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Stakeholders in the entertainment industry are close to reaching a deal on final language for a California film and television set safety bill sparked by the tragedy on the set of Rust.
Trade association the Motion Picture Association and a coalition of entertainment unions have largely landed on a version of SB 735 that is acceptable to both parties in the past two weeks, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. In the current, edited version of the bill, authored by State Senator Dave Cortese and reflecting the tentative consensus among the stakeholders, firearms would only be allowed on film and television sets in specific circumstances. Crew members tasked with overseeing the use of firearms on set — a property master, armorer or assistant property master — would be required to have a state permit, have undergone safety trainings and possess federal documentation to possess a firearm, while employers would have to make sure cast and crew members who handle or are near firearms also undergo specific safety training.
Ammunition would be banned on sets except in “prescribed circumstances, subject to certain safety rules and laws” — referring to California state law and the entertainment industry’s preexisting safety bulletins for the use of ammunition and firearms. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) would be tasked with enforcing these rules and could “investigate, inspect, and cite employers, as prescribed.”
The current version of the bill also proposes a pilot program instituting the role of “safety advisor” on American film and television productions. This employee, an independent staffer whose sole responsibility would be safety, would perform a “risk assessment” prior to production based on the script and be present during production to promote worker welfare. Productions would also be required to convene daily safety meetings and task an “independent evaluator” with writing up a final safety report and sending it to the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee (a group of labor and management representatives that oversee the industry’s safety bulletins). Under the pilot program, safety advisors would be required on and assigned to projects that are in California’s Film & TV tax credit program (recent titles that have taken part in the program include Lionsgate’s Michael Jackson biopic Michael and the MGM reboot of The Thomas Crown Affair).
If SB 735 is signed into law, the pilot program would take effect starting July 1, 2025 and last five years. Before the program expires, the California Film Commission and the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee would be required to make recommendations to the California legislature on whether to administer the pilot measures permanently.
The stakeholders are still working out some final details on the language of the bill, even as labor groups the Directors Guild of America and the California IATSE Council have signed on as sponsors. While a final consensus between management and labor would not ensure the bill will eventually be signed into law, it would give the proposed law an “excellent” shot at making its way to the governor’s desk, Cortese said in an interview with THR on Friday. Cortese notes that the governor’s office has been monitoring this bill’s progress and has “expressed no objections.”
This turn of events represents significant progress from last year, when, in the wake of the Rust tragedy, Cortese introduced an initial bill tackling set safety that was supported by the unions but opposed by management. The MPA, instead, backed a rival bill introduced by state Sen. Anthony Portantino. Ultimately, when management and labor could not reach a consensus on a single approach to set safety, both bills died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Cortese announced his intention to reintroduce his set safety bill in 2023 on January 19, the same day that New Mexico prosecutors announced charges in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust in 2021. Portantino told THR at the time that he would not be reintroducing a separate bill, saying instead that he would “cheerlead” a process of negotiation between unions and the MPA.
What changed between 2022 and 2023? “Last year there was, as there is sometimes in politics and law, some differences in the way people were thinking about how to go about [the proposed legislation],” Cortese said. The turning point was landing on the idea of a pilot program for safety advisors: “That got folks to relax a little bit about the risk of permanency of some things that are a little new here,” he added.
The adjusted version of SB 735 will be heard in the California Senate’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee, chaired by Cortese, on April 19. If it passes through that committee, it will make its way back to the Appropriations Committee.
“I think this will bring great uniformity to the industry,” said Cortese of the bill, noting the gig nature of much work in the industry. “Which I think we need more than ever because of the great expansion we’ve seen [in film and television production] because of streaming. That has led to what I think is a great watershed moment for Hollywood, quote unquote, but also causes us to come back and say, ‘Hey, it gets a little more complicated when you have all these players.’ ”
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