(ED NOTE: In light of recent happenings regarding Alec Baldwin, this blog by Joshua Meltzer, who has worked with Frank (The Mook), has been a leader in the Union, and is the Property Masters Guild’s first President, is particularly relevant today.)
For many reasons, I have stayed quiet on social media regarding the Rust tragedy. But now that charges have been filed and they are starting production again, a new narrative is being told. This new narrative bothers me. Here are my two cents for what it is worth.
The entire debacle is truly a tragedy that could have been avoided. So many dominoes had to fall simultaneously for something like this to happen.
Since 1950, hundreds of thousands of rounds of blank ammunition have been used on sets, but only three deaths have occurred. Jon Erik Hexum in 1984, Brandon Lee in 1993, and Halyna Hutchins in 2021.
With production starting again on Rust, the news media has started using the phrase, “Production is starting again with new protocols in place.” That is B.S.! The same safety protocols that should have been used (Safety Bulletin #1 and #2) were already drafted when Halyna was shot. The issue was that the people that were hired and entrusted with the safety of the cast and crew did not follow them.
The Producers were trying to look at a profit margin, not safety. They hired a newbie Property Master who had no business heading up a project like Rust. She, in turn, hired a newbie assistant/armorer. They used a local vendor for their ammo. I do not know this vendor, but I have heard less than positive reviews.
Then there is Alec Baldwin and the 1st AD. I have worked with Alec Baldwin. He is a very talented and intelligent man. Like myself, he has been on sets for over 40 years. I can’t imagine any actor with that level of experience grabbing a weapon and “taking the word” of anyone that a gun is unloaded. But that was another domino that fell that day. I am not sure why Alec is being charged. If he is being charged as an actor, is there proof that he pulled a trigger? If he is being charged as a producer, then all the producers should be charged.
For me, even with a newbie Property Master and armorer and an actor who did not check his gun, the real issue was the 1st AD breaking protocol and handing the gun to the actor. If the accident really happened while setting the camera angle, I would have used a rubber gun for that purpose, unless there was a need for a real gun. If the 1st AD follows the Safety Bulletins, Halyna is alive! The 1st AD should check the weapon with the Property Master, the armorer, the actors involved in the scene, and anyone on the crew who wants to check the weapon. They should NEVER grab a weapon (or any prop) and hand it to an actor. The 1st AD knew he was at fault, so early on, he took a plea deal instead of waiting to be charged.
We do not need NEW protocols. We need producers to hire the right people and support them in following the protocols already in place.
Film sets are magical, wondrous places. We get to play make-believe every day. They can also be dangerous when the people entrusted with our safety are either not qualified to hold that position or not supported by the people at the top.
by Joshua Meltzer | January 31, 2023
Hollywood Prop Master & Union Leader