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'Fast and loose': 'Rust' crew member quit over lack of safety day before fatal accident

Lane Luper, the A-camera first assistant, cited discontinued safety meetings and accidental use of explosives in his resignation email to producers.
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A member of the “Rust” crew resigned the day before the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, telling the production he had a number of concerns, citing a lack of safety meetings and other accidental discharges — including explosives — on set.

Lane Luper, the A-camera first assistant, informed producers in his resignation email that safety procedures were “fast and loose” when filming gunfights for the movie. The resignation email was obtained and reviewed by NBC News on Monday.

"So far there have been 2 accidental weapons discharges and 1 accidental SFX explosives that have gone off around the crew between takes… To be clear there are NO safety meetings these days,” Luper said in the email.

“There have been NO explanations as to what to expect for these shots. When anyone from production is asked we are usually met with the same answers about not having enough time to complete the day if we rehearse or that ‘this is a 21 day shoot.’”

A source close to the production told NBC News that during the first 10 days of productions, there were three safety meetings held including one on the day of the accident.

Luper's resignation was submitted on Oct. 20, one day before Alec Baldwin accidentally shot Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. Baldwin said he was told the gun he was given for rehearsals was safe, and the assistant director had yelled “cold gun,” a set protocol that announces to cast and crew the prop gun does not have live ammunition.

Image: Halyna Hutchins
Halyna Hutchins attends the SAGindie Sundance Filmmakers Reception at Cafe Terigo on Jan. 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah.Fred Hayes / Getty Images file

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Luper said the previous accidental discharges on set involved Baldwin’s stunt double shooting a gun he was told was “cold” and a woman in the props department shooting herself in the foot with a blank round.

“It always felt like the budget was more important than crew members,” Luper told the newspaper. “Everything was about the schedule and the budget.”

Luper also called attention to other problems on set in his resignation, such as issues with pay, relaxed Covid-19 protocols and disputes with production on housing and working hours, despite prior agreements with the union.

The email alleged producers would only allow the local New Mexico crew courtesy room rentals after working 13 hours “on the clock.” Luper himself noted that he lived 52 miles from the set, which added two hours of commute to his schedule and was often only left with six hours to sleep after attending to his most basic needs at home.

“In my 10 years as a camera assistant I've never worked on a show that cares so little for the safety of its crew,” Luper said.

Gabrielle Pickle, the line producer to whom the email was sent, and Katherine “Row” Walters, the unit production manager, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News on Monday.

The source close to the production said Luper had signed a union contract that indicated a hotel would be provided if the distance was more than 60 miles and that producers would provide a hotel for crew after 13.5 hours or more onset.

The source also said that hotels were provided to crew on days they worked 10-12 hours if call time was before 6 a.m. and production wrapped after 7 p.m.

The safety protocols on “Rust” have been under scrutiny in recent days, with attention being called to the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, and its assistant director, David Halls.

Gutierrez-Reed, the daughter of Hollywood stuntman Thell Reed, was in charge of weapons and gun safety on the set. Her attorney said in a statement last week that she had “no idea where the live rounds came from” and never witnessed anyone shooting live ammunition on set.

“Hannah was hired on two positions on this film, which made it extremely difficult to focus on her job as an armorer,” the statement said. “She fought for training, days to maintain weapons, and proper time to prepare for gunfire but ultimately was overruled by production and her department. The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings.”

Sources close to the production disputed the allegations from Gutierrez-Reed, telling NBC News that her “primary role as the armorer included the 4 weapons handling training days and the 5 blanks days.” Gutierrez-Reed never worked two roles in the same day, and only worked as a prop assistant on days when no weapons were used on set.

Halls was in charge of working with Gutierrez-Reed to check the guns on set before they were handled by the cast and calling out “cold gun.”

He told investigators during an interview following Hutchins’ death that he did not check each individual round of ammunition before handing the gun back to Gutierrez-Reed that day, according to a search warrant affidavit last week. He “should’ve checked all of them, but didn’t,” Halls said.

Lisa Torraco, Halls' attorney, told Fox News in an interview Monday that her client was in "shock" and that she could not confirm whether Halls gave the gun to Baldwin. She also alleged there were witnesses that saw Gutierrez-Reed give Baldwin the gun who were not interviewed by police.

"Whether or not he handed the firearm directly to Alec Baldwin at that moment or whether the armorer handed it directly to Alec Baldwin at that moment doesn't really matter because he didn't load it," Torraco said. "He's not responsible for checking it.”

"What I can tell you is that expecting an assistant director to check a firearm is like telling the assistant director to check the camera angle or telling the assistant director to check sound or lighting," Torraco said. "That’s not the assistant director’s job. If he chooses to check the firearm because he wants to make sure that everyone is safe, he can do that."

Torraco was not immediately available for request for comment from NBC News.

Halls’ past experience with firearms has also been brought to light following Hutchins' death. He was fired from the film "Freedom's Path” in 2019 after a crew member was injured in a firearms incident.

He did not respond to previous requests for comment from NBC News.