despite their request in our offers, the lack of COVID security and, on top of that, poor gun security! Bad safety period on set! a worker called back.
The film was a very low budget production, and management clearly cut corners to save money in order to wrap the film faster and increase profits. But this has been sanctioned by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which allows low-budget productions to hire non-union workers and pay wages below the going rate.
The tragedy in New Mexico came just four days after IATSE announced a last-minute deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to prevent a strike by 60,000 production workers film and television. Rank and file workers were determined to reverse union-backed concessions that allowed unbearable conditions to prevail in the industry, like those that led to the tragic accident in New Mexico. This included working days of 14 hours or more; one person doing the work of two or more, lack of breaks, lack of meal breaks and long commutes, to name a few.
The contract imposed by the IATSE did nothing to alleviate these problems. In fact, the majority of IATSE members rejected the surrender, but the union still used its undemocratic electoral system to ratify it.
As the WSWS pointed out at the time, “After workers rallied in a 98% strike vote, the IATSE called off the strike and told the press it had struck an ‘end. Hollywood”. The workers then received a deal that did not significantly increase the time between shifts, did not guarantee lunch breaks, left in place dangerous levels of exhaustion on set, did not grant rights to broadcast revenue and left salary increases well below the current rate of inflation. .”
While authorities in New Mexico found the production company guilty of endangering the lives of the film crew, the citation they issued included a civil fine of just $136,793, which, according to an NMED press release, is “the maximum fine allowed by state law.” in New Mexico.
Criminal investigations are still ongoing, but RMP as a corporation will not be held criminally liable, and as a single-purpose entity, RMP will also likely not be held liable for the paltry sum to which it has been condemned.
The fine imposed for the death of one worker and the injury of another sparked outrage among film and television workers.
As one commenter from the Crew Stories Facebook group noted, “that’s the budget for pack-day catering for a ton of big productions.”
Another said: ‘I held a camera worth more than that.
Many others have pointed out that New Mexico places very little value on human life.
“Companies don’t go to jail,” said another. “They get a shitty little fine and are told to move on to the next victim. Movies, coal mining, construction, factory work. Families are free to sue, but unless they have the money and plenty of time to wait, it’s still too little too late. I feel for the family. I hope they get justice, I’m afraid that won’t happen.
The government may yet find a worker or even a middle manager as a scapegoat for this crime. The conditions entertainment workers are forced to endure will continue, with future loss of life, until workers take the leadership of their struggle out of the hands of the IATSE and build new democratically controlled organizations to defend their lives, their standard of living and their working conditions. This means the creation of rank-and-file committees in opposition to the labour-management bodies that are bidding up industry and fighting for workers’ control over the pace and hours of work, health and safety.
Are you a film or television production worker? Contact Discuss with us the conditions at your site and how to create rank-and-file committees.