The obvious lesson from the pointless, utterly unnecessary death of Haylna Hutchins, shot on the set of the movie, Rust: don’t cheap out on your armorer (or any other part of your crew).
Nothing that’s come out of the investigation of that accidental shooting has changed my view that, while there’s responsibility to go around, the production’s leaders, emphatically including Alec Baldwin, bear significant responsibility for Hutchins’ killing; the way they solved the problem of producing a low-budget feature created the conditions in which someone who should never have touched a gun on set handed Baldwin a weapon loaded with a real bullet that should never have been anywhere near a firearm to be placed in front of the camera.
But rather than re-argue a question well aired a few days ago, here’s another (!) reason to be enraged by what the Rust production reveals.
I just read a story in which the finance folks behind the movie took executive producer titles, but disavow all responsibility for whatever happened on setand it’s true that the funders had no role in the day-to-day, on location workings of the production.
What was fascinating, though, was the glimpse the article gave of the legal tax scam that helps low budget films get made:
Production sources tell Deadline while Rust is a $7 million production, monies raised through a North American distribution rights sale to The Avenue as well as foreign presales from Highland Group have amounted to $3 million…[Funder and executive producer Emily] Salveson and [producer Ryan] Smith both served as co-EPs on the Oscar-nominated Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7 and have co-financed a number of other titles reportedly through the Section 181 tax code, which allows wealthy investors to deduct their investment in a feature project up to $15 million.
With New Mexico tax credits between 25%-35%, Variety has reported that under Salveson’s model, investors can recoup their investment before a movie is distributed.
That is: if you have a hefty tax liability, you can throw some bucks at Salverson’s company; they’ll fund a low budget feature or TV show, and you get an immediate tax deduction for the entire amount of your investment, plus whatever income stream the finished product may generate down the line. The New Mexico tax also has value, and there’s your first return. In Rust’s case, you can add to that income stream the roughly $3 million in distribution rights that were presold, and without getting inside any of the likely very opaque ledgers involved, even a tax amateur like myself can see how you get to break-even for an investor pretty damn quickly.
Everything in the system encourages getting the job done as cheaply as possible. $15 million is not a lot of money to make a feature. The reported $7 million budget for Rust is incredibly tight. The same incentives that reward investors for putting money into these projects put incredible pressure on productions to get two bucks worth of art (or craft) into the camera for ever dollar spent on set. Some folks do this the right way; some cut corners.
Almost always, the consequences of such pressure is mostly invisible–burn out, stress, hangovers and minor accidents, the kind that fatigue induces. Nothing that leaves a mark, or a lasting effect beyond the misery of labor. Then there’s the time a live round leaves the barrel of a gun.
Whether the intersection of a specific sequence of events on one set and the general pressures of a system that tosses free-lancers into a bucket seems an example of late-stage capitalism working as intended, is up to you to figure out.
I know what it says to me: an unfettered market economy gets people killed. But, I think, we knew that.
The recent TV adaptation of Get Shorty (a super entertaining show btw) really seems like a documentary after reading about this incident.
Tim in SF
No offense, since your post clearly took a lot of effort to write, but with what’s going on with BBB, Manchin, Sinema, Q, Bannon, covid, etc., I don’t have a lot of outrage left for what is clearly an accident.
Gin & Tonic
Typo in the cinematographer’s first name: it’s Halyna.
It’s interesting how this story has taken up so much oxygen when we have around 50 gun-related homicides in the US each day.
@Tim in SF: Seems the issues with which you have concerns have been very thoroughly and extensively dealt with throughout the day. Maybe you should read previous posts rather than crap on this one?
Why is gun fetish Hollywood considered a bastion of liberalism? Every show and movie is like an NRA tendril fetish show.
I used to think cities, states, provinces and countries got robbed blind by Hollywood studios. When I read that Louisiana kept a little less than $1 of every $7 they paid for TV/film productions, I thought it was unsustainable.
