Last night, news broke that cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died on the set of Rust after Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun thought to only contain blanks. Director Joel Souza also sustained injuries, and was released from the hospital earlier today. IATSE Local 44—the union for craft professionals that includes prop masters—says that the gun used on the movie’s set had a “live round” and that the prop master wasn’t a member of the association.
Now, The LA Times and Deadline report that before the fatal accident, seven of Rust’s camera crew members walked off set in protest of unsafe working conditions. Sources say the workers’ complaints included being expected to arrive to set at 6:30 a.m., and only being offered accommodations in Albuquerque instead of Santa Fe (as they’d initially been promised), requiring them to make a 50-mile drive to set each day.
“We cited everything from lack of payment for three weeks, taking our hotels away despite asking for them in our deals, lack of Covid safety, and on top of that, poor gun safety! Poor on-set safety period!” a member of the camera crew wrote on a private Facebook page, according to Deadline.
Per The LA Times, “As the camera crew—members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees—spent about an hour assembling their gear at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them.” The publication also reports that “a member of the producer staff then ordered the union members to leave the set,” hence why the production ended up with a nonunion prop master.
There had also reportedly been two prop gun misfires in the week before Hutchins’ death, according to a source familiar with the set conditions, who added that “there was a serious lack of safety meetings on this set.”
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The LA Times report mentions that the accidental shooting occurred six hours after the unionized workers left the set. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene that involved a gun fight in a church.
Update, 8:48 p.m., 10/22/21: A new report from Consequence, quoting anonymous staffers on Rust, included several accusations that assistant director Dave Halls had been the subject of multiple complaints about safety issues on the film’s set. One source accused Halls of frequently attempting to skip the mandatory safety meetings required whenever a gun is used on set. “He would always roll his eyes. ‘Do we need to do a safety meeting?’ He would do it and he would be flippant. ‘Well guys, we’ve got a gun on set, same as always.’”
Halls also allegedly encouraged non-qualified crew members to set off a pyrotechnics setup because the trained staffer was unavailable. The same source, identified only as “Jay,” asserted that Halls was under pressure from others to film the movie under “a schedule that is unachievable.”