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Regulators fine Rust filmmakers in scathing criticism of movie safety


Workplace safety regulators have issued the maximum possible fine of nearly US$137,000 ($184,000) against a film production company for firearms safety failures on the set of Rust, where a cinematographer was fatally shot in October by actor and producer Alec Baldwin.

New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau on Wednesday (Early Thursday AEST) said Rust Movie Productions must pay US$136,793 ($183,608) and distributed a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols.

It included testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set prior to the fatal shooting.

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The bureau also documented gun safety complaints from crew members that went unheeded and said weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training.

"What we had, based on our investigators' findings, was a set of obvious hazards to employees regarding the use of firearms and management's failure to act upon those obvious hazards," Bob Genoway, bureau chief for occupational safety, told The Associated Press.

At a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on October 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins inside a small church during setup for the filming of a scene when it went off, killing Hutchins and wounding the director, Joel Souza.

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Baldwin said in a December interview with ABC News in the US that he was pointing the gun at Hutchins at her instruction on the New Mexico set of the Western film when it went off without him pulling the trigger.

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Alec Baldwin

The new occupational safety report confirms a large-caliber revolver was handed to Baldwin by an assistant director, David Halls, without consulting with on-set weapons specialists during or after the gun was loaded.

Regulators noted Halls also served as safety coordinator and was present and witnessed two accidental discharges of rifles on set.

He and other managers who knew of the misfires took no investigative, corrective or disciplinary action, they also noted. Crew members expressed surprise and discomfort.

"The safety coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns," the report stated.

"Management was provided with multiple opportunities to take corrective actions and chose not to do so.

"As a result of these failures, Director Joel Souza and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were severely injured. Halyna Hutchins succumbed to her injuries."

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Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, pictured here in 2019, was killed on the set of the movie "Rust"

Rust Movie Productions said through a spokesperson that it would dispute the findings and sanction.

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"While we appreciate OSHA's time and effort in its investigation, we disagree with its findings and plan to appeal," said Stefan Friedman.

Any appeal would be heard initially by the state's occupational health and safety board.

An attorney for Baldwin was not immediately available.

The state fine applies to a film with a budget of about US$7 million ($9.4 million).

Baldwin was assigned a salary of $250,000 as an actor and producer and may have put some of that money back into the production.

At least five lawsuits have been filed over the shooting, including a wrongful death suit brought by Hutchins' family against Baldwin and the movie's other producers.

The lawsuit on behalf of widower Matt Hutchins and his nine-year-old son alleges a "callous" disregard in the face of safety complaints on the set.

Alec Baldwin

James Kenney, secretary of the Environment Department that oversees occupational safety, said the agency dedicated 1500 staff hours to its investigation, examined hundreds of documents and conducted at least a dozen interviews with cast and crew members.

Investigators found production managers placed tight limits on resources for a small team that controlled weapons on set and failed to address concerns about a shotgun left unattended twice.

Armourer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the daughter of a sharpshooter and consultant to film productions, was limited to eight paid days as an armourer to oversee weapons and training, and was assigned otherwise to lighter duties as a props assistant. As her time as an armourer ran out, Gutierrez Reed warned a manager and was rebuffed.

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Safety investigators also noted the production company did not develop a process to ensure live rounds of ammunition were not brought on set, in violation of industry safety protocols.

The accident occurred on the New Mexico set of the western film 'Rust'.

Safety meetings were conducted, but not every day weapons were used, as required.

Kenney said separate investigations into possible criminal charges are still underway. The Santa Fe County sheriff and local prosecutors had no immediate comment.

Kenney said his agency received no direct safety complaints from cast or crew prior to the fatal shooting, even though anonymity is offered.

"This tragedy, this loss of life, it could have been prevented, and we want people to say something," he said.

Kenney was appointed in 2019 by Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a staunch advocate for the film industry who increased a state cap on industry incentives shortly after taking office.

New Mexico competes with non-Hollywood production sites in states such as Georgia, Louisiana and New York.

Film productions have flocked to New Mexico in recent years to seize on its diverse outdoor scenery, moderate costs and generous state incentives, including a rebate of between 25 and 35 per cent of in-state spending for video production that helps filmmakers large and small underwrite their work.



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