Editorial: Better Security Needed to Make NM Best Filming Locations

Santa Fe prosecutors announced Thursday that Alec Baldwin and gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed will face two counts of involuntary manslaughter later this month.

Finally, the year-long investigation followed by three months of intrigue is over. But what about security on other film sets in New Mexico? Have we learned something to prevent future tragedies?

The fourth-degree felony charges related to the October 21, 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust are serious and carry up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. The charges could include a firearm upgrade that would punish the offenses with a mandatory five-year prison sentence.

Mary Carmack-Altwies, the first district attorney, also announced Thursday that the film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, has pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon. The terms of his plea agreement for the minor misdemeanor charge include a suspended sentence and six months’ probation.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation uncovered appalling security conditions on the set of the western, which was hastily shot in 21 days on a ranch outside of Santa Fe at a bargain price of $7 million.

In April, the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined Rust Movie Productions $136,793, the maximum allowable, based on a damning report.

MPs say they found five live cartridges scattered across the set that industry experts say should never be on set, particularly with prop guns. The fatal shot was preceded by multiple misfires and safety violations. Some witnesses told state regulators that production managers took little or no action to fix the misfires, and seven crew members left the set hours before the fatal shot amid disagreements over working conditions.

As co-producer of the film and a veteran actor with 145 TV and film credits, Baldwin bears some responsibility for all of this.

“If any of those three people – Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls – had done his job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple,” said special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, who was assigned to handle the case by prosecutor Carmack-Altwies.

Reeb is no stranger to high-profile cases. While she headed the Clovis County Attorney’s Office for eight years, she was called upon by other prosecutors to prosecute about a half-dozen cases against law enforcement officers.

The news of criminal charges followed Wednesday’s good news about the thriving New Mexico film industry, which posted a record $855.4 million in direct spending last fiscal year, thanks in part to production tax credits.

MovieMaker magazine said Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces are among the best places to live and work as a filmmaker based on film activity, filming infrastructure, population and geographic size, state and local film incentive programs, and freedom of movement and transportation.

But the shooting of Hutchins is a dark stain on the New Mexico shooting. State regulators say Rust’s production managers failed to follow the most basic industry protocols for firearm safety, such as: B. Conducting weapons inspections.

“There is no place in New Mexico for movie sets that don’t take seriously our state’s commitment to gun safety and public safety,” Reeb said.

Hutchins’ avoidable death influenced the negotiation of safety provisions in the film crew’s union contracts, prompting some filmmakers to choose computer-generated images of gunshots rather than actual guns with blanks.

That is a beginning. Occupational safety is of crucial importance in the film industry, as in any other industry. However, more concrete gun safety measures are needed – either by the state or by industry – to ensure New Mexico remains one of the best places to work as a filmmaker, especially for rushed, low-budget productions like Rust.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is not signed as it represents the opinion of the newspaper and not that of the authors.