These days, I’m resigned to the tax money we give to Disney. It’s an inefficient, high-cost, middle-class jobs program. ?
@Tim in SF:
I don’t think you can neatly separate what’s happened with Rust from all that other stuff. One of the key things behind all this is the desire and ability of the rich to hold onto their money. It’s just especially glaring when there’s such a direct link between the rich getting richer and the poor winding up dead.
The streaming boom in Hollywood has produced a race-to-the-bottom mentality that pits production companies against one another to see who can crank out the most content for the lowest cost. That’s apparently the model this Rust show was striving for — big budget look with marquee star (Baldwin) produced on a shoestring budget in under a month. So it was filmed by scabs with the odd loaded weapon floating around. Wev. What could possibly go wrong?
@Tim in SF: No offense taken, but I note that at this blog, you get what you pay for!
“an unfettered market economy gets people killed” all right, but that’s not the main lesson I’d take away from *this particular situation*. In this case, it’s not the unfettering that seems like the main culprit. Rather, it’s the deliberate *interference* with a free market, in the form of unconscionable tax preferences for certain activities and funding structures. The market we have is too lightly regulated in many regards, but certain actors within it (no pun intended) are also too coddled and protected from accountability for what they do with all that
freedomprivilege. It’s a real worst of both worlds.
Relatedly, it helps to have someone on the inside, also too. ProPublica:
The government previously decided not to prosecute Burr. Fauth may not be so lucky.
@Tim in SF: it’s not an “accident” if someone fucked up.
Uh, why would the tax code be written that way? I don’t see what interest the US government would have in companies producing a lot of movies. I can sort of see them being able to write off losses but why just the investment? I don’t get it. Also, why would a state do that?
@mario: actually, yes it is. That is what an accident is.
The assistant is going to take the fall because that individual is a nobody.
The ultimately reponsibility lies on Baldwin. Once you pick up a gun, you are responsible for what you do with it. You’re the one with your finger on the trigger. Not the stunt supervisor, not the weapons master, not the director, not the producers, and certainly not some underpaid crew member.
Actors need to step up and take responsibility for the firearms handed to them. They’ll spend hours, if not weeks or months “preparing” for a role, but can’t spend a minute learning how to clear a handgun, check the rounds to make sure they’re the right type and quantity, and reload. Rifles and shotguns are more challenging because they come in so many variations, but the actor unfamiliar with the weapon should tell the weapons master, “Show me that this weapon is properly loaded” and refuse to touch it until the actor is satisfied with the answer.
@Arclite: Stories that get people attention always do. Toddlers have killed more people then terrorists in the last 21 years, but we don’t have a national war on toddlers.
Watch Ron Johnson get smacked down. It is beautiful.
@ian: “we don’t have a national war on toddlers”
Only on certain ones.
Certainly, I understand the phenomenon you are discussing, and having worked in a factory I saw up close how people could come under pressure to ignore safety standards under the threat of moving the factory to a different country (which they ended up doing anyway).
However. I read a long article about the status of the investigation and that left me no closer to understanding the basic proposition of how LIVE ammunition made it into a gun to be used as a movie prop. It would be like finding explosives in the oven I used to run to bond the thermal windows we made at the factory. It doesn’t matter what stage of capitalism you are in. It shouldn’t have been there.
That was brilliant. She was right on target. Just stunning. And Sen. Johnson just slunked away.
@Gvg: No it isn’t.
Mike in NC
I read that the cast and crew were bored on the set, and many had personal guns, so they spent a lot of time shooting up cans and bottles.
@Mike in NC: It’s going to turn out being something like that. It makes zero sense as a pure accident.
@GrannyMC: That’s not the way it works, and it probably cannot work that way. Actors are there to act – not to be experts on guns. The whole production and all of the crew has to rely on experts knowing what they’re doing and demonstrating to everyone that they do.
