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The cast and crew of Rust have responded to the “public narrative” surrounding the shooting death of the film’s cinematographer in a new letter, describing a positive morale and rejecting descriptions of an unsafe environment on the New Mexico set.
The letter (below), which was shared by Rust producer and star Alec Baldwin on Instagram and confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter by a crewmember Thursday, described the set as “professional” and refuted reports of a “chaotic, dangerous and exploitative” workplace. The group of producers has come under fire since the Oct. 21 tragedy, including in a report by THR, for being allegedly inexperienced and running an unsafe set while filming the Western at Bonanza Creek Ranch.
“We do acknowledge that no set is perfect, and like any production, Rust had areas of brilliance and areas that were more challenged,” read the joint statement. “While we stand firmly with our unions and strongly support the fight for better working conditions across our industry, we do not feel that this set was a representation of the kind of conditions our unions are fighting against.”
The letter, which was signed by 24 employees across multiple “below-the-line” departments and sent to the New Mexico Film Commission, THR confirmed, says the “disgruntled few” crewmembers who quit the film prior to the tragedy “do not represent the views of all of us.” Describing what they said were 12-hour workdays and the turnarounds, housing and payments as “fair and consistent with expectations,” the note went on to call the producers and production managers “supportive of our efforts.”
On Oct. 21, Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and the film’s director, Joel Souza, was wounded when Baldwin, a producer and star on the film, discharged a gun that he believed was safe but actually contained a live round, per the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
Lane Luper, the A-camera first assistant on Rust, who resigned from the production along with six of his colleagues in the camera department over what he described as an unsafe work environment before the tragedy, spoke of pay irregularities and “brutal” working conditions in a prior interview with THR.
A statement shared on Friday from attorney Jacob G. Vigil, whose firm represents Luper, digital utility technician Jonas Huerta and other Rust crewmembers, disputes the characterization offered by the cast and crew letter. “As fellow members of New Mexico film community, Lane Luper, Jonas Huerta, and our other clients from the crew of Rust share the grief relayed by the letter’s signatories about the loss of their friend and colleague, Halyna Hutchins,” the statement reads. “Our clients also understand the concern of the authors about the possible effect the shooting incident and the events leading up to it may have on their careers and on New Mexico as a premier destination for many productions.”
The statement continues, “Although not every member of the Rust crew shared the same experiences — most of the letter’s signatories worked in less physical, office, or off-set roles and were unaware of the serious safety violations on set — every one of them was put at risk by the producers, including Alec Baldwin, who cut corners, hired an unqualified armorer, and ignored the industry-wide safety protocols designed to keep the cast and crew safe.”
In Baldwin’s first interview since the tragedy, the actor addressed what he called “misconceptions” amid the ongoing criminal investigation, including saying multiple times that he did not pull the trigger of the gun. “I pulled the hammer as far back as I could without cocking the gun. I let go of the hammer and bang, the gun goes off,” Baldwin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in a pretaped interview that aired Dec. 2. “Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me.”
The criminal investigation into the shooting is being conducted by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney and could take months to complete, authorities have said. Baldwin, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed and assistant director Dave Halls are among those under investigation.
Rebecca Keegan and Katie Kilkenny contributed to this story.
Dec. 10, 9 a.m. Updated with New Mexico Film Commission confirmation.
Dec. 10, 4:19 p.m. Updated with statement from attorney Jacob G. Vigil.
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