Hours before actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer on the New Mexico set of "Rust" with a prop gun, a half-dozen camera crew workers walked off the set to protest working conditions.
The camera operators and their assistants were frustrated by the conditions surrounding the low-budget film, including complaints about long hours, long commutes and collecting their paychecks, according to three people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.
Safety protocols standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on the "Rust" set near Santa Fe, the sources said. They said at least one of the camera operators complained last weekend to a production manager about gun safety on the set.
Three crew members who were present at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set that day said they were particularly concerned about two accidental prop gun discharges on Saturday.
Baldwin's stunt double accidentally fired two rounds Saturday after being told that the gun was "cold" — lingo for a weapon that doesn't have any ammunition, including blanks, two crew members who witnessed the episode told the Los Angeles Times.
"There should have been an investigation into what happened," said the crew member. "There were no safety meetings. There was no assurance that it wouldn't happen again. All they wanted to do was rush, rush, rush."
A colleague was so alarmed by the prop gun misfires he sent a text message to the unit production manager. "We've now had 3 accidental discharges. This is super unsafe," according to a copy of the message reviewed by the Times.
"The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company, " Rust Movie Productions LLC said in a statement. "Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time."
The tragedy occurred Thursday afternoon during filming of a gunfight that began in a church that is part of the old Western town at the ranch.
Baldwin's character was supposed to back out of the church, according to production notes obtained by the Times. It was the 12th day of a 21-day shoot.
Halyna Hutchins was huddled around a monitor lining up her next camera shot when she was accidentally killed by Baldwin.
The actor was preparing to film a scene in which he pulls a gun out of a holster, according to a source close to the production. Crew members had already shouted "cold gun" on the New Mexico set. The filmmaking team was lining up its camera angles and had yet to retreat to the video village, an on-set area where crew gathers to watch filming from a distance via a monitor.
Instead, the B-camera operator was on a dolly with a monitor, checking out the potential shots. Hutchins was also looking at the monitor from over the operator's shoulder, as was the movie's director, Joel Souza, who was crouching just behind her.
Baldwin removed the gun from its holster once without incident, but the second time he repeated the action, ammunition flew toward the trio around the monitor. The projectile whizzed by the camera operator but penetrated Hutchins near her shoulder, then continued through to Souza. Hutchins immediately fell to the ground as crew members applied pressure to her wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
Earlier in the day, the camera crew showed up for work as expected at 6:30 a.m. and began gathering up their gear and personal belongings to leave, one knowledgeable crew member told the Times.
Labor trouble had been brewing for days on the dusty set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe.
Shooting began Oct. 6 and members of the low-budget film said they had been promised the production would pay for their hotel rooms in Santa Fe.
But after filming began, the crews were told they instead would be required to make the 50-mile drive from Albuquerque each day, rather than stay overnight in nearby Santa Fe. That rankled crew members who worried that they might have an accident after spending 12 to 13 hours on the set.
Hutchins had been advocating for safer conditions for her team, said one crew member who was on the set and was tearful when the camera crew left.
"She said, 'I feel like I'm losing my best friends,'" recalled one of the workers.
As the camera crew — members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — spent about an hour assembling their gear at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them, two of the knowledgeable people said.
One of the producers ordered the union members to leave the set and threatened to call security to remove them if they didn't leave voluntarily.
"Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting," the knowledgeable person said.
The shooting occurred about six hours after the union camera crew left.
Baldwin, the film's star who also served as a producer on the film, was apparently rehearsing a scene outside the church of the Bonzana Creek Ranch set, according to two knowledgeable people.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office said deputies were dispatched to the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set after calls to 911 at 1:50 p.m. Thursday. Baldwin was starring in the movie in addition to serving as one of the producers.
No charges have been filed, but the Sheriff's Office said that "witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives."
Baldwin said Friday he's "fully cooperating with the police investigation" into the incident.
"There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours," Baldwin wrote Friday in a series of tweets.
Production has been halted on the low-budget movie.
In an email to its members, Local 44 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a union that represents prop masters, said the shot that killed Hutchins and injured director Souza on Thursday was "a live single round."
"As many of us have already heard, there was an accidental weapons discharge on a production titled 'Rust' being filmed in New Mexico," said the North Hollywood-based local. "A live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor, hitting both the Director of Photography, Local 600 member Halyna Hutchins, and Director Joel Souza. Both were rushed to the hospital," the email said.
A source close to union said Local 44 does not know what projectile was in the gun and clarified that "live" is an industry term that refers to a gun being loaded with some material such as a blank ready for filming.
Bonanza Creek Ranch has been a popular filming location for more than 60 years. The first movie to film there was "The Man From Laramie," starring Jimmy Stewart. It also was the set for the classic "Blazing Saddles," "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" and the popular TV show "Longmire."
One of the financiers for "Rust" is Santa Monica, California-based lender BondIt Media Capital, founded in 2013 by Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor. According to its website, BondIt finances movies through instruments including gaps loans, bridge loans and tax credit financing.
The company has primarily financed low-budget movies including the Bruce Willis actioner "Hard Kill," the Charlotte Kirk horror flick "The Reckoning" and the upcoming Robert De Niro film "Wash Me In the River," directed by Randall Emmett.
BondIt was particularly active during the COVID-19 pandemic, stepping in to fill financing gaps as independent producers struggled to find backing for films during the public health crisis.
Staff writers Wendy Lee, Anousha Sakoui and Richard Winton contributed to this report.