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Alec Baldwin is credited as a producer on 'Rust.' What does that really mean?

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Being a film producer can mean different things to different people. And when a star like Alec Baldwin takes a producer credit on a film, it can signal a variety of levels of involvement in the project itself.

While a film producer performs many tasks through the life of a film — from its inception and development, financing and production, all the way to after its premiere and release — the specific duties that Baldwin may have taken on for the Western drama "Rust" have become a subject of increased scrutiny.

In addition to playing the lead role, Baldwin is also a producer on "Rust," the movie production that resulted in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when a gun in Baldwin's hand that was believed to be unloaded went off during a rehearsal.

Leading up to the incident, there had been unrest among the crew, with several union camera people walking off, only to be replaced by nonunion workers. An inexperienced armorer may not have properly handled and checked the fatal weapon prior to the scene, and there had already been incidents with guns in the days prior.

The production of "Rust" was a thicket of numerous production companies and multiple financiers, which isn't unusual for an independent production of its scale, but it leads to various people sharing the titles of executive producer or producer without much clarity to outside observers regarding just who is responsible for what.

From a copy of the day's call sheet obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the producers on the project besides Baldwin were Matt DelPiano — who is Baldwin's manager and a former CAA agent — Ryan Smith, Anjul Nigam, Nathan Klingher and Ryan Winterstern. The film also had four executive producers.

 

Sometimes the credit is simply a vanity title to boost an actor's sense of involvement in a project. Sometimes it is a way to defer upfront fees to a performer in favor of back-end payments. And sometimes an actor is so deeply involved with a project that the credit is a way to make official their added influence along the way.

Distinctions between an executive producer and a producer credit also come into play in determining awards eligibility and who among a producing team potentially gets to take home a statue. Only producers are eligible for Oscar nominations, not executive producers. Meanwhile, in television, executive producer is often the more "hands-on" credit, including for showrunners. All of which can dilute the true meaning of the title.

"This 'Rust' situation opens up the whole discussion about what a producer is and who the buck stops with really. Who is responsible for Halyna's death?" said Mynette Louie, Independent Spirit Award-winning producer of films such as "Swallow" and "I Carry You With Me." "When you have a bunch of executives and managers and actors and people who aren't really producers in a hands-on way, where you're seeing to the cast and crew and the safety and the liability of the production, then who does the buck stop with?"

"There generally is not a way to unravel it when you're sitting outside of that production," said Travis Knox, associate professor of producing at Chapman University, on who exactly is a lead producer on set. "You just don't know."

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