Tuesday, November 30, 2021

States rely heavily on union advice on gun safety on set

Safety standards developed by film studios and trade unions are the primary protections for actors and film crews when a stage requires the use of a supporting weapon. Industry-wide guidance is unequivocal: “Forms can kill. Treat all firearms as if they were loaded. “

However, during filming, people were killed and injured during filming, including the death of the cameraman and the director, who was injured this week when no one realized that the rifle pistol fired by actor Alec Baldwin during the filming of Rust ”, There were live ammunition, which is much more dangerous than blanks.

Despite some industry reforms following previous tragedies, the US federal workplace safety agency has said nothing about gun safety on set. And most of the states preferred for film and television production use a largely hands-off approach.

New York City prohibits night-time shooting of firearms on set, but does not otherwise regulate their use. In Georgia and Louisiana, where the film industry is booming, on-set pyrotechnics are regulated, but there are no specific rules regarding the use of weapons.

“We have nothing to do with firearms. We only regulate special effects such as explosions, ”said Captain Nick Manale, a spokesman for the Louisiana State Police, where the film industry created more than 9,600 jobs last year and brought local businesses nearly $ 800 million. “I’m not sure who is doing this or if anyone is doing it.”

In New Mexico, where court records show an assistant director handed Baldwin a loaded gun and told him it was “cold” or safe to use, there are no special safety laws for the film industry during the filming of Rust on Thursday. Much of the industry’s legislative debate, as in other states, has focused on tax breaks and incentives to attract a lucrative entertainment business, not what happens on set.

This approach has worked well in New Mexico. In addition to attracting some major film productions, the state has major production centers such as Netflix and NBCUniversal. Between July 2020 and June this year, it had a record $ 623 million in direct manufacturing costs.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and an ardent supporter of the film industry, touted the industry’s precautions over the summer, stating safety first and clearing the way for work to resume.

Workplace safety is paramount across all industries in New Mexico, including film and television, Governor’s spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said Friday.

“State and federal workplace safety regulations apply to the industry as they do to all other workplaces, and the State Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating,” Sackett said of the tragedy that struck a ranch near Santa Fe. “This investigation is ongoing, and we are waiting for additional facts to understand how something so terrible and heartbreaking could have happened.”

A search warrant released Friday said an assistant director on set handed Baldwin a loaded gun and indicated that it could be used safely without knowing it was loaded with live ammunition. The shot killed cameraman Halina Hutchins, who was wounded in the chest, and wounded director Joel Sousa, who was standing behind Hutchins.

Workplace safety officials in New Mexico have confirmed they will be monitoring the crew to see if they adhere to industry standards. The agency usually does not conduct security checks on film sets and studios unless they receive complaints.

Rather than regulating the use of firearms in films and on televisions, many states give the industry the right to follow their own rules. These recommendations, issued by the Industry-Wide Occupational Safety Committee, call for limited use of live ammunition and detailed requirements for the handling and use of all types of firearms. Safety meetings should be held, actors should keep their fingers away from triggers until ready to fire, and weapons should never be left unattended, the manual says.

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Without special state or federal regulations, the safety of the use of weapons primarily depends on the people working in the workplace. Brooke Yeaton, vice president of the International Theater Workers Union Alliance, which represents workers in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Alabama, said his approach is to act as if all weapons are real and never allow live ammunition on the set.

“They shouldn’t be in the truck. They don’t have to be in the same car, ”said Yeaton, master of the pass for over 30 years. “You really have to make sure your inventory is completely separate from the real world and that whatever you bring to the set is safe.”

At one of the world’s premier movie centers, New York, filmmakers are required to adhere to a code of conduct that sets out parking rules, neighbor notifications and other details. The safety regulations have sections on cabling and obtaining permits for exotic animals. But the only mention of shots is under the heading “Public Relations”: the sound of shots should not be heard outdoors from 10:00 pm to 10:00 am.

The Texas Cinematography Commission website states that productions using propeller guns, which may be precision or real weapons that fire blank ammunition rather than live ammunition, must have safety regulations, trained gunners, and confirmation availability of insurance. The Texas governor’s office, which oversees the commission, did not respond to calls from the Associated Press asking how the rules are being followed.

California, still the capital of the film industry, requires a firearm permit for entertainment purposes, although it is unclear how the permit requirements are enforced.

Hutchins’ fatal shooting near Santa Fe follows previous gun-related deaths and injuries on set.

Actor Brandon Lee died in March 1993 after being shot in the stomach while filming a scene from The Crow. Lee was killed by a homemade bullet left in the pistol from the previous scene. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the production $ 84,000 for violations after the death of the actor, but the fine was later reduced to $ 55,000.

In 2005, OSHA fined Greystone Television and Films $ 650 after injuring a crew member in the thigh, elbow, and arm. It turned out that the cartridges for breaking the balloons were in the same box with blank cartridges that were supposed to be used in rifles.

New Mexico State MP Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque lawyer and film promotion advocate in his state, wondered if any safety legislation could have prevented fatal shooting on the set of Rust.

“How can an involuntary act be contained?” he asked.

Maestas said production companies might consider using post-production effects to mimic the scopes and sounds they now create with rifle weapons.

“This is the only way to ensure that it never happens again,” he said.


Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Montoya Brian from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Landrum from Los Angeles. Associated Press contributors Jeff Amy of Atlanta also contributed to this article; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles; and Amy Thaksin in Orange County, California.

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