‘Rust’ production company fined almost $137,000 for safety violations

Halyna Hutchins
Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie

Following a six month investigation, the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has concluded that Rust Movie Productions LLC’s negligent actions were responsible for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and the injury of director Joel Souza. The production company was issued a “Willful-Serious Citation” and a fine of $136,793, the maximum allowed. 

The Bureau summarized their findings in a statement. It reads:

“Rust Movie Productions, LLC was cited for the plain indifference to the recognized hazards associated with the use of firearms on set that resulted in a fatality, severe injury, and unsafe working conditions. This is the highest level of citation and maximum fine allowable by state law in New Mexico. While the film industry has clear national guidelines for firearms safety, Rust Movie Productions, LLC failed to follow these guidelines or take other effective measures to protect workers. Rust Movie Productions, LLC’s documents indicate that it would follow the Industry Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s Safety Bulletin #1, ‘Recommendations for Safety With Firearms and Use of ‘Blank Ammunition,’ but failed to adhere to these guidelines on set. The guidelines require live ammunition ‘never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage,’ that safety meetings take place every day when firearms are being handled, and that employees ‘refrain from pointing a firearm at anyone’ except after consultation with the Property Master, Armorer or other safety representative, such as the First Assistant Director. By failing to follow these practices, an avoidable loss of life occurred.”

On October 21, 2001, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico during a rehearsal for the film Rust, a prop gun actor Alec Baldwin was holding fired and struck Hutchins and Souza. Baldwin has maintained that he was told the gun was not loaded, and that he did not fire it. Hutchins was airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital, but later succumbed to her injuries. 

Hutchins told American Cinematographer: “One thing I learned is that cinematography is not something you do by yourself. It’s a group [project]. You need to develop your own vision, but the key to a successful film is communication with your director and your team.” 

Unfortunately, the team behind Rust did not prioritize the safety of everyone on set, and because of this Hutchins’ life was tragically cut short.