On Thursday, October 21st, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was tragically killed while filming the new Western Rust near Santa Fe, New Mexico, when she struck and killed by a bullet from a gun fired by Alec Baldwin. As the incident continues to be probed by authorities and the Hollywood unions that oversee movie set safety protocols, new information is emerging about the production. As The Wrap reports, veteran property master Neal W. Zoromski came forward to say that he was in discussions about coming aboard as Rust’s property master, but ultimately passed on the job after getting a “bad feeling.”
Zoromski—who has more than 30 years of experience as a prop master and has worked on a number of well-known film and TV productions, including Criminal Minds, Scandal, Grace and Frankie, and Snowfall—spoke with the Los Angeles Times about how excited he initially was at the prospect of working on the project, as he has never filmed a Western. But that after spending four days speaking with Rust’s filmmakers, Zoromski passed on the project as “there were massive red flags.” According to the Times:
“He said he felt that Rust was too much of a slapdash production, one with an overriding focus on saving money instead of a concern for people’s safety. Production managers didn’t seem to value experience and were brushing off his questions, he said.”
“After I pressed ‘send’ on that last email, I felt, in the pit of my stomach: ‘That is an accident waiting to happen,’” Zoromski told the Times. But now, he’s reportedly questioning whether he made the right decision to pass on the project, as “he believes that had he accepted the Rust job, things would have turned out differently.”
“I take my job incredibly seriously,” Zoromski said. “As the prop master, you have to be concerned about safety. I’m the guy who hands the guns to the people on set.”
Among the concerns that led to Zoromski saying “no” to the project was the fact that he was initially contacted on September 20th, just two weeks before production was set to begin, whereas often a prop master is brought in months ahead of time. He also claimed that the producers were “evasive” when he was asking about the specifics of the job, including the list of props he’d need to gather and oversee.
“In the movies, the prep is everything,” Zoromski said. “You also need time to clean, inspect and repair guns. You need time to fix old clocks. In period films, you are sometimes using antiques. But here, there was absolutely no time to prepare, and that gave me a bad feeling.”
The “deal breaker,” according to the Times:
Zoromski said he initially asked for a department of five technicians. He was told that “Rust” was a low-budget production and that plans were to use items from a local prop house. He modified his request to have at least two experienced crew members: one to serve as an assistant prop master and the other as an armorer, or gun wrangler, dedicated to making sure the weapons were safe, oiled and functioning properly.
But the “Rust” producers insisted that only one person was needed to handle both tasks.
“You never have a prop assistant double as the armorer,” Zoromski said. “Those are two really big jobs.”
The job of “property key assistant/armorer” ultimately went to Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, a 24-year-old with just two other credits to her name—one as a costume assistant and the other as head armorer on The Old Way, which is set to be released in 2022. That lack of experience is part of what’s now being questioned, with the Los Angeles Times writing that:
“According to search warrants, [Gutierrez-Reed] left three weapons on a rolling cart outside the church setting at midday Thursday. [Joel] Souza, the film’s director, told a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigator that multiple people had been handling the guns and that he wasn’t sure whether anyone had checked them for safety after the group came back from lunch.”
(Via Los Angeles Times)