SL Huang has a good, long Twitter thread on the the way it works in well-run productions.
I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen someone deliver a message on any non-trivial topic in such a clear, calm, and eloquent way. I’m an instant fan.
@Gvg: States are doing it to steal productions from California, and it’s been succeeding.
@Mike in NC: And if that was happening it would be the fault of management, whoever that was. The possibility for weapons to get mixed up seems blindingly obvious.
Is there anything about the person responsible for the weapons walking off the set. Does that person need to be held accountable in any way?
Was the Soviet Union, the opposite of an unfettered market economy a model for regulatory success?
I see what you did there.
@Barbara: I read that several crew members were using the gun earlier to do some target practice which sounds unbelievable. The cutting corners part has to do with hiring a less than qualified armorer. I also read he had had another accident on a previous film. If you accept what is being reported, this seemed bound to happen.
@schrodingers_cat: There might…just work with me here…be non dichotomous options here.
It’s ostensibly a tax deduction to fund independent film makers, ie new artists. States give tax breaks to attract business and generate jobs for their citizens. There’s a reason so many films get shot on location in a few places in the country.
Second, almost anyone paying money to finish a product by a deadline wants two dollars of work for one dollar of payment.
The issue is always on how well the company producing the product can set terms for scope of work with the people paying for it.
Outside of the tax break, this is a systemic issue throughout the world with regards to how business is done.
I read an argument on Twitter from an actor (can’t find the thread) after the shooting death that there’s no reason to have ammo on any set. Everything can be done with CGI post-production.
I’m not sure what union covers cinematographers, or if they are part of SAG-AFTRA, but the union can at least push for post-production CGI to avoid problems caused by blanks, which include hearing loss.
Also, I am surprised live rounds were on the set. I thought they stopped the practice after Brandon Lee’s death.
@Another Scott: That is a great thread, with a great deal of information. Based on what SL Huang says, there had to have been multiple, very very bad, derelictions of safety on that set. So very many that – if the people in charge ever work again – no one should ever consent to work with them.
@debbie: Huang doesn’t speculate in that thread.
Presumably the production company would not hire the people for the positions if they weren’t needed. So, if those needed people walk off the job, then there should be an immediate and thorough reassessment of the entire production before starting up again.
But, given the pathological industry economics that seem to be accepted to be normal, as Tom outlines, we shouldn’t be surprised that they charged ahead …
But I have no special knowledge.
My understanding is that some people were using the guns for target practice off hours, which is frankly insane. Movie guns are supposed to be kept locked up when not in use on the set, and it’s the armorer’s job to make sure that happens. If the guns were being used in off hours, the armorer deserves at the very least to lose her job and very likely never to work in the field again. The only way I would have any sympathy at all is if someone who had the power to fire her demanded access, and even then she should have quit or let them fire her rather than give in.
@Barbara: Keep in mind the “do it fast, and do it cheap” imperative in play. My guess is they needed a gun; someone piped up I’ve got a gun (along with the ammo ‘cause I’ve got a gun). The rest of the tragedy plays out from here.
@Betty: This is what I theorized and if so it’s indefensible.
There are valid reasons beyond just cost why movies want to keep using blanks rather than doing everything with CGI. Blanks cause recoil, which you can’t simulate properly in post. Also, FWIW, Lee was killed by a weird accident. The same gun was used with dummy rounds, which have a bullet but no powder, and blanks, which have powder but no bullet. A bullet from one of the dummy rounds was lodged in the gun and fired when it was used later with blanks.
CNN) – House Democratic leaders on Thursday were once again forced to push back the timeline for a vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, a sign of ongoing divisions within the party and a major blow to President Joe Biden and party leaders eager to show they can deliver on their agenda.
Yea, what’s with that Silverman guy and all his gloom and doom?
