Film industry workers react to ‘Rust’ charges, impact on other New Mexico productions

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After the announcement Thursday of charges that will be filed in the tragedy on the set of the movie “Rust” near Santa Fe last year, KOB 4 spoke with film industry workers who have experience on set about the incident’s impact on set safety.

Lara Dale is a New Mexico native who started in the film industry in the 1980s. She sees the charges, and the chance for accountability, as positive change – a culture shift.

“I actually got teary-eyed,” Dale said of the moment when she saw the news. “It’s historic. It’s industry-changing.”

Dale is now an activist pushing for film set safety.

“You have no idea how emotional this is for a survivor like me to hear that the state is leaning in this much,” she said. “That had not been my experience with my career. I had been brutalized on a film set, sexually harassed in a remote location.”

She believes any progress will need to extend to all productions, saying it can take a while for what Hollywood is doing to reach every low-budget, remote film set in New Mexico. She thinks more workers on set should feel comfortable speaking up about problems.

“That no one would ever question reporting and calling it in and doing something about it,” Dale said. “Just stop these things before they happen, stop them before they get to a ‘Rust’ set.”

Dale wants to see New Mexico add required training in order for productions to be able to shoot certain types of scenes, like more detailed gun training for scenes with guns.

She’s focused on sensitivity, wanting to make sure everyone on set is comfortable with what’s happening, and working to prevent sexual harassment, especially in remote locations.

Her efforts are centered on the Safe Sets® Initiative.

There were also reactions to the negative impact of the “Rust” tragedy, as some industry workers said the incident was a black eye for New Mexico.

Gary Choi is a stunt coordinator in New Mexico and other states and manager with the Rising Star Stunt Team, working with prop guns.

“I feel that New Mexico got a lot of blame where it shouldn’t,” Choi said. “You go to a restaurant. You have one bad meal now you associate that restaurant with that one bad meal.”

He said since then there has been a loss of trust among people working on set.

He also gave details about situations on other sets during the time “Rust” was filming where people were bringing in guns when they shouldn’t have been – some with live rounds.

“We had to pull them aside and talk to them and say, “Hey, you can’t be doing this. You can’t do this.’” Choi said.

He said there has been a lot of positive change since then, including more scrutiny over safety. He listed examples like making sure each worker is qualified and pushing back on independent filmmakers trying to cut corners.

There’s also the thought state lawmakers should get involved and pass measures to enforce set safety.

KOB 4 Public Safety Expert Paul Szych, a retired Albuquerque Police Department commander, has worked as an actor on movie sets, including firing weapons during scenes.

“I do see that there is need for possible legislative follow up that would actually create strict mandates at the legislative level controlling situations like this and deterring situations like this from ever happening again,” Szych said. “Specifically when something’s allowed to be called a prop gun. When something is actually a deadly weapon, and what things need to be in place to ensure this never happens again.”

KOB 4 reached out to the New Mexico Film Office today, wanting to ask whether film industry workers facing criminal charges may deter companies from bringing productions to the state. A representative said no one was available for an interview.