NM film crews blame out-of-state leadership - Albuquerque Journal

NM film crews blame out-of-state leadership

Have you ever boarded a train, only to find that it had square wheels?

It would be destined not to go anywhere – or worse – fall off the rails.

This appears to be what happened on the set of “Rust,” which was filming at Bonanza Creek Ranch just south of Santa Fe on Oct. 21.

A few weeks have passed since cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, was shot on the set and later died at an Albuquerque hospital. Director Joel Souza, 48, was injured. Earlier that week, seven crew members had walked off the set, citing concerns that included safety issues.

The shooting brought international attention to the New Mexico production. And now the New Mexico film community is under the microscope – yet it wasn’t New Mexicans at the helm of the production or in the positions now being scrutinized.

Before principal photography began, it has been reported, there already were problems within the low-budget production.

From not getting paid on time – some waited nearly seven weeks for their paychecks – to the day-to-day schedules never finding a routine. These were just a few of the problems.

Reports from crew members also told of safety issues on set, including accidental gun discharges and allegations that guns on the set may have been used for target practice.

Then there’s the issue that the production refused to pay for hotels for crew members – most of whom drove from nearly an hour away from the set – after working long shifts.

Interestingly, the shooting occurred just four days after an agreement was reached between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The agreement addressed core issues such as rest periods, meal breaks and a “living wage” for those on the bottom of the pay scale.

Two “Rust” crew members laid the blame for some of the issues in the production on certain out-of-state leaders. The production was scheduled for a 21-day shoot.

“We have a big vision on a small budget, and because of that I will be controlling costs very closely,” an email from a supervisor to the production team said. “Production is available to help in any way possible to help each department achieve their goals while staying within budget. Please utilize us in the creative problem solving process!”

Pictured is the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set outside of Santa Fe where a cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot to death in an apparent accident involving actor Alec Baldwin last month. In the photo a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputy unit can still be seen.(Roberto E. Rosales/ Journal)

The email went on to say that departments should understand “all 6th and 7th work days, additional man days, as well as pre-calls must be approved by myself and will be noted in writing in the PRs and with payroll. Pre-call requests should be with the understanding that the department will NDB (Non-Deductible Break) breakfast, so we do not incur meal penalties when we need to save those for actual meal penalty occurrences.”

Working six and seven days on a production leaves little time for a rest period.

Crew members are now expressing regret about not raising concerns earlier, saying they feared repercussions.

The New Mexico Film Office has taken notice and put up a page on set safety on its website, nmfilm.com. It provides information on ways to submit workplace safety complaints to OSHA.

“A duty officer will take the complaint and employees may remain anonymous,” the site says.

The Film Office doesn’t have the power to shut down a production, but OSHA can do that. The Film Office can only withhold the state tax incentive if cast/crew hasn’t been paid.

The move to offer safety tips is likely just a first step toward what will probably be discussions about how the department can step in and help New Mexico crew members.

UpFront is a regular Journal news and opinion column. Comment directly to Arts editor Adrian Gomez at agomez@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.


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