By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. – Some New Mexico film industry workers are demanding better film training and tougher gun regulations on sets after the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins filming the Western “Rust.”
Direct spending by New Mexico’s film and television industry has doubled since 2015 along with the hours crews work on sets, according to state data.
A dozen producers, set managers, crew members and actors interviewed by Reuters said the growth has vastly outstripped the state’s supply of trained crew, putting set safety at risk.
Up to a third of staff in some departments on high-budget productions can be inexperienced or on their first movie, according to a senior crew member and two set managers.
Low budget productions like “Rust” scramble to find trained staff as large companies such as Netflix and Universal, both with New Mexico production hubs, hire crews of up to 300, two producers said.
The New Mexico Film Office, which markets the state to the movie industry, declined comment. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Following the “Rust” shooting on Oct. 21 Lujan Grisham called on the film industry to introduce new safety protocols.
Before actor Alec Baldwin fired the shot that killed Hutchins during a rehearsal, camera operators had quit “Rust” to protest what they said were long hours and other objectionable working conditions, the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office said.
Jason Bowles, a lawyer for armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed who oversaw weapons for “Rust” cited the protest when he suggested on NBC‘s “Today” show someone deliberately put a live round into the gun Baldwin had been told was safe to use, perhaps to underscore the crew’s concerns.
Baldwin, who was a producer on the film, shared a social media message from a crew member who disputed reports of chaos and a lax attitude toward safety on the set.
“Rust” producers are conducting their own inquiry and said they were not aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set.
New Mexico demands no special training or permits for armorers to manage real firearms, according to New Mexico armorer Keith Walters.
Rebecca Roose, a deputy cabinet secretary with the New Mexico Environment Department, said her agency which oversees worker health and safety did not have oversight over armorers in terms of their qualifications.
Ten years ago around half a dozen productions were being filmed across New Mexico at any given time. In September it was 50, according to state data, all competing for local crew members.
“I need 60 and the good ones are all working,” said Brent Morris, who is hiring for a low-budget movie, and among producers pushing for better coordination of film training across state colleges, unions and government.
Lawyers for Gutierrez-Reed said she was hired to fill two positions. Producers turned down her requests for training, they said.
“There’s a problem in New Mexico with filling the roster with trained people,” said Alton Walpole, who has more than 30 years experience in the business. “The big issue is not to put profit over safety.”
Film location manager Rebecca Puck Stair has called for state lawmakers to establish a weapons license for armorers. She said state tax rebates for production companies could then be tied to compliance with hiring a licensed armorer, and other best safety practices.