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Fatal Prop Gun Shooting Shows Why Hollywood Crews Are Fighting for Better Working Conditions

Stacy Johnson

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Fatal Prop Gun Shooting Shows Why Hollywood Crews Are Fighting for Better Working Conditions



While injuries or death from prop firearms are extremely rare, the accidental killing of Halyna Hutchins on a movie set has sparked inquiries about working conditions for Hollywood crew members. The death comes as a major crew union is working to finalize a new three-year contract with Hollywood’s producers that ensures better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits. The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation. No charges have been filed.

While injuries or death from prop firearms are extremely rare, the accidental killing of Halyna Hutchins on a Sante Fe movie set Thursday has sparked inquiries about working conditions for Hollywood crew members.

“I’ve been in the industry 21 years,” said Kevin Williams, the prop department supervisor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “I have not heard of any circumstances like this. So, this is definitely one of these things, and it sounds like a cliche to say, but it really sounds like a freak accident.”

The circumstances of the shooting are under investigation. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office confirmed that actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of “Rust,” a Western being filmed at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, killing the film’s director of photography and injuring its director, Joel Souza.

Souza has since been discharged from the hospital. No charges have been filed. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

While it’s unclear at this point what exactly transpired Thursday, many in the industry have begun to inquire about working conditions on set. These queries come as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees works to finalize a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that addresses the union’s calls for better working hours, safer workplace conditions and improved benefits.

“There have been times that I have been on projects for 18 to 20 hours and then been asked to return in six,” Williams said.

Crew protested working conditions

The IATSE issued a statement Friday addressing Hutchins’ death and encouraging its members to contact the union’s safety hotline if they feel unsafe on set.

“Our entire alliance mourns this unspeakable loss with Halyna’s family, friends, and the ‘Rust’ crew,” the statement read. “Creating a culture of safety requires relentless vigilance from every one of us, day in and day out. Please, if you see something, say something.”

The union declined to comment further.

A person familiar with the matter told NBC News that half a dozen camera crew workers walked off the “Rust” set in protest of working conditions just hours before the shooting took place. Among their concerns were multiple misfires of the prop gun.

Earlier Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing three unnamed people involved with the production, that the crew was frustrated with the production’s long hours. It also alleged that there were two previous prop gun misfires on set, one the previous week and one on Saturday.

​”The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement provided to CNBC. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down.”

Rust Productions is cooperating with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.

A ‘potential failure in the system’

Hollywood productions typically adhere to strict safety measures for stunt work, particularly when it comes to weapon and prop safety. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee has written and distributed safety bulletins on best practices for television and movie productions.

“Blanks can kill,” the first bulletin reads. “Treat all firearms as though they are loaded. ‘Live ammunition’ is never to be used nor brought onto any studio lot or stage.”

These guidelines are recommendations and may not apply to reality shows such as “Mythbusters” or “Top Shot” where live rounds are used to test scientific theories or for marksmanship competition.

“I can say unequivocally that a blank round versus a live round is really easy to identify in the hands of an experienced armorer or prop master,” Williams said. “I can’t imagine anybody would say ‘whoops’ and just put that in there.”

He also noted that safety demonstrations are done with all cast and crew involved in firearm stunts who are instructed that prop weapons should never be pointed at another actor or crew member. In cases where a director wants to film a weapon being pointed at the camera and discharged, ballistic shields are used, he said.

“There are a lot of safety measures put in place,” he said. “If it turns out that a live round was loaded into a vintage weapon and it turns out that that is how this happened, then we need to figure out why.”

That’s a “potential failure in the system,” Williams said.

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Movie Ticket Sales Have Topped 2020’s Paltry Box Office, But Still Trail 2019’s Haul by 70%

Stacy Johnson

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Movie Ticket Sales Have Topped 2020's Paltry Box Office, But Still Trail 2019's Haul by 70%



Ticket sales in 2021 have already outpaced 2020’s paltry box office. But sales still lag nearly 70% behind 2019’s $11.4 billion haul. Box office receipts have steadily improved throughout the year, as new films have become available on the big screen and audiences have grown more comfortable venturing out of their homes. These trends suggest that as the threat of the coronavirus dissipates and major blockbuster titles continue to enter the market, the box office will return to more normal levels.

With just two months before the end of the year, the coronavirus pandemic continues to loom large over the film industry.

Ticket sales in 2021 have already outpaced 2020’s paltry box office. But sales still lag nearly 70% behind 2019’s $11.4 billion haul. As of Sunday, the domestic box office has tallied $2.84 billion in ticket sales, according to data from Comscore. 

