New Mexico governor to Hollywood after ‘Rust’ shooting: ‘Why do you need real weapons?’
The fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the movie “Rust” has prompted an outpouring of grief and anger from the state’s growing and tightknit filmmaking industry.
The deadly incident, in which “Rust” actor and producer Alec Baldwin fired a gun that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, has drawn increased attention to New Mexico, which has emerged as a hub for film and TV productions with significant investments from Netflix and Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in an interview with The Times, said she is calling on Hollywood to make it so that such a tragedy can never happen again, in her state or anywhere else.
Lujan Grisham’s office plans to hold listening sessions in the coming weeks with leaders representing the entertainment industry unions and studios to better understand what changes can be made, she said.
The state can employ “a number of tools” to make sets safer locally, she said, including by introducing new regulations on firearms and other aspects of production and by leveraging the state’s lucrative tax incentive program, which has drawn filmmakers to the state for years.
But, she said, what she really wants is for studios to rethink safety across the board, calling it an “industry issue” rather than a New Mexico issue.
“We have a number of tools, both statutory and regulatory, that we have at our disposal,” she said. “That works in New Mexico, but it doesn’t work here [in California], it doesn’t work in Georgia, it doesn’t work in Washington. We should fix this to the highest degree possible and set a call to action.”
It’s not clear what actions the industry might take.
The business has robust safety protocols when it comes to the use of firearms that, when followed, prevent incidents like the one on the “Rust” set, according to experts. Productions employ professional armorers to manage the use of weaponry, though under New Mexico law, they’re not required to be licensed.
Nonetheless, even guns loaded with blanks can cause injury or death, and productions sometimes cut corners, creating a dangerous environment.
Authorities recovered roughly 500 rounds of ammunition from the “Rust” set, including blanks, dummy rounds and what inspectors suspect were live rounds, or actual bullets, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said Wednesday.
The shooting has raised questions about the production’s decision to hire a relatively inexperienced armorer. “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, 24, had served as lead armorer on only one film before getting the job on “Rust.”
Gutierrez Reed’s attorneys, in a Thursday statement, said she had “no idea where the live rounds came from.” Having real bullets on set is a major violation of industry protocol.
“The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings,” Gutierrez Reed attorneys Jason Bowles and Robert Gorence said in the statement. Those conditions, they said, were not “the fault of Hannah.”
The law enforcement investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
Officials from New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, run by the state’s environment department, were initially denied access to the “Rust” set by production security last Friday but were allowed entry this week, state officials said.
A representative for Rust Movie Productions, the limited liability company for the film, has said the company is working with the authorities.
“From the beginning of this tragedy, we have worked to fully cooperate with all governmental investigations and will continue to do so going forward,” the representative said.
Crew members on “Rust” told The Times that, before the shooting, several workers walked off the set in protest of what they said were long hours, long commutes and long waits for paychecks, as well as a lack of safety protocols that resulted in multiple accidental discharges of guns prior to the fatal incident.
Lujan Grisham said that, beyond the production of “Rust,” there should be serious consequences for entertainment industry employers that skirt safety rules.
“You have a responsibility, hiring thousands of individuals,” Lujan Grisham said of production companies. “Young people, just like in professional sports, want to be in the movies, and if you don’t set a better standard for everyone, you’re creating so much harm. And they have an obligation to do something about it.”
The matter has prompted some, including actor-director Olivia Wilde, to call for a total ban on real weapons being used for productions. Studios are reviewing their own policies on firearms. California state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) has said he would introduce legislation that would ban live ammunition and firearms capable of shooting live ammo from film and theatrical productions.
While Lujan Grisham stopped short of calling for an outright ban on real firearms from film and television sets, she told The Times she plans to question industry leaders about whether they’re needed. Effects such as muzzle flashes can be added cheaply in postproduction, experts say.
“I want the industry professionals to tell me, why do you need real weapons?” Lujan Grisham said. “And now, look at the risks. Loss of life. I can’t even imagine, this poor family. So why don’t you remove it? And the folks that are going to be civilly and potentially criminally liable for these risks? Why would any production moving forward take those risks?”
Lujan Grisham also said she would consider whether New Mexico should require armorers to be licensed in that state.
Calls for reform after Hutchins’ death come as New Mexico’s film industry is growing, providing an increasingly significant source of employment.
Production in the state totaled $623 million in spending in the fiscal year that ended in June, more than double the amount in fiscal 2020 — which was hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic — and up 19% from 2019. Film and TV production supports some 9,000 jobs in New Mexico, with an average annual wage of $56,000, state officials said.
Major productions filmed in the state include AMC Networks’ “Better Call Saul,” the Netflix film “The Harder They Fall” and the ABC drama “Big Sky.”
Netflix in 2018 announced a deal to buy ABQ Studios in Albuquerque and has pledged to spend $2 billion in the state over 10 years. NBCUniversal has committed to spend $500 million in New Mexico over a decade-long period.