Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Continued filming of ‘Rust’ is disrespectful

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I was disappointed to learn that filmmakers plan to resume production on “Rust,” and urge state regulators to keep a much closer eye on that set this time.

I can’t imagine why anybody would want to see the film now, other than for morbid curiosity. Every time there is a scene where an actor pretends to get shot, viewers will know that a real person was shot and killed during filming.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot by the film’s star and producer Alec Baldwin, who believed he was firing a prop gun loaded with blanks. Director Joel Souza was also wounded in the shooting. Baldwin’s claim that the gun fired itself defies both logic and physics.

Last week it was announced that a settlement had been reached with Hutchins’ family, and that filming on “Rust” would resume soon. Proof once again that one should never underestimate the power of wealth. But the ability to write a check with a whole lot of zeros can’t make this go away.

The state Board of Finance recently approved an emergency request by Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmac Altwies for a special prosecutor, special investigator and other experts to investigate and potentially file criminal charges in the case. Four people, including Baldwin, could face charges ranging from homicide to violations of state guns laws, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The state Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has already fined the production company $137,000, alleging numerous violations of rules governing workplace safety. They said that industry standards for the safe handling of prop guns were neglected in an effort to cut costs.

According to news reports, the same gun that killed Hutchins had been used by the film’s staff for recreational target shooting in the desert. Staffers also backed up the state’s claim that standard protocols were skipped in an effort to save money.

The criminal investigation continues, and I won’t presume to know what the outcome will be. But it is encouraging to know that investigators now have the resources they need to determine what really happened.

I’m glad that Hutchins’ family has made peace with Baldwin and the film production company, and hope the settlement will bring some closure for them.

But New Mexicans still have questions about what is going on with this industry that we have so eagerly invited into our state with generous tax credits. Stories of movie staffers shooting up our desert in their free time are troubling.

The rapid growth of the film industry is a positive for our state as we work to diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on oil and gas revenue. That’s especially true in Las Cruces, where local investments are starting to pay off.

But state regulators must be able to keep pace with that growth to ensure that workers in the film industry have the same workplace protections as those in other occupations.

We live in a free nation, and there is no legal reason why the production of “Rust” can’t continue. But it seems incredibly disrespectful to me, and dismissive of the human tragedy that occurred in the making of the movie. My hope is that if the film is ever released, people will just ignore it. Nobody should ever make a profit from it.

Walter Rubel can be reached at [email protected]

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