The company that produced the ill-fated Rust movie is contesting the findings of the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, which last month fined the company $136,793 for its “willful and serious” violation of workplace safety procedures. The fine, which is the maximum allowable by law, follows the Bureau’s six-month investigation into the circumstances leading up to the accidental shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza on October 21.
Rust Movie Productions LLC had 15 business days after receiving the citation on April 20 to either pay the penalty and provide OHSB with certification of corrective action or contest the citation with the Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission.
In its findings, the Bureau, which is a division of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), said the company was “cited for the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions.”
In contesting the citation, the production company said that the basis for the citation is “factually and legally inaccurate.” It said it shouldn’t have been cited at all because it “was not the ‘employer” responsible for supervising the film set, much less for supervising specific protocols such as the maintenance and loading of weapons. The law properly permits producers to delegate such critical functions as firearm safety to experts in that field and does not place such responsibility on producers whose expertise is in arranging financing and contracting for the logistics of filming.”
The Bureau found that “while the film industry has clear national guidelines for firearms safety, Rust Movie Productions, LLC failed to follow these guidelines or take other effective measures to protect workers. Rust Movie Productions, LLC’s documents indicate that it would follow the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s Safety Bulletin #1, ‘Recommendations for Safety with Firearms and Use of Blank Ammunition,’ but failed to adhere to these guidelines on set. The guidelines require live ammunition ‘never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,’ that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled, and that employees ‘refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ except after consultation with the property master, armorer or other safety representative, such as the first assistant director. By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”
In disputing those claims, Rust Movie Productions says it “contests the alleged violation itself – the existence of the alleged conditions and/or that such conditions constitute a violation of the cited provision”; that it contests the classification of the alleged violation, and that it contests the proposed penalty.
Read the company’s Notice of Contest here.
As part of its case against the company, the Bureau noted that there had been three firearm “misfires” on the set prior to the fatal shooting and that “despite being informed of the misfires, and that at least one employee expressed not feeling safe, Rust management took no corrective action.”
The company, however, said that “the three alleged ‘misfires’ were properly addressed. The first was not a misfire at all and did not involve a firearm – it was a harmless noise from a special effects ‘popper.’ The other two involved discharges of blank rounds. Contrary to NMED’s statements, none of the ‘misfires’ violated firearm safety protocols on the set and appropriate corrective actions were taken, including safety briefings of cast and crew.”
The bullet that killed Hutchins and wounded Souza was fired by gun held by Alec Baldwin, who has claimed that he did not pull the trigger and that the gun must have misfired as he pointed it toward the camera during rehearsals at the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.
Contrary to what the investigation found, the company also said that it “did not ‘willfully’ violate any safety protocol, and in fact enforced all applicable safety protocols,” claiming that “assistant directors were instructed by the unit production manager to conduct morning safety meetings on all days firearms were used. In fact, a safety meeting was held the morning of the incident.”
It insists that “all personnel on the set were instructed that they always had Stop Work Authority – the ability to cease activity during any aspect of filming at any time until his or her safety concerns were resolved. The union steward’s telephone number as well as the IATSE safety hotline appeared on every daily call sheet. Further, industry guild and union representatives were always present on site, including a designated crew member from IATSE, to ensure their own safety protocols are implemented.”
The company also denied NMED’s conclusion that the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was overburdened by being required to act as a prop assistant also, maintaining that this “is contradicted by substantial evidence. The armorer had sufficient time to properly inspect and safeguard all firearms and ammunition on set, and her duties as armorer always took precedence over any responsibilities related to props. Costumer designer Terese Davis stated to property master Sarah Zachary, in an October 29, 2021, communication, that ‘Ms. Guiterrez-Reed didn’t do her job properly. And she had plenty of time to do so because we had extra time that morning while camera was f**king off. So she can say what she wants about training time and all that bullshit, but it’s not why she killed Halyna.’”
The company also claimed that NMED “improperly relies on statements made by a first assistant camera (operator) who was not privy to other department safety protocols and procedures, nor a safety expert of any type. Further, the camera assistant was not on set the day of the incident, having walked off set over complaints about his hotel accommodations.”
Rust Movie Productions also took issue with the claim that a fire extinguisher on set had not been inspected, saying that “the supposed ‘fire extinguisher’ NMED claims should have been inspected and maintained is not a real fire extinguisher – it is a special effects device used to create fake smoke. The attempt to extend the application of a fire extinguisher regulation to a special effects device shows their misunderstanding of the film industry.”