Film scene in New Mexico mourns Halyna Hutchins for “Rust”

“That moment shook us all to the core,” said Liz Pecos, president of IATSE Local 480, holding a burning candle in front of the pink striped sky of New Mexico.

Hundreds of people stood before her holding their own candles as they gathered to mourn cameraman Halyna Hutchins.

Many of those who crowded the Albuquerque Civic Plaza Saturday night were members of Pecos’ Local, who represent “below the line” crew members working on film and television productions in New Mexico.

Some of the vigil attendees knew Hutchins, who worked with her on the set of Rust, where she was fatally shot by a prop gun used by actor Alec Baldwin.

But most were part of the larger family of crew members, most of whom live in Albuquerque or Santa Fe, and power New Mexico’s booming, closely-knit film industry. These were people who’d been in the trenches together, working the kind of punishing hours that helped keep working conditions on set calculated.

“It’s not like Atlanta or Los Angeles, that’s for sure. It’s a lot smaller here, ”said Jonathan Hubbarth, an Albuquerque site coordinator who wore a zip-up hoodie from Stranger Things in New Mexico. “You actually know almost everyone, practically.”

As Rebecca Rhine, National Executive Director of the Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, and Cinematographers Guild President John Lindley spoke in front of the crowd, the participants tearfully hugged old friends and colleagues.

Lane Looper, a cameraman who worked with Hutchins on “Rust,” praised her to the audience as “one of the most talented, friendliest and most cooperative” people he has ever met.

“She is a wonderful mother and a wonderful woman and just a wonderful soul. And I really hope that there are more people like her, ”he said, his voice suppressed with grief. “I love everyone in this community. And thank you – I know I haven’t written back many of you, but thank you because it means a lot. ”

The 42-year-old native of Ukraine was selected as one of the 2019 American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars.

“Tonight is about Halyna,” Rhine said during her speech. “In the future, there will be plenty of time to focus on who, what, and why.”

Still, questions arising about the circumstances leading up to Hutchins’ death Thursday, hours after half a dozen cameramen left the set to protest labor conditions, were difficult to ignore in the crowd. Industry security protocols, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on set, several crew members told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

“We have to take care of ourselves, often people won’t take care of us,” said one man as he leaned over to hug several friends.

On the other side of the crowd, costume designer Kim Trujillo and Ashley Crandall, who works in the prop, discussed how the productions that both women were working on were immediately changed on Friday in response to the terrible incident.

Crandall said the TV series she’s currently working on planned to use a replica of a gun with spaces for a scene on Friday, but decided at the last minute to switch to an airsoft gun – a discussion shared with shared by the entire crew. according to Crandall.

“It made everyone feel so much safer,” she said, describing the precaution as long overdue.

Trujillo, who wore an IATSE shirt like Crandall, said the production she was working on had announced that they would now only use rubber guns.

Wynema Chavez Quintana, a customer, held a sign with photos of Hutchins and handwritten text that read, “She deserves a safe job!”. and “SOS security on the set!”

Chavez Quintana said she was related to Hutchins as a mother.

“She deserved to come home to her children,” said Chavez Quintana through tears. Chavez Quintana’s 25-year-old son is now also working on the set, and she said she was sometimes afraid for his safety.

But amidst the shock and grief, there was an undercurrent of hope – many said they hoped or believed that actual change could come from an unbearable tragedy.

“We were about to go on strike because of our health, and it has hardly been averted, and now everyone is going to fight a little harder for our rights – for our physical safety,” said Amrit Khalsa, a Santa Fe costume designer.

In addition to actors Jon Hamm and John Slattery, producer Ross Kahn spoke about the horror of Hutchin’s death.

“We heard there were problems on this set,” said Kahn, who was in New Mexico with Hamm and Slattery to make the film “Maggie Moore (s)”. “It’s an avoidable tragedy.”

In a statement to Deadline Saturday, “Rust” director Joel Souza, who was also injured during the shooting, thanked the local film community for their support and said he was “discouraged by the loss of my friend and colleague Halyna. She was friendly, lively, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to get better. “

Among other safety concerns, several participants in the vigil spoke of the need to provide hotel rooms to crew members if the long shooting times would otherwise require the long drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe or vice versa with little sleep.

The cities are about an hour’s drive from each other on Interstate 25. The decision not to provide previously promised hotel rooms to Rust crew members – many of whom lived in Albuquerque, about 50 miles from Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe County – played a role in Thursday morning’s strike.

Bonanza Creek Ranch was nearly deserted on Saturday afternoon, and a padlocked chain locked its rusty gate from the wide open desert road. In the gate, two security guards paused by a wind-blown American flag at the guard booth while an Australian intelligence team across the street set up their shot.

About twenty minutes from the ranch in picturesque Santa Fe, conversations about the early Saturday shooting echoed through the close-knit town.

Locals described the New Mexico film industry, which has been on the rise since the early 2000s and has grown rapidly in recent years, as an extremely welcome boon to the city’s hospitality economy.

Small, with a population equal to just over 20% of Los Angeles County’s, New Mexico has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country – factors that have made many locals feel like they have invested together in the success of the current roaring movie its industry whether they work in it or not.

They say the booming industry feels like an embedded part of the community. Sure, you could dance with Bill Murray at the cowgirl BBQ or watch Reese Witherspoon in the plaza, but the interactions are downright low-key. Santa Feans pride themselves on their sober attitude towards celebrities, which likely adds to the city’s appeal for filming. Many said they were stunned by the tragedy.

“It’s a small town and we meet a lot of people who are directly connected,” said hairdresser Laura Rivera as she shared a plate of french fries with two friends at a popular café in Santa Fe.

“It’s very, very close to home, and it’s very scary,” added her friend Sam Staletovich, a Santa Fe telecommunications worker who has acted on the proxy and background on numerous western-themed film shoots in the area.

Staletovich said he was involved in pyrotechnic and gun scenes, but personal safety was never an issue because it was “such a tight process”, even with low budget films.

“Everything was checked and double-checked and triple-checked,” he recalls, saying that he had difficulty imagining how the shooting went and felt a new sense of concern about future action work.

Local 600 will hold a similar vigil for Hutchins in Burbank at 6 p.m. on Sunday. The union launched a GoFundMe campaign for their family on Friday. Hutchins leaves behind her husband Matthew and a 9-year-old son.

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