Fight for justice for Halyna Hutchins continues amid new lawsuits and reports
Photo: Halyna Hutchins. Credit: Raise Funds in Memory of Halyna Hutchins
The fight for safe conditions for film industry workers is heating up again, nearly seven months since cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed on the set of an independent film Rust in New Mexico on October 21, 2021. Halyna and the film’s director, Joel Sueza, were killed by a single live ammunition from a gun that was used during a rehearsal by the lead actor, and Rust producer, Alec Baldwin. The live round was fired when Baldwin mistakenly dropped the revolver’s hammer after attempting to position the gun in camera frame for Halyna, who was operating behind the camera. The live bullet was described as having pierced Halyna’s chest and struck Joel, who was standing behind her. Joel has since recovered from his injury.
Since the tragedy that rocked the industry, many stories have emerged and many lawsuits have been filed. The Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office is under investigation and is still awaiting details of the FBI’s seizure and analysis of Baldwin’s cellphone data. Halyna’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, sued Baldwin and others Rust producers. The film’s Gaffer, Serge Svetnoy, sued the crew members for negligence, and perhaps most notably the film’s gunsmith, Hannah Guiterrez Reed, filed a lawsuit against Seth Kenney, the owner of the company that supplied the firearms and ammunition. Details of how a live bullet arrived on set are still hazy, but no one has been criminally charged yet.
Halyna Hutchins’ death comes at a very precipitous time in the film industry. The very week this tragedy occurred, the union representing the film crew across the country, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), was about to call arguably the biggest strike ever. of Hollywood history.
On October 4, 2021, IATSE members across the country voted to authorize a strike for the first time in the union’s history. It came after five months of stalled negotiations between the union and Hollywood producers to renew their flagship contracts. The threat of the strike forced employers days later to cave in to a number of key demands, including a living wage for the lowest-paid workers, increased rest periods and improved health and safety standards. IATSE workers have been fighting for decades against long working hours, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions and very little turnaround time between workdays.
Although independent production Rust was under a different contract than the one being negotiated at the time, that didn’t stop the film’s IATSE crew members from standing up and speaking out against the unconscionable working conditions. Lane Luper, 1st assistant camera and head of the camera department, continually spoke to the production manager about security issues during the days leading up to filming.
On October 20, 2021, after three prop misfire accidents, no scheduled management safety meeting, and no signs of a readiness to investigate the accidents, Luper and a few other crew stepped down from producing the film. Instead of responding to the crew’s issues or requests, production management opted to hire a non-union crew to replace those who left and continued filming until the next day when tragedy struck. produced.
Gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez Reed has a similar story. Reed was apparently hired with the agreement that she would serve as a gunsmith — the one responsible for handling the guns on set — only on the days the guns were in use, but would then have to work as a props assistant for the rest of the shoot. . This double dipping is not uncommon in the film industry, especially with low-budget independent films. Movie producers are looking for ways to cut costs to stretch their budgets, and those who do so grossly do so at the expense of safety.
Reed, who has only a few film credits under her belt, has had ongoing discussions with her employer, executive producer Gabrielle Pickle, about set boundaries for her work. The text messages appear to show Pickle insisting that Reed focus more on helping props as he was also asked to be responsible for juggling guns as a gunsmith.
This all comes as New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) released a detailed report of the incident on April 20. Their conclusion was that Rust Production LLC and Chief Safety Coordinator, 1st Deputy Manager David Halls, did not follow industry-wide safety protocols. The OHSB has fined the producers up to $136,793 for “deliberate and serious” violations of workplace safety procedures.
The release of this OHSB report does not necessarily imply that none of those fined have criminal convictions under New Mexico law. However, Baldwin’s and Reed’s attorneys came out separately and praised the OHSB for their work in outright “exonerating” them in the report, bolstering their efforts against the looming criminal prosecution by New Mexico District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.
The future of criminal prosecutions remains unknown, but what we do know is that the perilous actions of film industry employers have demonstrated that their top priority is profit, even at the cost of workers’ lives. Although this particular case has received more attention in the media, it is in fact common practice and workers across the country, from the film industry to retail to higher education, organize to fight back.