US TV crew member voices concerns over safety

Man who worked on 2019 show with assistant director from Alec Baldwin film Rust called father to express fears over electrical hazards on set

A crew member hired for a 2019 TV show with the same assistant director who was working alongside Alec Baldwin when a cinematographer was killed last week was so concerned about danger on the earlier project that he called his father to voice fears that he or someone else could be killed on set.

The crew member worked on the 2019 set of Into the Dark: Culture Shock, an episode of a Hulu horror franchise for TV, and during filming in California he feared the weather was so bad for an overnight, outdoor shoot that people could be electrocuted by working with live cables through a thunderstorm, or have a car accident or other mishap – and yet production was not halted.

He left a voicemail for his father, preserved by the family and shared with the Guardian, on which he said: “If I die, I die, man, and safety was the reason why.”

Dave Halls was the first assistant director on that set, as well as last week during filming of the western Rust in New Mexico where Baldwin mistakenly discharged a gun killing the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. The first assistant director typically oversees activities on set, including safety.

However, while Halls has come in for criticism on Rust and Into the Dark, crew complained at the weekend not only about the work style of individual but about the wider issue of whether poor pay and conditions was cultivating an unhealthy on-set culture on low-budget Hollywood productions.

Halls has not responded to requests for comment.

On the set of Rust he announced that a prop gun was “cold”, meaning empty of ammunition, after selecting it from several placed nearby by a colleague, without knowing it was not safe before he handed it to Baldwin, according to an affidavit filed by the Santa Fe county sheriff’s department.

The crew member who spoke to the Guardian about the 2019 show is currently working on a big movie franchise. His identity, and that of his father, who has worked in Hollywood for decades, are known to the Guardian but have been withheld to protect them from potential employment retaliation.

Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, who worked alongside Halls and the young crewman in 2019, said she had filed an internal complaint with the executive producers on Into the Dark over concerns about Halls’ performance.

She also emphasised that “it’s in no way one person’s fault … it’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture”.

But she added that Halls had pressed to continue with filming, despite the storm and the crew’s worries about the dangers of electrical lights and wires exposed to rain, puddles or mud. “It’s still one of the most harrowing experiences I have ever had on set, and it happened to be with this shared person, the first assistant director, Dave Halls, that everything was happening, because of the kind of leadership we were under, or lack thereof,” Goll said.

She and a third crew member, who asked not to be named, confirmed they were aware of the voicemail being left by their co-worker, who is in his 20s, that day, 15 February 2019.

The voicemail said, in full: “Hey man, this is fucking wild. It’s been raining pretty hard here. I think it’s kind of letting up a little bit, but the fucking matches are soaked. It’s a mud pit. Trucks are having trouble moving. But we’re still fucking to go power through, somehow.

“Not that it’s fucking right but we’re gonna make it work. If uh, yeah, if I die, I die, man, and safety was the reason why. I just want you to have this message.” He added: “But I probably won’t, I don’t deal with any electricity directly.”

Goll said she remembered how distraught the man was when he called his father. “Why do we have to make those calls? We’re not in a war zone, we’re on a film set,” she said.

The third crew member on Into the Dark also remembered the night clearly and his safety concerns about filming in that weather. He said “crew were trying to get vehicles and equipment up a steep, slippery slope next to a pretty decent drop” in gathering darkness: “I remember the fear two years later” .

“It was really stormy and it was in hills and no real roads, it was just muddy, it was dirt path roads. Trucks were slipping and getting stuck, vans were getting stuck. You couldn’t really get up there,” he said.

The episode of Into the Dark, about a Mexican woman crossing the US border, was filmed at a ranch in Santa Clarita, just outside Los Angeles.

The third crew member continued: “You’re putting out lights. You’re running electrical cable through mud and puddles that are constantly changing and shifting because it’s not a parking lot. It’s just everywhere. We weren’t ready for that. There weren’t any protections for this. If there happened to be a short and you stepped into a puddle, you’re going away – you’re dead.”

He also said there were time-sensitive special effects the team was working on that felt rushed, threatening safety.

That crew member has worked on Hollywood films and TV shows in a number of roles in the past five years and has also often handled guns on set.

However he said he recalled that safety meetings with Halls that he attended on Into the Dark seemed rushed. “Safety meetings were like ‘we all know what our jobs are, let’s go’,” he said.

There were no recorded injuries from the filming sessions mentioned.

Blumhouse Productions, the company behind Into the Dark, said: “Dave Halls worked on two films for Blumhouse Television in 2019 and was not rehired after that time. Further, any complaints that were received by the studio regarding safety issues were dealt with promptly.”


Soo Youn in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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