The Dark Avenger
@Tim in SF: Have you been following the reporting on this? It was easily avoidable if they weren’t such cheapskates like making the crew drive 50 miles back to their hotel at the end of each day. They found live ammo on the set for Heaven’s sake. Live ammo has no purpose on a movie set even for purely illustrative purposes.
This was an interesting thing by one of the actors in this movie. https://www.cpr.org/2021/10/27/colorado-rust-actor-filming-felt-little-rough-before-halyna-hutchins-was-killed-on-set/
I’m not sure that the Section 181 deduction is any more favorable than the long-standing giveaway to film and TV production, the income-forecast method of depreciation. Looks like an empirical question.
Large parts of the Code can only be explained by ascertaining what industries have the best lobbyists when legislation is working its way through Congress.
Please, communism is just a red herring.
Gin & Tonic
@burnspbesq: I have read that the true creative geniuses in the film industry are found in the accounting department.
Back in the day when I worked at Paramount Pictures, we got a budget back from the production company of a star who shall remained unnamed.
The budget his company proposed for a middling romantic comedy was $30 million (huge $$ for a rom-com in the mid-90s), which included a slush fund of several million dollars as well as salaries for family members and the girlfriend his wife wasn’t supposed to know about.
We sent it back because they had forgotten to budget for crew and equipment, i.e. gaffers and cinematographers and film and cameras. That sort of thing.
They revised it and sent it back with an additional $3.25 million for all crew and equipment, and that was for union wages, which have not increased by much since then.
All to say, $7 million is plenty to make a union film in a genre like Rust. That they operated as if they didn’t have enough money for safety protocols tells us that most of the budget was going to above the line costs, most likely Baldwin and the producers.
@Gin & Tonic:
Not so much on the tax side. The geniuses are employed to screw the talent out of back-end compensation by making profit magically disappear. Everybody knows it’s happening, but the unwritten rule is that if an actor or director challenges it, they become unemployable.
The replacement certainly should have checked out the gun before handing it off, but the guy who walked away from the job shouldn’t have left something so dangerous lying around.
@Tim in SF: An accident, yes, but an accident born of a TON of negligence.
“SECTION 181: You’ve heard of farming subsidies. A number of years back savvy film lobbyists created subsidies for the film industry. As they outlined the dangers of runaway film production to Canada, Eastern Europe and Australia, Congress passed legislation that resulted in Section 181 of the IRS Tax Code. Put simply, Section 181 states that investment in a motion picture shot in the US is 100% tax deductable for the investor in the same year invested. Under Section 181 an investor may deduct the money which is invested in a film or television production from his or her passive income earned in the same year. If the investor is actively involved in the operation of the production, he or she may deduct the amount of investment from all active income earned in the same year. Productions with budgets below $15,000,000 (up to $20,000,000) which have at least seventy-five percent 75% of its production completed within the United States qualify under Section 181. Investors can be either individuals or businesses.”
“Major blow,” my ass. This is bog-standard sausage-making being sensationalized by media whose devotion to profit outweighs its devotion to accuracy.
Will Rogers is still right.
Hkedi [Kang T. Q.]
@Arclite: Unfortunately, the answer is all to easy. She was white, not poor, useful/cherished by people in power that have access to the media, and most importantly, her killer is also not liked by people in power that have access to the media,.
@burnspbesq: CNN been showing their asses non-stop ever since Biden took office. Don’t get me started on NPR/PBS either, also.
McAuliffe down by 8 points in the latest Fox News poll. Something tells me that him screaming “Don’t turn Virginia into Texas!” Is not the right message to run on. Also a huge sign that Virginia really isn’t as blue as we think, and that the Squad and company may need to wake the fuck up.
Legislatively, Democrats have basically made the same mistake this year that they made in 2009, just in a different way.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
having too many assholes in their Senate caucus?
and speaking of those assholes…..
@PsiFighter37: One poll by Fox. Same but different mistake? Come on.
