The team behind “Rust” chose not to get an insurance package often carried by productions, which some in Hollywood said was a sign of cutting corners.
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Brooks Barnes and
LOS ANGELES — Independent film productions that cost more than a few million dollars often carry two forms of insurance in case something goes wrong. Forgoing full coverage, Hollywood veterans say, is less a sign of optimism than corner cutting.
Alec Baldwin’s now-infamous “Rust” had only one.
Chubb, the insurance giant, sold Mr. Baldwin and his five fellow “Rust” producers a package covering a wide range of potential problems, including damage to equipment (a cracked camera lens), injury to cast and crew (a broken wrist after a fall) and the worst-case situation of a death on the set. What the “Rust” producers did not secure is a completion bond — an often-expensive package that serves as a type of umbrella policy should anything horrific happen and the production can’t be completed. Such a policy costs about 2 percent of a film’s budget.
“Producers who don’t want to bond are only doing so to save money,” said Randy Greenberg, a producer, film finance consultant and former studio executive. “And it’s the last place where you want to save money.”
The producing team declined to comment for this article, although a spokeswoman confirmed the insurance details. Last week, the producers said in a statement that they were “fully cooperating with all investigations and inquiries.”
The authorities in New Mexico, where “Rust” was filming last week, are still trying to figure out what went wrong. On Wednesday, the Santa Fe County district attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies, said at a news conference that criminal charges were still possible, including charges against Mr. Baldwin, who fired a gun being used as a prop, killing the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding its director, Joel Souza. Mr. Baldwin, who is also a producer, was told the gun was “cold,” meaning that is contained no live ammunition, according to an affidavit.
“It will take many more facts, corroborated facts, before we can get to that criminal negligent standard,” Ms. Carmack-Altwies said, adding in later interviews that civil lawsuits would inevitably arise.
But a look at the constellation of production companies behind “Rust” is helpful in answering one of the many questions: How did Mr. Baldwin — an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor who has worked with A-list directors like Martin Scorsese and has 40 years of experience in productions big and small — end up on a set with a lethal gun in his hand?
Mr. Baldwin may have a reputation of flying off the handle in his personal life, as when he blasted New York City on Twitter as “a mismanaged carnival of stupidity.” But he is not known for working on productions that could be described the same way.
“Rust” was conceived by Mr. Baldwin, 63, and its writer-director, Mr. Souza, 48, who previously collaborated on “Crown Vic,” a low-budget crime film about the hunt for two cop killers. (It cost $3.6 million to make and sold $3,868 in tickets at a handful of theaters in 2019 before arriving on streaming sites like Hulu.) Announced in May 2020, “Rust” would follow an Old West outlaw, Harland Rust, who goes on the run with his grandson, a teenager convicted of an accidental murder and sentenced to hang.
While known almost exclusively as an actor, Mr. Baldwin has dabbled in producing since at least 1994. His company is called El Dorado Pictures, and its credits include seven films, none particularly notable. There was “Seduced and Abandoned,” a 2013 documentary for HBO that chronicled efforts by Mr. Baldwin and an associate, the director James Toback, to secure financing for a film. (Mr. Toback was later accused of sexual harassment by 38 women, accusations he denied.) El Dorado’s biggest hit came in 2001, when it was involved with the David Mamet satire “State and Main,” which collected $9.2 million, or about $14 million in today’s dollars. El Dorado also produces television and, until July, had a first-look deal with ABC Studios.
To pay for “Rust,” which was expected to cost about $6.5 million to make, Mr. Baldwin and the various producers who joined him on the project began pulling the usual levers available to independent filmmakers: tapping wealthy outsiders with an interest in cinema, securing a loan from a film-financing company, preselling distribution rights. (Whether Mr. Baldwin directly took this path or wound up on it after shopping it unsuccessfully to a major studio or streaming service is not known.)
Some money came from Streamline Global, a film investment company run by Emily Hunter Salveson, the granddaughter of Melvin Salveson, who invented and patented the credit card. Founded in 2015 and based in Las Vegas, Streamline helps wealthy clients obtain tax breaks by investing in certain types of movies, according to its website.
Another pool of money came from BondIt Media Capital, which is backed by Revere Capital, a Texas hedge fund. BondIt provided debt financing for “Rust” based in part on tax credits: New Mexico offers a rebate ranging from 25 percent to 35 percent of in-state film production costs. Founded in 2013 and based in Santa Monica, Calif., BondIt specializes in ultralow-budget films (“The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre”) that never make it to theaters and feed the home-entertainment pipeline.
Additional “Rust” funding came from the sale of the film’s North American distribution rights, which was orchestrated by Creative Artists Agency. C.A.A. sold them to an offshoot of the Highland Film Group. Highland, known for its foreign film sales business, recently gained attention for handling “Me You Madness,” a campy thriller starring Louise Linton, the wife of Steven Mnuchin, the former Treasury secretary, and “The Reckoning,” a disastrously reviewed horror film starring Charlotte Kirk.
As investigators in New Mexico piece together what happened on the “Rust” set, the producers of the film are coming under increased scrutiny. On an independent film in particular, the producers are ultimately responsible for what happens on a set; for all intents and purposes, they are the employers. “The buck is supposed to stop with them,” said Mark Stolaroff, a producer, independent filmmaking instructor and former production company executive. “As a producer, you are responsible for vetting the safety protocols, not just on the day, but also in the planning.”
Mr. Stolaroff added that he was “shocked” that “Rust” had no completion bond.
The “Rust” producers are a rather motley band — a “ragtag group,” as The Hollywood Reporter called them this week. Five of the six were physically on the New Mexico set on the day of the shooting, according to the spokeswoman for the producing team. They were not, however, in the immediate area where Mr. Baldwin was rehearsing when he fired the gun.
In addition to Mr. Baldwin, the producers who were present include Ryan Donnell Smith, who is also president of Streamline Global and an owner of Thomasville Pictures, a Georgia production company. Mr. Smith has multiple executive producer credits, which indicate financial involvement, including one for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” But “Rust” was only his second scripted feature as a full producer, according to IMDb Pro, an entertainment industry database.
Two more producers, Nathan Klingher and Ryan Winterstern, who have a company called Short Porch Pictures, have no previous credits as full producers. Both of them also hold jobs at Highland Film Group. (Mr. Winterstern’s father is Henry Winterstern, an investor, producer and corporate turnaround artist whose credits include the unsuccessful 2018 Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Escape Plan 2: Hades.”)
The fifth producer on the set was Anjul Nigam, who helped Mr. Baldwin produce “Crown Vic.” Mr. Nigam has spent his career primarily as an actor, appearing intermittently as Dr. Raj on “Grey’s Anatomy” from 2005 to 2017.
Rounding out the producing team: Matt DelPiano, who was previously Mr. Baldwin’s agent at Creative Artists Agency. Mr. DelPiano left C.A.A. in 2019 to become a partner at Cavalry Media. Cavalry was founded a year earlier by Keegan Rosenberger, notable in Hollywood for serving as a senior finance executive at Relativity, which collapsed in 2015 in epic fashion; and by Dana Brunetti, a fast-lane Hollywood character who has Oscar nominations for producing “The Social Network” and “Captain Phillips” and who once had a production shingle with Kevin Spacey.
According to the “Rust” call sheet, Gabrielle Pickle was directly managing the set on the day that Mr. Baldwin fired the gun. Ms. Pickle is a line producer, which is a subordinate role but an important one. Line producers are usually involved in hiring and vetting key members of the crew. Ms. Pickle works for a Georgia production services company called 3rd Shift Media. The company could not be reached for comment.