‘Rust’ Fallout: Hollywood Studios and Unions Fail to Reach Deal on Firearm Safety

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Talks between the Motion Picture Association and the Hollywood labor unions have failed to produce an agreement on a new law that would address firearm safety on movie sets.

The two sides backed competing proposals earlier this year in Sacramento in response to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust” in New Mexico last October. Both bills would have established a training standard for film armorers — a job that is currently almost entirely unregulated.

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The union proposal would have been more sweeping, however, establishing the role of a “set safety supervisor” who would have the power to shut down productions. Both bills stalled in the legislature in May, but the two sides continued to talk in hopes of reaching an agreement before the Aug. 31 legislative deadline.

Those efforts have failed to produce a compromise. It is possible that the issue will come up again next year.

Melissa Patack, the VP of state government affairs for the MPA, issued a statement on Friday thanking Sen. Anthony Portantino — the author of the industry-backed bill — for his work on the issue.

“The Motion Picture Association and our member studios remain committed to enhanced firearm safety and training programs, and we are thankful to Senator Portantino for his leadership on this issue,” Patack said. “We look forward to continuing our work with our union partners to enhance safety. Following the adjournment of the California Legislature, we will explore every avenue to advance legislation and will also work with the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee to bolster the appropriate safety bulletins.”

Bills that would have responded to the “Rust” shooting also failed to advance in New York and New Mexico this year. In New Mexico, a lawmaker proposed requiring film workers to take a safety course designed for hunters.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department, which oversees the state’s tax incentive program, recommended waiting until 2023 to address the issue in the legislature, after the conclusion of the sheriff’s investigation and after the industry had an opportunity to weigh in.

In April, the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau imposed a $136,793 fine — the maximum under state law — after concluding that Rust Movie Productions, LLC, disregarded industry firearm safety standards. The production company is disputing that conclusion.

Update: The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Directors Guild of America have issued a joint statement expressing disappointment at the failure to pass legislation.

“The DGA and IATSE are disappointed and disheartened that this critical legislation which would have required important safety protections for our members and all workers in our industry was not passed into law during this legislative session,” the unions said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to get the Studios to support significant, meaningful and practical safety reforms that they currently implement in other parts of the world. We remain committed to reforms that protect our members through negotiations with the Studios or legislation in California and other states. Those changes require prioritizing safety and allocating resources to make it happen on the ground.”

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