@burnspbesq: Perfect example: you can depreciate racehorses. I have no idea when Congress initially approved this, but I would not be surprised if a turtle was behind it for Kentucky’s benefit.
Please tell me you’re smarter than this.
The last few days around here have really made me reconsider whether it’s for me anymore (started 2007, please don’t). I don’t disagree with anything anyone writes, exactly, but I can’t digest the quantities of righteousness and/or despair, however warranted or accurate they may be.
Sister Golden Bear
A good friend of mine is retired cinematographer, who also was an instructor at the industry’s mandatory safety training school (all union crew have to be certified by it order to work).
Short version, pressure to cut corners has existed as long as there have been low-budget productions. Streaming has resulted in a race to the bottom — it’s a big part of what the threatened Hollywood strike was about.
All that said, this was a classic case of what aviation accident investigators refer to as the holes in the Swiss cheese lining up. Meaning there were multiple points of failure and negligence from top to bottom.
Starting with an insufficient budget — a single armorer was wholly insufficient for this sort of Western, to hiring someone who was presumably cheap, but clearly not sufficiently experienced (and had safety issues in her only prior armorer job) to a clear disregard for safety procedures in general by the first AD who’s job it is to set safety — and is never supposed to handle a weapon (armorers hand the gun to an actor, only after showing the actor that the weapon is cleared), to Baldwin who should’ve insisted that the armorer did this. Plus a live gun should not have been used for rehearsing a shot. Dummy guns feel different than actual guns. Not to mention the unimaginably egregiousness of crew members used prop guns for plinking.
There are numerous and comprehensive safety procedures — which is such a rare event — and they seemingly didn’t bother with any of them. Especially shocking because they’d had two on-set gun misfires only a few days before. Many of failures should have resulted in an immediate firings.
@Ivan X: Things will settle down once the infrastructure and reconciliation bills are dealt with. A lot of questions will have been answered.
I don’t know if you saw it, but Jerszy posted a mea culpa on the earlier thread very late last night. Apparently J. has been retained as counsel by someone involved with the production.
@Gin & Tonic:
i got a juicy Mass. film credit for a filmmaker tax client — over ten thousand dollars for a self-funding artiste. nice!
@Sister Golden Bear: Very well put.
Jim, Foolish Literalist
Mike Murphy, who always strikes me as the most reluctant of never-trumpers, says on MSNBC just now the Fox News poll on VA is useless because of the “likely voters” frame, but thinks the race is basically tied but Youngkin has the momentum
@Jim, Foolish Literalist: then VA is fucking up. I just don’t get why anyone votes for GOP nihilism.
If those people wanted to get our attention they should have been shot by Harry Stiles or Alec Baldwin… duh!
@Omnes Omnibus: thanks. This is one of the more comforting things I’ve read here in a while.
With most large investments, you have to amortize it as a deduction over a period of years (depending on the asset). It used to be you had to amortize, say, the purchase of a computer over five or seven years (I forget), but now you can write it off in the year you purchased it.
Section 181 allows low budget investment in a film or TV production to be deducted as an expense in the year it is incurred. Any returns that flow back to the investors in subsequent years would be taxed at whatever normal rate without any deduction for the previous expense because it was already deducted.
What in the world did Alec Baldwin do to you?
The film business, like the record business, and nightclubs, etc. has always been kind of shady. I’ve been a film buff since forever, but also a reader, so read film history and bios all along. There is a book about Art Buchwald suing over Paramount’s theft of his treatment for Coming to America. It basically went into how Paramount had to settle because Buchwald had no intention of working in Hollywood and the books were so crooked Paramount couldn’t afford to go through discovery.
Much of film financing is basically money laundering. Go back and read about the funding of The Wolf of Wall Street, which was basically made with money embezzled from Malaysian taxpayers. I wouldn’t be surprised if filmmakers are working directly for Netflix, et al. to get away from the shady money.
