Several camera crew members of the Alec Baldwin feature film Rust walked off the set hours before a prop gun that Baldwin was told wasn’t loaded accidentally discharged and killed a cinematographer while wounding the director.
The camera crew had complained about poor working conditions on the set of the low-budget Western, citing “long hours, long commutes and waiting for their paychecks” as reasons for the walkout, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Times also reported that at least one camera operator complained last weekend to a production manager about gun safety on the set.
Three crew members who were present at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set on Saturday said they were particularly concerned about two accidental prop gun discharges.
Baldwin’s stunt double accidentally fired two rounds Saturday after being told that the gun was “cold” — lingo for a weapon that doesn’t have any ammunition, including blanks — two crew members who witnessed the episode told the Los Angeles Times.
“There should have been an investigation into what happened,” a crew member said. “There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn’t happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush.”
Another crew member sent a text to the unit production manager, the employee generally responsible for safety on the set. “We’ve now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe,” he said, according to a copy of the message reviewed by The Times.
Clearly, all was not well with this production. It’s very possible that the safety issues were not sent up the chain of command to be addressed at the highest levels of management. No one would want to be responsible for stopping production on the film if the safety issues were serious. In a low-budget project like this one, such a production halt could have shut it down permanently.
“The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company, ” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”
There is little doubt the labor troubles had an impact on safety on the set. After the camera crew walked off the set, the production company brought in non-union workers who were not contractually bound to follow safety protocols.
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, two of the knowledgeable people said.
One of the producers ordered the union members to leave the set and threatened to call security to remove them if they didn’t leave voluntarily.
“Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” the knowledgeable person said.
The shooting occurred about six hours after the union camera crew left.
Someone is going to jail for this incident. There was certainly negligence and possibly criminal violations of labor law. Alec Baldwin will have to live with this tragedy for the rest of his life.
For the families of the victims of his senseless tragedy, there will only be questions.