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Tucson to require film safety guidelines after fatal shooting on 'Rust' set

The city of Tucson is considering a film-set safety ordinance after the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by actor Alec Baldwin in late October on the Santa Fe, N.M., set of the Western movie “Rust.”

The idea was put forward by Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik at a Dec. 7 Council meeting. Kozachik said live ammunition on set is never necessary and that people in the film and theater industry agree.

“People active in the film industry, in the theater industry, and people who are not, all have wondered the very same thing: what was a live round doing in that gun?” he said. “Through the use of special effects in post-production, virtually any effect that they’re after can be added in post.”

The Council voted 6-1 to have the city attorney draft an ordinance requiring productions which are awarded city film permits to follow the guidelines of the Actors Equity Association related to the use of firearms.

Actors Equity, the national actors and stage managers union, has more than 20 guidelines including a recommendation to “use simulated or dummy weapons whenever possible,” but only mentions keeping live ammunition out of theatres.

The TV network HBO finished filming the series pilot of “Duster,” also a Western, in Tucson around Dec. 1. Kozachik published an opinion piece shortly after explaining that he would make a motion to adopt guidelines to prioritize safety on film sets, which can be profitable for the city to host. Mayor Regina Romero said in her State of the City address on Dec. 2 that the 28 days of filming “Duster” created “673 jobs, nearly 10,000 hotel room nights filled and $8.4M dollars in economic impact to our region.”

“We’re hoping we have more and more of these shows filmed here in Tucson,” Romero said during the Dec. 7 Council meeting. “So I think it’s really timely, and I absolutely agree.”

The one “no” vote came from Councilman Richard Fimbres, who talked about including regulations about “incendiary devices” on sets like “bombs” and “fire bombs,”  which have also led to safety issues on film sets. But City Attorney Mike Rankin said the term is too broad and that a lot of things on a film set can be considered incendiary.

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Kozachik has called himself “a huge supporter of bringing back the film industry in Tucson” and Pima County. His brother, Pete, works in visual effects and cinematography and has been nominated for an Oscar. He’s worked behind the camera for films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Starship Troopers” and “Howard the Duck,” as well as in film series like “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “The Matrix” and “Robocop.”

Tucson has been the filming location for TV series and movies for decades, and many of those have been Westerns, including the series “Stagecoach,” “Bonanza,” and “Gunsmoke” and films like “Tombstone” and “Rio Bravo.” Although other genres have been filmed in the area in recent years, Tucson has always attracted Westerns, Comedy Westerns and other types of action films that feature gunfights because of Old Tucson Studios.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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