Also, the woman they hired as an armorer seems to just be a terrible person in general. She clearly got work off her father’s name, even though she admits she never learned the business from him.
When you work with firearms and don’t do proper procedures it is not an accident when someone gets wounded or killed. It is murder. Possibly not first degree murder, but it is murder none the less, because the procedures exist to at least make the odds a hell of a lot better that no one gets hurt. But if you fail to take those steps and someone dies, that is not an accident. It’s murder.
If you shoot someone with a gun, if you pull the trigger and kill them, you are responsible. Movies have procedures to put an expert in the middle but the person pulling the trigger is still responsible. The movie business may have tried to take that reality away from the stars so that they don’t have to be bothered but that can not be done. The only person able to pull that trigger with out shooting someone that the gun is pointed at is the person who absolutely knows that it’s unloaded. As the person you responded to wrote the person who is handed the gun should be shown that it is unloaded if they can not do that themselves. They hold in their hand(s) a deadly weapon, not a toy, not a prop, a deadly weapon. If it can be loaded and kill someone then they are the final responsibility to not kill someone with that deadly weapon. Just as everyone else who shoots someone is.
David ? ☘The Establishment☘? Koch
Are you talking about the film “Boomerang“?
I know the South Park guys are going to have field with this. Probably their life dream.
@Betty: Yeah…just points up how badly this bunch was doing …there are, among professional “armorers” strict protocols dealing with any weapons on set, and one is that the firearms are under control of the armorer at ALL times, and locked up when they aren’t. Or, what Roger Moore said at #37
@Starfish: WOW! This M.A. Franks should be on every talking head show this weekend.
Sadly, she won’t be
ETA: So good, I went back to watch it a second time.
@Tom Levenson: You equated a case of criminal negligence as an example of a failure of capitalism. This is your second post making the same argument.
I was just pointing out that criminal negligence is not exclusive to capitalist systems.
@Ksmiami: Excellent strategy. Piss on the voters. Never hold the DNC, the conservative democrats, and the neoliberal retreads they choose accountable for their debacles. Yea and the liberals need to wake up? ?
J R in WV
THIS! I read somewhere that the weapons for this film shoot were provided by Colt — who does not rely on “props” for making their profits. Colt manufactures weapons. The holder of the weapon is responsible for what happens downstream of the barrel~!!~
NOT a prop !!
@Ivan X: Stress isn’t pretty, sort of by definition. People aren’t their best selves under stress, not even close. We all know that.
There is such a thing as grace under pressure, but sustained pressure of the sort we’ve experienced for going on 6 years?
Between Trump, covid, the insurrection, the other attacks on our democracy, and 2 democrats who are willing to blow it all up, this is like submarine from the old movies that is being crushed by the pressure of the ocean, and water is coming in through the seams.
So I totally get where you are coming from. The righteousness and despair can feel relentless, but this too shall pass.
Most of us do not handle uncertainty well. Yesterday was a case in point, but good news or bad, we’ll get our balance back. We always do.
We have 2 big pressure points that will be resolved one way or another in the next couple of weeks.
I hope you hang in there, even if you have to tune it out for a couple of weeks.
I would be very sorry to see you leave.
Well, maybe a cold war on them.
@schrodingers_cat: I think the point is that capitalism incentivizes and hugely rewards criminal negligence, and punishes responsible, ethical behavior.
Dead thread, but as a still photographer on some Hollywood film/commercial sets, I was turned off by the dog-eat-dog culture, particularly in nonunion crew. Everyone afraid of losing their job, too often rooting for someone else to lose theirs. I get a strong whiff of same in this tragedy.
All of which sets up an anecdote, I forget where but I remain sure it’s legit, of a Hwood production in Latin America where part of the compensation for illiterate local extras was a t-shirt emblazoned with English text, “I’ll never work in this town again”.
@Jess: There are perverse incentives in almost any system devised by human beings be it capitalism, socialism or communism. It is not exclusive to capitalism.