When makeup and hair salon assistant Kaitlyn Bushong arrived in Smyrna, Georgia for the set of the thriller Towards the End of the Night in March 2019, all she expected was a $ 125 salary for 12 hours of work.
Bushong poured fake blood on the actors to make them look beaten, and assured a producer from 3rd Shift Media, a local production company, that she would be paid after filming was complete.
But Bouchong and two other crew members who were working on the low-budget film told The Times that they were not paid for their services.
“I don’t think you want to go to work and not get paid in two years,” said Bushong, 25, who lives in the Atlanta area.
While By Night’s End was a tiny project by Hollywood standards, it was a big deal for 3rd Shift Media, a company founded in 2016 by Decatur, Georgia-based producer Ryan Dennett-Smith, according to Georgia business records.
The film was widely covered in local news about how filmmakers wanted to create a more sustainable entertainment industry in Georgia by making domestic films.
But Dennett-Smith’s company has recently been criticized for its role in the production of Rust in New Mexico after cinematographer Halina Hutchins was fatally wounded by a gun held by actor and producer Alec Baldwin during a scene rehearsal.
Dennett-Smith, CEO of 3rd Shift Media, was the head of production at Rust. The film’s line producer Gabriel Pickle and production manager Katherine “Rowe” Walters also work for 3rd Shift Media, according to the company’s website.
While producers of independent films may have a wide range of responsibilities, including funding, line producers and production managers oversee the day-to-day aspects of filmmaking. Manufacturers hire manufacturing service companies to ensure projects are delivered on time and on budget.
Interviews with members of the Rust crew and documents reviewed by The Times paint a picture of the turbulent environment that plagued labor tensions prior to filming. Crew members said they expressed concerns about issues such as weapon safety, pay, and accommodation.
“In my 10 years as a cinematographer, I have never worked on a show that cares so little about the safety of its crew,” A-camera first assistant Lane Luper wrote in an email to Walters on October 20 before filming. shooting.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Hutchins’ death. Before the fatal shot, Assistant Director David Halls shouted “cold steel” and told the sheriff’s detective that he did not know there was live ammunition in the gun, according to affidavits filed by the sheriff’s office. One affidavit states that Halls took a propeller pistol mounted by a gunsmith on a cart and handed it to Baldwin, although Halls’ attorney denies this.
Rust, a western about vintage sets and firearms, was supposed to cost about $ 7 million and had to shoot in 21 days – an ambitious timeline for a historical play, film experts say.
3rd Shift Media spokesman Alex Dudley declined to comment. Pickle, Dennett Smith, and Walters did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week, no one opened the door at the 3rd Shift Media office, a tiny brick ranch-style home in the rundown Decatur neighborhood. Several yellow signs of the movie’s filming locations — ACTD2, SUMMER 03, and HECK YEAH — hung in the windows next to the front door, as well as a poster for a local brewery: “The weekend is overpriced!”
“The safety of our actors and crew is a top priority for Rust Productions and everyone involved with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement the day after Hutchins’s death. “While we have not been informed of any formal complaints about the safety of weapons or props on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is halted.”
Dennett-Smith worked for many years in the scattered independent film community in Georgia. As Hollywood supplied more and more large-scale productions to the state in order to obtain lucrative tax breaks for films, Dennett-Smith wanted to create a film company that was originally from Georgia.
Both he and Pickle were associated with the local film community through non-profit groups such as the Atlanta Film Society and the Georgia Production Partnership. According to an interview with WGCL-TV in Atlanta, in 2018 they helped organize the registration of local filmmakers and transplant specialists to vote, in part to preserve the government’s production incentive program.
“They emerged in this community before the performances attracted everyone,” said a producer who worked with Dennett-Smith, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. “When I met them, they really wanted to create quality content and always spoke loudly about safety and working hand in hand with unions.”
Dennett-Smith began studying music after high school, but after a few years moved into the film industry. He has worked in scripts and reality shows, including Animal Planet’s Lone Star Law and North Woods Law. Last year he worked as one of the production managers for the Netflix reality show Love Is Blind.
After he launched 3rd Shift Media, Dennett-Smith described it in an interview with the local press as a turnkey production company for commercials and independent films that would manage 20-40 projects a year.
“Our company was created in order to bring the project to us and open the doors for the successful completion of the project,” he told Voyage ATL in December 2019.
Shift 3 worked on commercials, trailers and short films and started working more on feature films.
Dennett Smith, Pickle, and Walters worked on the action movie Supercell, another project starring Alec Baldwin that was produced by Thomasville Pictures and filmed in Montana and Georgia. The owners of Thomasville Pictures, Ryan Donnell Smith and Allen Cheney, produce and executive produce Rust, respectively.
According to IMDb, “By Night’s End” is the first feature film produced by 3rd Shift Media.
In an online discussion on indie filmmaking posted on YouTube, Dennett-Smith talked about the challenges of making films with limited resources, recalling how he cooked breakfast for the film crew every morning in Towards the End of the Night.
“Indie film is a hustle and bustle,” he said in the video. “It’s all about figuring out how messy you can get … what you can borrow from your friends, family. How much money can you raise to do something. “
Bushong, who had previously worked on several short films, expected to receive a salary after completing 12 days of filming.
The crew’s agreement, reviewed by The Times, said compensation would be delayed until the film was sold, which is common with micro-budget independent films such as Towards the End of the Night.
In November 2020, Dennett-Smith sent an email to some of the crew awaiting paychecks stating that the film had been sold – it’s available through services like Amazon, YouTube, and Tubi – but payments will be deferred, at least , until the middle. or the fourth quarter of this year.
However, Bouchong and two other crew members, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said they still had not been paid.
“I had no idea who to turn to because I was not a union member and they said we would be paid after filming,” Bushong said.
The economics of independent filmmaking is an increasingly complex challenge for producers. The indie theater market has largely disappeared. An insatiable demand for content from streaming services has led to a surge in production. The producers are responding by trying to make films faster and cheaper.
“The model is broken,” said Alex Ferrari, an Austin-based filmmaker who hosts the Indie Film Hustle podcast and is not affiliated with Rust. “There is increasing pressure on these filmmakers to cut corners and cut costs.”
In Rust, many crew members described the fast-paced mood on set.
Jonas Huerta, a digital communications specialist, said he expressed concerns about operational issues, including safety. He sent Walters an email detailing his fears the night before Hutchins died.
“I also feel uneasy on the set, I personally saw our [assistant director] is in a hurry to get injections and he is missing important protocols, ”Huerta wrote in an email to The Times on October 31st.
The next morning, as the film crew was about to leave the set, Pickle ordered them to “work faster,” Huerta said. She pointed to Looper, the first assistant to the A-camera, and said, “You need to get out of here immediately, or I’ll call security,” Looper recalled in an interview.
Pickle faced a labor dispute over another production. In October 2018, while serving as a line producer on Keys to the City, Pickle “interrogated employees about signing union clearances,” under a settlement agreement between IATSE and Georgia-based production company Tier 2 Films.
According to the document, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, the production company laid off several employees, including the film crew, due to union activities. IATSE, which filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accused Pickle of calling and texting employees about their unionizing activities. The manufacturing company also called police to remove union representatives, the union said. Tier 2 Films settled in 2019 and agreed to pay salaries to seven workers.
Times authors Mag James, Amy Kaufman, and Julia Wieck contributed to this report.