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The producers of Rust knew that firearm safety procedures weren’t being followed on set and demonstrated a “plain indifference” to the welfare of cast and crew, according to a New Mexico safety agency.
The New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau found numerous violations of safety protocols, including the introduction of live ammunition onto the set and a failure to train crew on how to properly handle firearms. It issued the highest level citation and maximum fine allowable by state law of $136,793.
The report stated that Rust Movie Productions ignored “the hazards associated with firearms by routinely failing to practice their own safety protocols, failing to enforce adherence to safety protocols, and failing to ensure that the handling of deadly weapons was afforded the time and effort needed to keep the cast and crew safe. Additionally, the Employer disregarded or otherwise did not follow-up, ask questions, or try to understand what happened when employees notified management about the misfire incidents and not feeling safe on set.”
The investigation concerns the fatal shooting in October 2021 on the set of Rust that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.
The agency concluded that there was a “serious violation” of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Act. Rust management implemented its own safety procedures taken from the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee. One of the rules stated that live ammunition is never to be introduced.
“Rust did not develop a process to ensure live rounds were not brought onto set, including failing to afford the Armorer time to thoroughly inventory ammunition,” the agency found.
Other violations included protocols stating that no one can use firearms that they’re not trained to use, mandating safety meetings before scenes involving guns, and not to point a weapon at anyone.
The report detailed two previous incidents in which firearms accidentally went off. The first misfire, which happened Oct. 16, less than a week before the fatal shooting, occurred when props master Sarah Zachary inadvertently fired a blank round as she finished loading a 0.45 caliber revolver that was aimed at the ground. The second involved the stunt double for Alec Baldwin, who said the gun “just went off.”
Just a day before Hutchins was killed, first camera assistant Lane Luper resigned, citing safety concerns.
“During the filming of gunfights on this job things are often played very fast and loose,” Luper wrote in an email. “To be clear there are NO safety meetings these days. There have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots.”
OHSB found that Rust management ignored the red flags raised by the firearm misfires and concerned cast.
“We appreciate that the report exonerates Mr. Baldwin by making clear that he believed the gun held only dummy rounds and that his authority on the production was limited to approving script changes and creative casting,” Luke Nikas, Baldwin’s attorney, wrote in a post on the actor’s Instagram page. “Mr. Baldwin had no authority over the matters that were the subject of the Bureau’s findings of violations, and we are pleased that the New Mexico authorities have clarified these critical issues. We are confident that the individuals identified in the report will be held accountable for this tragedy.”
The report also concluded that armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was spread too thin. In accordance with industry-recognized safety practice, the armorer is required to be present whenever firearms are being handled and should have the authority to determine whether an individual requires additional safety training. But Gutierrez-Reed also had to perform the role of props assistant when firearms weren’t in active use. She was told by line producer Gabrielle Pickle that she was allowed eight paid days as armorer and the rest of her time was to be spent as a props assistant.
Pickle wrote to Gutierrez-Reed in an email that “it has been brought to my attention that you are focusing far more on Armor and not supporting props as needed.” In the same message, Pickle said that the “Production and AD team have seen twice that there was a shotgun left unattended after a scene” and that there needs to be “some type of check in / out system put in place immediately.”
Gutierrez-Reed responded that the role of the armorer is “a very serious job and since we’ve started I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety.” She also said that “there are working guns on set every day and those are ultimately going to be a priority because when they are not that’s when dangerous mistakes can happen.”
In another conversation, Pickle instructed Gutierrez-Reed not to conduct firearm training with Baldwin and other cast anymore.
Jason Bowles, an attorney representing Gutierrez-Reed, said in a statement that the report concluded that his client “was not provided adequate time or resources to conduct her job effectively, despite her voiced concerns.”
The statement reads, “As we have stated before, had anyone from Production called Hannah in back into the church before the scene to consult with her, this tragedy would have been prevented.”
Environment cabinet secretary James Kenney said, “Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety. This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe.”
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