A partial crew walkout reportedly preceded the deadly incident in which Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza while they were on the set of the film Rust in New Mexico on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Times reports that earlier that day, half a dozen camera operators and assistants walked off the set to protest working conditions, highlighting issues with long hours and pay. The crew also said that they had been promised hotel rooms in nearby Santa Fe, but after filming began, they were told they had to stay in Albuquerque instead, which would require an additional two hours’ round trip every day to drive between Albuquerque and the filming location at Bonanza Creek Ranch.
There were also concerns about safety on the set, with one source telling the Times that there had already been multiple misfires with the prop gun. Hutchins, the director of photography who was killed, had allegedly been advocating for safer conditions for her team.
The camera crew, who belong to the union International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), was reportedly replaced by non-union members after they walked off. “Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” a source told the Times.
IndieWire reported earlier today that IATSE Local 44, which represents propmasters and other craftspeople, sent an email to its members on Friday morning saying that the propmaster for Rust is not a member of Local 44, and that the gun that Baldwin — an actor and producer on the film — discharged contained a “live single round” (a term that could also mean that the gun was loaded with a bullet-less blank). Tobey Bays, a prop and set artist and the business agent for Local 44, told the Daily Beast that Rust was “lower budget” and used a local crew that did not include Local 44 union members.
Hollywood has long had a labor exploitation problem, with “below the line” workers — members of a production team who are not the writers, producers, directors, actors, executives, and casting directors — subject to long hours, inadequate pay and benefits, and other poor working conditions. Earlier in October, IATSE members overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike authorization. “Our people have basic human needs like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage,” the union president Matthew D. Loeb said at the time.
Although the union ultimately avoided a strike, the first-hand accounts shared by IATSE members throughout the past month — as well as the alleged labor issues behind the Rust tragedy now — are a persistent reminder of the cost of treating workers like their lives don’t matter.