The Memo: A look at the state of on-set safety in the filmmaking industry

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A look at the state of on-set safety in the filmmaking industry

Tyler Rigby – 11 December 2023

Now that the longest labour strike in Hollywood history is at an end, we can all celebrate our favorite film and TV shows resuming filming. But, not so fast, as there are those within the industry who believe now is the perfect time to address one consistent issue that’s plagued the artform for long enough: on-set safety. One such voice is Britain’s own Rory Kinnear, who lost his father after he died on-set following a fall from a horse during filming. Kinnear was just 10 years old at the time. In the wake of such tragedies as Halyna Hutchins’ fatal accidental shooting on the set of Rust in 2021, industry professionals are wondering why safety restrictions are not stricter and more rigid, especially as filmmaking becomes more complicated.

Without re-litigating the complex case of Hutchins’ death, you might consider the fact that basic film and TV sets have become more dangerous with increased demand for spectacle, as more rigging and production work are required to meet the demand. Here in the UK, HBO’s House of the Dragon may very well be full of CGI beasts, but the stunt work is also excessive, and its parent show Game of Thrones had a history of (admittedly minor) injuries to cast and crew due to technical battles and the like.

So, what can be done to ensure the safety of a cast and crew who are simply trying to do their jobs? Well, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) – the government agency responsible for health and safety regulation - has published guidance on the matter. Yet a quick glance will quickly show some specific gaps where problems could well arise. The responsibility of a secure set is primarily in the hands of the producer and the production company, but they are also within their rights to delegate safety checks to other departments or those that are deemed to be competent individuals. This, it is argued, creates the potential for a lot of running around and lacks a uniformed approach that can be applied to all sets. Add that to the fact that a great number of employees that work in the industry are themselves freelancers, which provides an extra wrinkle to their own responsibilities and liabilities.

In order for the guidance to change, there has to be a change in law and as it stands the HSE can only investigate if an incident has been reported directly to them. While on-set tragedies continue to occur decades after the loss of Roy Kinnear, it’s no wonder those in the industry are demanding change.


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