LOS ANGELES — Neal W. Zoromski has spent three decades in Hollywood, working on movies big and small, but never on a western. So he was thrilled last month when he was asked to join the crew of an Alec Baldwin film in New Mexico.
The veteran prop master immediately told "Rust" production managers that he was interested in the job that would give him responsibility for the accoutrements of the Old West. Pistols, rifles, wagons, saddles and flour sacks were needed to re-create 1880s Kansas for Baldwin, who was playing a grizzled outlaw named Harland Rust.
But during four days of informal discussions with film managers, Zoromski said he got a "bad feeling."
"There were massive red flags," he said in an interview Sunday with the Los Angeles Times.
He said he felt that "Rust" was too much of a slapdash production, one with an overriding focus on saving money instead of a concern for people's safety. Production managers didn't seem to value experience and were brushing off his questions, he said.
Zoromski ultimately told "Rust" production managers that he would take a pass.
"After I pressed 'send' on that last email, I felt, in the pit of my stomach: 'That is an accident waiting to happen,'" he said.
Last Thursday, Baldwin fatally shot 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the chest with a prop gun while rehearsing a gunfight scene inside a wooden church at the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Baldwin, who also is an executive producer on the film, was practicing removing his revolver from its holster and aiming it toward the camera. "Rust" director Joel Souza, who also was injured, told a Santa Fe County Sheriff's detective that he heard "what sounded like a whip and then a loud pop."
Hutchins, a rising star in the industry, crumpled over, and fellow crew members struggled to treat her wound. She was later airlifted about 50 miles away to an Albuquerque hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She left behind a husband and 9-year-old son.