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Unions and Studios Nearing Deal Regarding Language in California Set Safety Bill Sparked By Rust Tragedy

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The Motion Picture Association and a coalition of Hollywood unions are nearing a deal regarding the language in SB 735, which is otherwise known as a set safety bill that would govern film and television productions in the state of California. The bill was proposed in the wake of the terrible tragedy that cost Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins her life on the New Mexico set of Rust.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, which broke the news, the current, edited version of the bill, authored by State Senator Dave Cortese, dictates that firearms would only be allowed on film and television sets in specific circumstances and that any crew member tasked with overseeing the use of firearms on set — an armorer, property master, or assistant property master — would be required to have state and federal permits and to have undergone safety training as well. Meanwhile, employers would have to make sure that cast and crew members who handle or are near firearms also undergo specific safety training.

Productions would also be required to hold daily safety meetings and task an “independent evaluator” with writing up a final safety report for the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, which oversees the industry’s safety bulletins.

Additionally, ammunition would be banned on sets except in “prescribed circumstances, subject to certain safety rules and laws,” which is a reference to California’s preexisting safety bulletins for the on-set use of ammunition and firearms. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is responsible for enforcing these safety rules and has the ability to “investigate, inspect, and cite employers, as prescribed.”

Dave Cortese
State Senator Dave Cortese image courtesy of the state of California

This language was carefully negotiated and is now acceptable to both parties. If SB 735 is signed into law, the five-year pilot program would take effect on July 1, 2025, and before the program expires, the California Film Commission and the IWLMSC would make recommendations to the California legislature regarding whether the state should adopt the safety measures permanently.

Both the DGA and the California IATSE Council have signed on as sponsors of the bill, and though there is no guarantee that the bill would be signed into law even after the unions and studios came to an agreement, it would stand a good chance of making its way to the governor, whose office has been monitoring the bill’s progress and seems supportive of its efforts.

However, a pair of bills failed to get past the Senate Appropriations Committee last year, as Cortese’s initial bill was supported by Hollywood’s unions but opposed by the MPA, which backed a rival bill introduced by state Sen. Anthony Portantino. Though Portantino gave up, Cortese did not, and the same day that New Mexico prosecutors announced charges in Hutchins’ death, he announced his plan to revive the set safety bill.

A big difference between Cortese’s initial bill and his revised one is the idea of a pilot program for safety advisors on set, as the studios were reluctant to make that a permanent position. The safety advisor will be an independent staffer whose sole responsibility would be safety, from performing a “risk assessment” of the script prior to production to being present during production to let workers know that someone is looking out for them. All projects that participate in California’s Film and TV Tax Credit Program would be required to have safety advisors on set.

The adjusted version of SB 735 will be heard in the California Senate on April 19, and if the state’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee approves the bill then it will make its way back to the Appropriations Committee.

May the odds be ever in its favor, as no one should ever lose their life during the making of a movie.

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