A veteran prop master turned down the opportunity to work on the movie “Rust” when he found “massive red flags” ahead of filming.
Neal W. Zoromski, who has worked on shows like “Grace and Frankie,” “Scandal” and “Criminal Minds,” as well as films like “The Day After Tomorrow,” told the Los Angeles Times that he was excited to begin work on “Rust,” a western-genre film starring Alec Baldwin.
These days, the film is famous for an accidental on-set shooting that occurred when Baldwin, who was rehearsing a scene, discharged a firearm he was told contained no ammunition. The projectile struck cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, ultimately killing her, and director Joel Souza, who has since been released from the hospital.
Once Zoromski started informally working with film managers, he said he got a “bad feeling.”
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“There were massive red flags,” he admitted.
Zoromski said he felt that “Rust” was being put together too hurriedly, allegedly with a massive focus being put on saving money over the safety of those involved. Furthermore, production managers seemed to brush off his questions and didn’t seem to value experience, he further claimed.
Such “red flags” led to Zoromski telling production managers that he’d take a pass on working on “Rust.”
“After I pressed ‘send’ on that last email, I felt, in the pit of my stomach: ‘That is an accident waiting to happen,'” he recalled.
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Now, in the days following the incident, Zoromski feels that had he accepted the job, perhaps things would have played out differently.
“I take my job incredibly seriously,” he told the outlet. “As the prop master, you have to be concerned about safety. I’m the guy who hands the guns to the people on set.”
The prop master expanded on his reasons for turning away from the production, explaining that he felt production managers were being “evasive” when he asked about the terms of his employment.
The budget for “Rust” is estimated to be at about $7 million, which Zoromski felt was too small for the type of film producers were trying to make, and he couldn’t seem to get an answer on the budget for his “kit” – and industry term for his collection of props for the production.
Additionally, he was alarmed by the fact that production manager Row Walters contacted him only two weeks before “Rust” was set to begin filming, Zoromski alleged.
He received word about the potential job at 9 p.m. on Sept. 20, while filming began on Oct. 6. Hiring a prop master is often done much farther in advance.
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“In the movies, the prep is everything,” he said. “…You also need time to clean, inspect and repair guns. You need time to fix old clocks. In period films, you are sometimes using antiques. But here, there was absolutely no time to prepare, and that gave me a bad feeling.”
When Zoromski requested a department of five technicians to help with his prop duties, he was told that the low-budget film planned to use items from a local prop house. He then requested that his team be reduced to two – an assistant prop master and an armorer or gun wrangler, who would be in charge of overseeing the weapons’ safety and care.
However, Zoromski claims he was told that one person could fill both positions.
“You never have a prop assistant double as the armorer,” he told the Times. “Those are two really big jobs.”
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When told via email by Walters that they wanted one person to fill both positions, Zoromski replied: “Unfortunately, I have to pass on this opportunity. I am grateful for your interest and wish nothing but the very best for you, your crew and the show.”
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It is currently unclear who was chosen to serve as prop master for “Rust,” but Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is credited as the film’s armorer. Questions of her experience level have arisen since the shooting.
Zoromski and a rep for “Rust” did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment. Walters could not be reached.