After ‘Rust’ shooting, California moves closer to impose film set safety rules
(Article from the LA Times)
California legislators are advancing a bill aimed at codifying film set safety rules in the wake of the accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Since the 2021 fatal shooting of Hutchins by actor Alec Baldwin on the New Mexico set of the low-budget western “Rust,” there have been several failed attempts either to ban ammunition or establish safety rules.
However, unions and studio representatives have been working on amendments to a new California measure, Senate Bill 735, which late Wednesday received unanimous bipartisan support at a hearing of the Senate Labor Committee and moved one step closer to the governor’s desk.
The proposed legislation is a narrower attempt at imposing legal safety requirements on film production than previous bills, and would create the first state regulations around the use of firearms and live ammunition on film and TV sets.
The new rules wouldn’t preclude the use of real guns or blanks, but would require prop masters or armorers handling weapons to have a specified state permit and complete training in firearms, as well as have certain federal documents for the possession of weapons. The use of live ammunition on sets would be prohibited, except in limited cases.
Introduced in February by Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), chair of the Senate Labor Committee, the bill also would establish a safety pilot program for productions that have received California state tax credits.
Under the program, a safety advisor would be hired to assess any risks associated with filming, conduct daily safety meetings and provide a post-production safety evaluation report to the Industry Wide Labor Management Safety Committee, which establishes safety guidelines for Hollywood. The program would run from July 2025 to June 2030.
“While other industries also have significant dangerous situations in the workplace, very few have as many and as varied threats all in one place — and where using firearms is a common part of the job,” Cortese said in a statement. “It is a credit to film studios and their unions that they were willing to come together for the greater good.”
The Motion Picture Assn., which represents Hollywood studios, isn’t opposing the bill.
“There are a few little things to fix, to iron out, and we are moving forward,” Melissa Patack, vice president of the MPA, said in Wednesday’s hearing. “This is something that will create a landmark pilot program for a safety advisor and also incorporate our best practices into law on the safe handling of prop firearms and blank ammunition.”
Under the proposed legislation, cast and crew working near guns would also need training and prop masters or armorers could have no other duties while preparing to use firearms.
In the case of the “Rust” armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed worked both in assisting the props department as well as being in charge of the weapons. The “Rust” production denied wrongdoing. Both Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Producers of the movie were set to resume filming at Yellowstone Film Ranch in Montana on Thursday.
“The safety advisory/risk assessment has always been our goal,” said Thom Davis, president of the Entertainment Union Coalition, which includes SAG-AFTRA, the DGA and other unions backing the bill.
A similar framework is used in other countries, he said.
“This year, we hope the major production studios will fully join with us in this historic initiative to once again make California a leader in the workplace,” Davis added.
Last year, unions and the MPA backed rival bills that ultimately failed to advance because of disagreements. .
One sticking point had been the scope of the role of the safety advisor. In a previous iteration of the legislation, every production would have required a set supervisor for safety with the power to shut down productions.
In the new bill, only productions receiving state tax credits would be required to retain a safety advisor with the power to shut down production in rare circumstances, according to the revised language of SB 735.
At least one trade group is opposed to the bill.
The Alliance of Special Effects and Pyrotechnic Operators contends that the Industry Wide Labor Management Safety Committee is more qualified to implement and develop industry safety standards than the legislature, and that the bill could push more productions and their jobs out of the state, according to a letter seen by The Times.
Following Hutchins’ death, California legislators had announced plans to ban guns outright on film sets. However there was a backlash from armorers, some of whom called the effort “misguided.”