Experienced gunsmith rejects ‘Rust’ order due to ‘red flags’

(NewsNation) — A veteran gunsmith who turned down a job on Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” says there were red flags about the production that prompted him to back out even as he packed up to head to set.

Neal W. Zoromski is a 30-year veteran of the film industry. In an exclusive interview with NewsNation, he said he was initially intrigued by the project.

“I just wanted to make something really artistic and beautiful and resonant and unforgettable and something that would stay with people for a long time. And that was that project, but for all the wrong reasons,” he said.

Opportunity to work on the film “Rust”

When he got a call in 2021 offering him a job as a props man on the western Rust starring Alec Baldwin, Zoromski listened to the description of the project.

“A very tense, suspenseful story with the backdrop of New Mexico sunsets. And I thought, I can see a movie coming to life in my head,” he said.

However, after several days of meetings with the production team, my feelings began to change.

“We’re talking about the end of September, definitely the second week of September, and they were talking about starting on October 6,” Zoromski said. “So there was practically no time.”

The schedule called for him to be given ten days to prepare for a Western full of cinematic scenes, and according to Zoromski, such preparation usually takes at least five weeks.

“I therefore found them to be extremely negligent and rather reckless in terms of reinforcing that position among the staff,” he said.

Zoromski expresses concerns about ‘Rust’ plan, warns team

Zoromski said he expressed those concerns and asked for a team of five trained gunsmiths and armorers. He said the production team agreed, but just before leaving for the airport, he got an email.

“They made the decision to reduce my staff to three people and let me know, you know, please be aware that this is a low-budget, high-flying production,” he said. “At that point, I felt like our entire negotiation had fallen apart because of bad faith. The clothes were in the suitcase. That’s how close I was.”

Zoromski decided to reject the offer and in his response warned the team about the risk they were taking.

“And all I would do in closing is simply suggest that you don’t be diverted from what I’ve outlined here, how to do this job safely, how to do it well, and how to staff it properly,” he said. “I didn’t want them to have a disaster. I didn’t want them to lose their lives. I didn’t want anyone to die.”

A few weeks later, while working on another set, Zoromski heard the news. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins had died in an accident on the set of Rust, and Baldwin was holding the gun.

“And I literally couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. And I had to throw up in the honey wagon. And I stayed there for a while and I was really devastated,” Zoromski said.

He told NewsNation he knew gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was hired after he left the film.

The Trial of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed

Gutierrez-Reed is currently serving a prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter, for which she was convicted in March.

“From the moment she took the job, it was too much for her,” Zoromski said.

Prosecutors called Gutierrez-Reed’s behavior on the set “unprofessional and negligent,” saying she failed to thoroughly inspect the gun given to Baldwin to make sure it did not contain live ammunition.

Footage and photos released during her trial showed cast members walking around chaotically with firearms and Gutierrez-Reed’s disorganized ammunition cart. Zoromski said he would never tolerate the cart.

“Yes, if the cart looked like the cart I saw in those photos and the set photos, the technicians who were operating it would have been fired,” he said. “It screams inexperience. It screams, ‘I don’t care.’ It screams, ‘I’m not very good at this job.’ It screams an accident waiting to happen. So I would never in my life allow a young person who is inexperienced, unskilled and minimally qualified to fight with a gun in a big movie with a big star.”

Zoromoski on the Alec Baldwin trial

Baldwin, who also produced the film, will soon have his own day in court. He also faces a manslaughter charge that could result in a prison sentence.

He maintains his innocence and has publicly stated that he did not pull the trigger.

Zoromski said he found it hard to believe.

“I think so. He pulled the trigger because it’s a revolver. And for the bullet to fall and hit the firing pin, you have to pull the trigger,” he said.

He added that a red flag was the fact that Baldwin was given the gun by the film’s assistant director, not Gutierrez-Reed herself.

“If Mr. Baldwin is an experienced actor, he should refuse to accept this assignment from anyone other than a gunsmith,” Zoromski said.

As an actor and producer on the film, Zoromski said he believes Baldwin knew costs were being cut. He also believes the actor knew the reasons he turned down the job.

“He’s a producer. He’s an executive producer. He’s the star of the movie. So whether he was a laissez-faire producer or a non-interfering producer, he would have been informed of all of these personnel changes. And he would have most likely been informed that I didn’t take the job.”

Zoromoski said that an experienced gunsmith on the set could have prevented the tragedy.

“You know, a lot of people said, well, ‘Neal, if you had been there, you would have been thrown into the culture on set, and there’s no telling whether it would still have happened if you had been there,’” he said. “I can say unequivocally that it would never have happened if I had been on that set.”