Box office receipts have steadily improved throughout the year, as new films have become available on the big screen and audiences have grown more comfortable venturing out of their homes. Exclusive theatrical releases like Disney’s “Free Guy,” Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” have proven that there is a future for movie theaters, even if overall attendance and ticket sales are smaller than pre-pandemic times.

These films had strong opening weekends. The “Venom” sequel, which debuted the first weekend in October, currently holds the record for the best opening during the health crisis, with around $90 million in ticket sales. Even better, these titles continued to lure in moviegoers in the weeks after their debuts.

This pattern suggests that as the threat of the coronavirus dissipates and major blockbuster titles continue to enter the market, the box office will return to more normal levels.

“To say the box office has turned a corner would be an understatement at this point,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.

With two weeks of sales yet to bake in, the October box office is the second-highest grossing month of the year. Theaters have already tallied $415.6 million in ticket sales in the first half of the month, putting it behind July, which garnered $583.8 million in sales, according to Comscore. July featured the release of “Black Widow” as well as continued ticket sales of “F9,” which debuted the last week of June.

“The industry is still working to overcome certain obstacles, like caution among older audiences and the anticipation of vaccines for kids, but a large share of the moviegoing audience has returned in staggered waves over the course of the last six months,” Robbins said. He added, it’s a promising sign for theaters heading into the holiday season.

“October has been a rejuvenation period for Hollywood, something studios and exhibitors have been patiently waiting for,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “The outlook for fall has the industry headed in the right direction, as evident by the plethora of strong debuts.”

Prior to the pandemic, the fall movie season — which encompasses October, November and December — accounted for around 25% of ticket sales each year. In 2019, that 3-month period tallied nearly $3 billion.

Box office analysts do not expect the fall 2021 slate to match that, but they are confident that titles like Disney’s “Eternals” and “Encanto,” Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Resurrections,” and Sony and Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will be enticing enough to help the 2021 box office reach around $4 billion.

“Recovery has always been a multitiered process and, as strong as 2021 looks to finish, 2022 has the makings to take the box office rebound even higher,” Robbins said.

But Bock expects the first part of next year “will be a slog,” because there are few major releases as the year begins. However, the summer looks as “strong as ever,” he said, likening it to 2019’s blockbuster line-up. The summer slate includes new releases from major franchises like Marvel, DC, Jurassic World, Top Gun, Fantastic Beasts, Minions and Transformers.

Still, audiences have been less predictable during the pandemic, and the availability of some blockbuster features on streaming at the same time as in theaters has led to cannibalization of ticket sales.

“One of the most intriguing aspects of the theatrical restart during the pandemic has been the fact that young audiences are turning out in strong numbers and on a consistent basis,” Robbins said. “Before the pandemic, there had been various narratives about how young consumers were turning away from so-called traditional habits in lieu of the litany of content distribution platforms across social media and streaming.”

It seems older generations, many of which have kids that cannot be vaccinated, are now the ones that are less inclined to venture out to theaters. However, as vaccines become widely available to those under the age of 11, this could shift once again.

“Films with appeal to younger demographics have thrived while those aimed at more mature moviegoers have had a tougher time gaining traction,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore said. “At least for now.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “F9,” and “Halloween Kills” globally and distributed “No Time To Die” internationally.

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Veteran Actor, ‘Bosom Buddies’ Sitcom Star Peter Scolari Dies at 66

Stacy Johnson

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Veteran Actor, ‘Bosom Buddies' Sitcom Star Peter Scolari Dies at 66



Peter Scolari, who rose to fame alongside Tom Hanks in the offbeat sitcom “Bosom Buddies” and later appeared alongside Bob Newhart in “Newhart,” died Friday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 66.

His manager, Ellen Lubin Sanitsky, confirmed his death in a statement. 

Scolari won an Emmy for his work on “Girls,” portraying the father of series star Lena Dunham’s character. He was nominated three times for a supporting-actor Emmy for his work in “Newhart.”

The New York native most recently appeared in the series “Evil.”

He has an extensive list of credits, appearing in shows including “Happy Days,” “Hotel,” “Family Ties,” “The Love Boat,” “Empty Nest,” “The West Wing” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

He lent his voice to the animated Christmas film “The Polar Express,” which starred Hanks.

It was “Bosom Buddies” that made Scolari a star. He and Hanks starred as roommates who dressed as women so they could live in an affordable apartment in a building for women only.

Scolari was also an accomplished stage actor, appearing in Broadway shows including “Hairspray” and “Wicked.” He also appeared on stage with Hanks in “Lucky Guy” in 2013.

He is survived by his wife, Tracy Shayne, and children Nicholas, Keaton, Joseph and Cali.

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