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Avoidable Tragedies Hit the Film Industry

New York, NY – The themes of my column are based on the ideas of wellness in the workplace. However, as a columnist whose aim is to cover topics that improve personal, physical and psychological safety, LaborPress is still a labor-centric publication. Part of our mission is to discuss unionism and its core values of fairness in the workplace and training over tragedy. Therefore, in light of recent news involving Alec Baldwin, this column is a reminder of what happens when costs are put first and workplace safety second.

Ben Kimmel.

By now, we all know the film industry is mourning the accidental death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Hutchins was killed by a prop gun while filming the movie “Rust” starring Alec Baldwin. The prop gun was noted as being a “cold gun,” which means that the firearm was not loaded with live rounds.

While rehearsing, Baldwin fired the gun and struck Hutchins in the chest as well as the film’s director Joel Souza in the shoulder. After the incident, Hutchins was taken to the hospital by helicopter where she was pronounced dead from her wounds.

It is important to note that camera crew workers walked off the set just hours before the fatal incident. Workers left the set of “Rust” in protest of unsafe working conditions. The workers complained about long hours, long commutes and waiting for their paychecks. According to reports, there were  complaints regarding safety protocols, too. In fact, it was reported that at least one camera operator advised a production manager about gun safety control. But the safety of the cast was compromised due to the low-budget nature of the film. Saving time, scheduling and budgeting all took priority over the professionally-trained advice from a unionized crew.

It is important to mention that the crew member in charge of the prop gun was reportedly a non-union worker. The worker was hired to replace a union member who walked off the set due to safety issues. This is why unionized training focuses on training over tragedy.  Our main objective is to educate, train and improve safety and overall working conditions. 

Of course, the shooting was an accident. No one suspects otherwise (yet.) However, this was an avoidable accident that cost the life of photographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injured director Joel Souza, 48. All that needed to happen was for the production manager to listen to the crew members who advised of safety concerns. The need to focus on safety before profit could not be any clearer. 

In closing, I will end with the words of Ben Franklin who said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” However, in this case, I will offer that the bitterness of poor safety measures will remain long after the sweetness of a low-budget film that cared more about budgets, scheduling and prop features than they did for a unionized crew whose warnings could have saved the life of Halyna Hutchins.

Ben Kimmel is a proud member of the IUOE Local 94, as well as an Author, Writer on thewrittenaddiction.com, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Well-being and DEI Content Provider, Certified Addiction and Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach, and Peer & Wellness Advocate.  Ben can be reached at bennyk1972@gmail.com

 

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