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Veteran prop master explains warning signs that led him to turn down ‘Rust’ job

Before the deadly incident, several crew members walked off the set over safety concerns, including multiple previous misfires of the prop gun, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.
/ Source: TODAY

A veteran prop master said he turned down a job on the Alec Baldwin film "Rust" over warning signs on a production where cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed last week by a prop gun fired by Baldwin.

"I turned the job opportunity down on 'Rust' because I felt it was completely unsafe," Neal Zoromski told NBC News' Miguel Almaguer on TODAY Tuesday.

Zoromski indicated that one potential issue that stood out to him was that producers combined the positions of assistant prop master and armorer into one job on the film.

"I impressed upon them that there were great concerns about that, and they didn’t really respond to my concerns about that," Zoromski said.

Hutchins, 42, was hit in the chest on Oct. 21 by a shot from the prop gun and later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, according to authorities. Director Joel Souza was also wounded by the prop gun.

The tragic incident came after some crew members walked off the set of "Rust" citing safety concerns, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News, including multiple prop-gun misfires.

Rust Movies Productions said in a statement to NBC News that it is cooperating with authorities and conducting an internal review of procedures. The company was "not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set," according to a spokesperson.  

Baldwin was given the gun by assistant director Dave Halls, who grabbed one of three prop guns set up by the armorer off a cart left outside the structure due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to a search warrant affidavit by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.

Halls, who was fired in 2019 by another film production, according to a producer on that film, after a gun went off unexpectedly and injured a member of the sound crew, has not spoken publicly about the tragedy. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on the film, has also not spoken out nor responded to requests for comment by NBC News.

Authorities have not announced what type of round killed Hutchins, but industry experts say that only the armorer or the prop master should be handling weapons on the set, not the assistant director.

"I’ll be honest with you, that AD (assistant director) would have broken fingers if they picked up a gun off my cart," armorer Clay Van Sickle, who did not work on the film, told Almaguer on TODAY. "That does not happen."

Van Sickle then showed the clear difference between blank and dummy rounds that can be spotted with a routine check.

"I would click through, six times, for everybody to hear — nothing happens," Van Sickle said. "It’s literally that simple, and it takes seconds, and there’s no reason not to do it."

It is not known what the routine check on set of "Rust" entailed, nor if crew members had one in place.

Production on "Rust" is now paused indefinitely as the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office works to determine what caused the fatal accident.