Dueling California Bills Tackle Set Safety

OOn January 3, two Democratic state senators in California introduced separate bills in the wake of the Rust tragedy. Sens. Anthony Portantino and Dave Cortese introduced Senate Bills 829 and 831 respectively, both of which propose to further regulate the use of firearms and blanks during production and the safety training required for cast and crew, essentially banning sharp ammunition, except in ultra-specific scenarios (however, 831 also requires the establishment of a permanent security supervisor role and the conduct of a pre-production “risk assessment”). Both lawmakers have been clear that their legislation was motivated by the Oct. 21 shooting on a New Mexico set that killed cameraman Halyna Hutchins.

But it is the differences between their approaches that shed light on the lack of consensus from industry groups on how to make manufacturing safer. While both senators have spoken to guilds such as the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and IATSE, as well as the Motion Picture Association — the trade group that advocates for the major studios and Netflix — the MPA supports SB 829, and many unions support SB 831. bills on their way to the same Senate committee are the questions they’re asking – about whether the… Rust tragedy must specifically lead to firearms regulations (SB 829) or a major overhaul of established safety practices (SB 831) – coming to a head, and a well-known tension between employers and union leaders, independence and oversight, simmers beneath the surface. “The crux of the situation boils down to: Is there a distinction between the firearms issue and other issues?” says Portantino, a former art director and propmaster who oversaw on-set armaments.

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Portantino’s SB 829 requires a fire officer to be present while using firearms and blanks on set and directs the state firefighter’s office to develop crew safety training in conjunction with the industry’s joint labor and management safety committee. (That committee’s safety bulletins, which are set by major studios and unions but are not required for productions, have long established safety standards, including firearms, for major titles; Rust did not follow their own safety guidelines based on these bulletins, according to a report from the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau on April 19.)

MPA vp state and local government affairs Melissa Patack says the organization supports SB 829 because “the focus is on training, and the MPA member companies believe that should be the priority.” The MPA also supports making their members’ best practices and policies and union projects “a legal standard for all California productions,” she says.

Cortese’s SB 831 takes a broader approach, calling for the establishment of a “set safety supervisor” — an independent worker who would make a pre-production risk assessment specific to the project and attend the set every day — on all productions. As the bill is currently being written, the regulator would have the power to shut down production “for further review” if they see fit. While this isn’t a common stance on US sets, such supervisors are used in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, proponents say.

Cortese, chair of the Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee of the California Senate, also demands that the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) enforce the bill and propose a standard for the use of firearms on set, which to be adopted by January 2024. †

Cortese — which in the immediate aftermath of the Rust firing called for a ban on live ammunition and firearms that can fire live ammunition at sets, but changed that approach after industry feedback – says it was talks with DGA about bigger security concerns that led him to expand his bill beyond the firearms regulations. He says his bill “creates checks and balances in the system so that it’s much, much, much less likely that anyone will get away with ignoring the rules we’ve put in place here.”

A long list of unions and unions, including the DGA, several IATSE locals, SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood Teamsters, have come to formally support Cortese’s SB 831. “There are a lot of protocols in our industry, there are a lot of security bulletins,” said Rebecca Rhine, national director of IATSE Local 600, the union to which Halyna Hutchins belonged and which has also lost members Sarah Jones and Brent Hershman in recent decades. “What we think is that it’s necessary to connect all those rules and protocols to the actual workflow on the ground. And we believe that the safety supervisor is the piece that does that.”

While neither the MPA nor the unions have spoken out against each other’s favored bills, the established position of safety overseer described in SB 831 may pose a problem for management: Studios may not be friendly to an employee who retains the authority to autonomously – and expensive – stop production.

On the other hand, Portantino may face resistance from some who believe SB 829 “doesn’t go far enough in terms of being fined,” said Dario Frommer, a partner at Akin Gump who is a former California state majority leader. Edit. Outgoing IATSE Local 600 National President and seasoned cameraman John Lindley (Snowfall, Dreamfield) states that he does not criticize lawmakers “trying to make the set a safer place”, but believes that a full-time safety supervisor for the set is “the easiest way forward for [management]† They can afford it, they know how to do it around the world, and they should just get on board and do it in North America.”

While the bills are still in the early stages of the legislative process — if they make it to the Senate, they will follow a similar path in the State Assembly before landing on the governor’s desk — they will reach a critical point by entering the Senate. Credit Committee (chaired by Portantino) in May. The senators say the language of their bills is not set in stone, and talks with stakeholders are underway; Labor and management leaders are also currently in talks.

Portantino says he hopes labor and management “keep talking and the final product forms more of a common ground.” Cortese added, “We will consider any proposed changes consistent with the current intent of the bill.” If one or both bills go through, the governor may receive legislation for consideration in August or September.

But these bills, property owner Karl Weschta, a member of the nonprofit American Entertainment Armories Association, hopes they will lead to greater standardization of practices across the country. “California usually starts with this kind of thing, and then others will look at the way California does things, and possibly [this could] be better for everyone,” he says. While legislation aimed at tackling movie set safety training was indefinitely delayed in New Mexico earlier this year, a bill sponsored by New York State Sen. finds. Kevin Thomas, which bans live ammunition at movie production facilities and requires firearms training, is making his way through New Mexico York Senate committees.

Frommer says he wouldn’t be “surprised” if the two California bills… Rust tragedy were merged into one in the near future. “When you get two bills on the floor, you let members choose between two really strong voters in the legislature – organized labor and the movie [industry]† He believes the end result will likely be “something both parties may not like, but can live with.”

A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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