Film Industry Risk Management Case Study: “Rust” Movie Accident

No matter which side of the gun debate you stand, we can all agree the accidental shooting on the “Rust” movie set that resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins, 42-year-old cinemaphotographer, was a tragedy. A tragedy that could have been prevented.

The movie’s producer was recently fined nearly $137,000 for lax firearm safety procedures. New Mexico’s Health and Safety Bureau cited “a complete failure of the employer to follow national protocols to keep employees safe.”

Risks in the Film Industry

When establishing a practical Enterprise Risk Management program for organizations, I often establish the Ten Risk Factors developed by Prof. Mark Abkowitz as a foundation. A number of risk factors appear to have contributed to the Rust film set tragedy.

According to the New Mexico workplace investigation report:

  • The film’s Armorist in charge of weapons (Hannah Gutierrez Reed) wasn’t given adequate time to perform her duties overseeing the use of guns.
  • The Armorist wasn’t given proper authority to determine whether gun training was needed, or time to thoroughly inspect ammunition.
  • Days before the shooting, the film’s Line Producer (Gabrielle Pickle) in an email told the Armorist that she was focusing too much on her gun-handling role, and not doing enough work on props. The Line Producer typically oversees daily operations and budgets, including only 8 paid days at the Armorist’s rate. The Armorist responded indicating the “very serious job” of handling guns and “there are working guns on the set every day”, implying the budget was woefully inadequate.
  • On the 8th day, the Armorist urged the Line Producer to seek an additional budget for training. However, the Line Producer told the Armorist that there would be no more weapons training days with Alec Baldwin or others…presumably due to time or other budgetary pressures.
  • The production also didn’t create a process for keeping live ammunition off the set.
  • Failing to afford the Armorist enough time to thoroughly assess the film’s inventory of ammunition.
  • The Assistant Director (David Halls) didn’t consult with the Armorist before handing the gun to Alec Baldwin, assuming it was loaded with so-called dummy rounds
  • The Assistant Director told inspectors that gun-safety memos were not attached to daily call sheets, as required under the guidelines.
  • The production company and management demonstrated “plain indifference to the safety of employees” by ignoring recognized hazards and failing to take corrective actions after two firearm-related misfires days before the accidental shooting and employees stating not feeling safe on the set.

In just these bullets alone, seven of the ten Risk Factors were present, including:

  • Economic and budgetary pressures
  • Design flaws
  • Scheduling constraints
  • Inadequate training
  • Not following procedures,
  • Communication failure, and
  • Arrogance

Despite layers of nationally established firearm protocols for the film industry, one of the worst things that could happen on a movie set, unfortunately, happened. By studying the failures of the “Rust” movie accident, better film industry risk management practices can be established and implemented to prevent future injuries.

Whether an organization is producing films or manufacturing hazardous compounds, applying the principles of Enterprise Risk Management can help identify and manage risks during production and encourage a culture of risk awareness.

Culture of Risk Awareness

First, start with a risk assessment to identify potential risks before starting the film project. It is important to include all stakeholders in the initial risk assessment to get a clear understanding of the risks in the film production processes. Utilizing the Ten Risk Factors is a practical initial step to reducing – or eliminating – the risk of unfortunate outcomes. Next, determine the probability and the severity of the adverse outcomes. Finally, affirm existing risk mitigation strategies, or create new strategies for the most probable and severe risks in order to establish a basic film industry risk management program. Share the risks and their underlying details, as well as the mitigation strategies with the entire film production team. This will help to create a culture of “risk awareness” on the movie set. Lastly, employing an outside third party can help to create an unbiased risk assessment. Contact John McLaughlin to establish an Enterprise Risk Management culture with training and apply the Ten Risk Factors well before something bad happens. These same steps can be applied to any industry, including healthcare, e-commerce, manufacturing, education, managed services and more!

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