'Revenant' Shoot Didn't Take Crew's Safety Issues "Seriously," Says Union Rep

The Revenant BTS - H 2015
Kimberley French/Regency Entertainment

The Revenant BTS - H 2015

"While filming in challenging conditions, safety was not compromised," New Regency, the movie's producer, countered.

The head of a local union representing crew members that worked on Alejandro G. Inarritu's The Revenant during a brutally cold Canadian winter said the New Regency movie went to "the outer edge of safety" to get the perfect shot.

"In terms of our industry, it's important that people differentiate between getting an amazing movie at all costs, and safety," Damian Petti, president of IATSE local 212, told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday.

At the same time, The Revenant producer New Regency insisted on-set safety was closely followed throughout the Canadian shoot, as it added in a statement: "While filming in challenging conditions, safety was not compromised."  

Petti was responding to a July 22 article in THR by Kim Masters that had anonymous crew members claiming Inarritu's follow-up to Birdman became a "living hell." Petti insisted production executives on The Revenant ignored ample warnings about safety concerns, offered both on set and during conference calls to studio executives in Los Angeles.

"It's not clear to me that, when crew members raised concerns, they were taken seriously," he said. Petti added he was speaking out on-set safety concerns on behalf of whistle-blowers that feared retribution.

"I feel a need to represent my members because I feel the position taken in the article was one of 'it's all worth it because the picture looks really good.' That's a very dangerous road for any of us to be on and to buy into," he said.

Petti said around 15 to 20 crew members were fired from or quit The Revenant production, while adding: "A lot of people were fired and some of them raised safety issues."

For its part, New Regency said it hired specialists to ensure overall safety while shooting in harsh conditions. "We hired experts who worked with us in swift-water, mountain-climbing, bear behavior, helicopter operations and cold-weather safety to complement the U.S. production management team," the company said.

"We also cooperated with Canadian H&S agencies as well as labor organizations and appointed labor representatives to assist overall safety of cast and crew," New Regency added. The producer said technicians on The Revenant shoot were accredited and experienced in working in cold weather conditions.

The Revenant follows lead Leonardo DiCaprio's character through deep snow and ordeals shot in rural Alberta, including Drumheller, Kananaskis Country and areas near Canmore. Petti insisted shooting a movie in a remote and frigidly cold locations is far removed from a soundstage in Los Angeles.

"It's a different world than being in a studio. In my jurisdiction, we've gone many years with no film studios. The opinions of crew when working in extreme conditions need to be heard and I feel that at times some productions are not listening," he said. Petti added Alberta film crews routinely work in extreme winter conditions.

"I'm talking about minus 40. We've had minus 40, with the wind blowing, on (FX's) Fargo in the first season," Petti recounted. The union head said conference calls to top production executives at New Regency early on in The Revenant shoot to detail on-set safety concerns were dismissed.

In part, cultural differences between frigid Canada and balmy Hollywood -- where The Revenant has ambitious award season goals -- were at play.

"I felt an uphill challenge because, if you're describing to a studio executive in Los Angeles the myriad of safety issues from working in deep snow — cold weather, remote locations, slippery ground, cold water and communications challenges that happen when you have a large group of people in a remote area — it's difficult to explain to an executive that all of these things are adding up to the outer edge of safety," Petti said.

The IATSE exec insisted he wasn't out to pick a fight with studio heads, and instead aimed to point to on-set safety concerns on The Revenant set that weren't dealt with properly. Petti said a senior production executive on one conference call with other union reps claimed the union head was "over-dramatizing" issues around what he considered a safe working environment.

"I said I'd worked on many productions and this is very different to what I'm used to seeing with respect to safety," Petti recounted.

July 24, 2015 7:55 p.m. Updated with a statement from New Regency indicating on-set safety was closely followed throughout The Revenant shoot in challenging conditions, and that crew safety was not compromised.