7 Ways Film and Television Productions Can Improve Safety on Set
Film and television productions have some work to do to improve safety on film sets.
Recently, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, a tragic accident occurred on the set of the low-budget film Rust. A prop gun held by actor and producer Alec Baldwin misfired, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. A live round of ammunition was in the gun, according to recent media reports.
This utterly avoidable tragedy once again highlights the issue of film set safety. There’s much room for improvement, and IATSE members have rightfully complained about many safety issues they want the producers to address in their contract negotiations.
There are numerous changes film and television productions can make to ensure sets are safer. Here are seven changes that I believe need to happen now:
- No one handling guns on set should be allowed to do so without comprehensive training in gun safety.
IATSE Local 44 members, the union local representing crew working in prop departments, receive mandatory training in firearms safety on set through required safety courses given by Contract Services.
The armorer responsible for the gun involved in the above accident is not a member of Local 44, so it’s unknown at this point what, if any, training she had in safe firearm use on set. Based on reports of what occurred on set, I suspect her training was informal and minimal at best.
Low budgets and gun use on set are not a desirable combination in terms of safety. Several experienced armorers had reportedly turned down jobs on Rust because of safety concerns.
No one can learn gun safety protocols for set use on the job. While the specifics of this particular accident are still emerging, it’s clear that safety protocols ranged from lax to non-existent.
No one should ever be handling a gun on set without thorough training in the safe use of firearms on a film set.
- No live ammunition should ever be on or near a film set.
We work long hours in a time-pressured environment on set. Mistakes can and do happen.
However, putting an actor in the wrong wardrobe or making a small error on paperwork isn’t going to kill anyone. Accidentally loading a prop gun with live ammunition can cost lives.
No one needs live ammunition for any shot. One director even suggested that all guns be digitally inserted to prevent accidents.
As long as guns are present on set, live ammo shouldn’t be. Ever.
- The first assistant director should always hold a safety meeting explaining safety protocols before gun use on set.
Crew members have reported that safety meetings were not held regularly on Rust. This is mind-boggling, considering the film is a western with actors using guns daily on set.
It’s also been reported that an a.d. picked up the loaded gun from a cart and handed it to Alec Baldwin, stating it was a ‘cold gun.’ No a.d. would ever pick up a firearm on a safely run set, and guns would not be left out openly on a cart.
I’ve worked on quite a few sets where guns were present, and strict safety precautions were always in place. An armorer always handed the weapon to the actor and explained the load. No one else ever touched the gun.
Safety meetings are a crucial part of the checks and balances that should always be in place when actors use guns on set.
- Actors should receive training in safe firearms use on film sets.
Since actors are ultimately the ones using firearms in a scene, they should receive some training in firearms safety. I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already on film and television productions.
Actors may have no experience whatsoever in handling firearms when they arrive on set. A firearms safety course could at least provide a general overview of what to expect and the safety protocols of how to handle a gun on a film set.
Even firing blanks can cause serious injury, so actors would protect themselves and those around them by being trained in safe firearms use on set. It’s one more layer of protection that could save lives.
- Complex scenes involving stunts or gunfire should not be scheduled at the end of a long day.
Our industry is known for exhausted crews working grueling hours. Scheduling complex scenes that involve stunts or firearms at the end of the day is a formula for disaster. And it’s also commonplace in our industry.
Mistakes happen when people are tired and not thinking clearly. No one who’s worked a 14 plus hour day is as sharp as they were when they arrived on set.
It compromises everyone’s safety to schedule the most harrowing scenes at the end of the day. It’s always more of a rush at the end of the day to complete the day’s work, and safety can get laxer.
Thoughtful scheduling of challenging scenes can go a long way towards improving safety on set.
- Shorter workdays and more extended rest periods will improve safety.
One of the primary bargaining points in the recent IATSE negotiations was for longer rest periods. We work ridiculously long hours in our industry, only to have a short turnaround and do it all again the next day.
It’s a formula for disaster in terms of safety on and off set. People have had major accidents and even been killed by falling asleep at the wheel on the way home.
No film or television production should be allowed to work crews for fourteen or more hours. It’s a common practice in our industry, and it’s highly unsafe for everyone involved.
The recent negotiations have made many producers aware of unsafe conditions that extended workdays cause. Now it’s time for them to do something concrete about it. That would go a long way towards making sets safer.
- When someone asks us to do something unsafe on set, say no.
Requests for us to do something unsafe on set often occur because of poor planning or time pressures. Such requests can result in accidents and injuries.
None of us should agree to do anything we believe is unsafe, especially anything involving firearms. We all deserve a workplace that’s safe and well-run.
It appears that many people on the set of Rust were not well-trained, and safety compromises abounded.
When the union crew balked at their unsafe work conditions, the company replaced them with non-union workers. As we’ve now seen, that does not make for a safe, well-run set.
Refusing to cut corners and compromise on safety can save lives. Possibly our own lives.
Accidents can occur on even the best run sets where safety is always a priority. I was knocked unconscious by a falling piece of equipment on such a set.
But on a poorly run set with lax safety standards, accidents are almost guaranteed to occur. And as we’ve seen on Rust, they can be fatal.
The film and television productions we work on need to improve safety, whether they’re big-budget blockbusters or low-budget independent projects.
Poorly trained crews and a rush rush rush attitude on the part of producers and directors can only lead to unfortunate accidents.
Film sets are difficult places to work in the best of conditions. In the worst conditions, they can cost us our lives.
IATSE members have demanded safer sets, and I and the other guilds fully support their demands. After all, the lives we save will be our own.