We look at how the tragic shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of “Rust” last Thursday on a set in New Mexico is drawing attention to cost-cutting decisions and overall safety in the film industry. Yahoo News is reporting the gun that killed Hutchins had been used by crew members just hours beforehand for live-ammunition target practice. The film’s lead actor and producer Alec Baldwin later shot the revolver after he was reportedly handed it by the first assistant director, David Halls, who told him it was a “cold gun,” meaning it was not loaded with live ammunition. Halls was fired in 2019 from his position as assistant director on the movie “Freedom’s Path” after a gun “unexpectedly discharged” and injured a crew member. All of this happened after some of the unionized IATSE below-the-line crew members had walked off the set of “Rust” earlier on the day of the shooting to protest their housing, payment and working conditions. New Mexico is a “right to work” state, so producers were able to hire nonunion replacements and continue working on the film. We speak with Dutch Merrick, prop master and armorer for over 25 years and past president of IATSE Local 44 Property Craftspersons, Hollywood, who notes, “Hollywood handles firearms every single day,” and calls the process “carefully regulated.” Despite safety protocol and expertise, he says, Hollywood crews are getting “worked to death” with 80- to 100-hour workweeks, which he suggests played into the accidental shooting.
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