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As Alec Baldwin Film “Rust” Is Increasingly Old News, Concerns About Safety Still Continue

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Working in the film industry I remember the day word broke on the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Alec Baldwin film Rust. After years in the film industry, and having (among other stories) the first hand experience of having a gun loaded with blanks pointed at my head by an idiot principal actor more known for looks than brains who failed to realize blanks can kill a person with 6-10 feet, Hutchins’s death didn’t surprise me. In the following months I was asked the same questions about Rust everywhere I went. Every party I went to, every dinner out, everyone asked the guy in the film industry his thoughts, and my answer was always the same. “There’s one question no one ever asks. How many times do people drive drunk before there’s an accident?” The reality is the incident that happened on Rust is barely a surprise to people in the film industry. It’s not. Corners get cut to save money all the time, because a higher budget can mean a lower profit. Independent & lower budget films especially. The incident I mentioned was on a SAG independent film with some recognized actors, but the corners cut were obscene. Firearms being discharged with no armorer or stunt person on set, squibs going off without checking safety first and firearms being test-fired inside a church during rehearsals (without notifying anyone first, including sound). The list goes on and so did the complaints to SAG. I pity anyone who’s desperate enough to work with that producer again.

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat

In the almost 18 months since her passing, Rust is barely an afterthought, and when the film does come up, it’s about Alec Baldwin’s trial, and even then it’s swallowed up by whatever blockbuster movie or show is coming up. Remember the name Sarah Jones? Chances are you don’t, but she was the cinematographer that was hit by a moving train in 2014 after producers ensured crew it was safe to film in that location. Even Brandon Lee, budding action star and son of the late Bruce Lee is more trivia than anything else, nearly 30 years after his death. In the moment tragedy occurs, the industry talks about increasing safety and security but little to nothing gets done. Crew are still working in dangerous conditions and inhumane hours; left to feel like they’re expendable as more and more 20-somethings graduate from film school and are looking for their chance to break in. Budgets are still being slashed to increase revenue to afford the next production and in the end, unless you’re an A-list celeb or someone of solid note, little is being done to ensure the safety of the people behind the scenes. And that’s absolute shame. Crew are continuing to work through personal injuries that occur on set for days to weeks on end, fearing that they’ll lose the job if they take even a single day off. Years ago I was chatting with someone from electrical who couldn’t WAIT for the production to end for the season. He continued to work 5 days a week despite herniated discs in his upper back without surgery for fear the time off would cost him that and even future work. He did get that surgery, 8 weeks after I talked to him the first time. 2 months of 60+ hour work weeks before he could have surgery to remove crippling pain. That’s one story of a thousand.

The easy solution from people outside Hollywood is simple: Leave the industry. Start a new career and get a different job. But there isn’t a lot of work in the “real” world to be found for a 40-50 something camera operator or key grip who spend 20+ years in the film industry. So they continue, 14-20 hour work days 5, even 6 days a week, risking injury and even health for your entertainment.

Inevitably there will be another Halyna Hutchins, another Sarah Jones or another Brandon Lee that dies due to negligence on a film set. Some mishap will occur and a crew member with lose their lives. Families will be left broken, children left without a parent. And then we feel bad, put some nice posts on social media, talk about solidarity and move on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

About the author – Scott Churchson has been an actor in every way for the past 13 years, from BG to stand in to stunts and principal, a sports writer for the past 4 and is one of the people that created Stream Punk Entertainment. He’s married to a veterinarian, has a cat with three working legs and is just a simple man trying to make his way in the universe.

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