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Alec Baldwin’s indictment proves Hollywood has a security problem

The news that actor Alec Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter following the tragic killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021 made it clear that Hollywood has a systemic security problem.

The Sante Fe District Attorney (DA) believes there is a reasonable chance of convicting Baldwin of a crime that involves criminal negligence or recklessness on an individual level. We must remember that Baldwin is indicted, not the production company or the film set supplier. That means, according to the DA, Baldwin’s personal actions (or omissions where there is a duty) may reach a higher level of negligence. That can only happen if there is a systemic security problem in Hollywood. And that culture needs to change, toward a culture where security, creativity, and commercialization not only coexist, but actively support and enable each other.

I am in my second decade working in Hollywood productions and am now pursuing my JD from Irvine College of Law. Sometimes I feel as if I live in two parallel worlds. Many lawyers are involved in film production, but most of them focus on money, not safety. Maximizing a client’s income or profitability can sometimes mean not making safety high on the list. But both should be top priority.

Hollywood productions are actually no different than any other business venture. The same risks and laws are in place – regarding worker compensation claims, litigation and the consequences of non-compliance. Although the risks are the same – and hence the need for “active risk management” – the culture is different.

“The Business” operates in its own universe where informal networks, referrals, relationships, and most importantly, reputation are paramount. The urge not to “rock the boat” is real.

The Motion Picture Association, the self-regulatory industry organization representing five major film studios (NBC, Paramount, Warner Bros, Walt Disney, and Sony), does not have a security section on its website. Maybe they should because there’s clearly a problem. Fatalities on set are rare but regular. Off-set the dangers are even greater and the studios and productions involved can still be held liable.

The best example of these broader dangers was Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of sexual abuse by 87 women. Self-regulation is obviously not working and the organizations involved are paying the price. Weinstein’s actions led to the collapse of his studio, The Weinstein Company.

Creativity and compliance cannot always easily coexist. Focusing on getting the perfect shot comes more naturally to producers and directors than going through a safety checklist. Hollywood trailblazers focused on art, not law.

Alec Baldwin poses at the opening night of the Broadway play ‘Hangmen’ at the Golden Theater on April 21, 2022 in New York City.
Bruce Glikas/WireImage/Getty Images

But in my experience, a culture of safety can allow creatives (and I consider myself both a creative and an aspiring lawyer) to let their passion run free.

This can also secure the future of the industry. Nobody in Hollywood wants another studio to file for bankruptcy because one of their managers let them drown in a lawsuit. Nobody wants productions to be delayed for years (rust has been on hold since October 2021; its budget is about $7 million, so the studio’s losses are likely in the seven figures).

Above all, no one wants professionals who devote their lives to the arts and entertaining people around the world to lose their lives or their mental or physical health because of their chosen profession.

All of this is completely preventable. To protect our beloved industry, safety must come first. If it doesn’t come first, we pay the price of delayed – or even canceled – productions. This happened during the COVID-19 outbreak due to a lack of consistent safety compliance procedures. The only option was to stop production for almost a year. That didn’t have to happen – with the right testing, isolation and distancing measures, the films could have continued as they are now.

Safety is about more than pandemics, sexual misconduct or gun misfires. It’s about a culture where the safety of people – whether they’re interns or A-listers – is just as important as getting a production done on time and on budget.

Regardless of what the Baldwin verdict turns out to be like in New Mexico, Hollywood remains guilty of not putting safety first. And that has to change.

Teresa Beardsley is CEO and Founder of Safety Compliance Services LLCwhich offers a range of COVID-19 safety and prevention services in the entertainment industry.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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