Alec Baldwin sits down with police for interview following Rust shooting

Veteran Armorer Explains Why He Turned Down 'Rust' Job

Home / News / Veteran Armorer Explains Why He Turned Down 'Rust' Job

By Kristin Myers on July 9, 2024 at 2:15 PM EDT

One veteran armorer in Hollywood is speaking out about his experience with "Rust" producers, even though he ultimately didn't take the job.

Neal W. Zoromski is speaking out days before the involuntary manslaughter trial for Alec Baldwin is scheduled to begin.

Earlier this year, armor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was sentenced to the state maximum of 18 months behind bars after a jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in less than three hours.

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Veteran Armorer Speaks Out On 'Red Flags' On 'Rust' Set

Police release photos from the set of Rust after fatal shooting
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Neal Zoromski has over three decades of experience working in the entertainment industry as an armorer. In an interview with NewsNation, he said that although he was initially interested in the project, he began to notice some "red flags" that ultimately led him to turn down the role.

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

When he first got the call about working on the film, producers pitched it as “A very taut, suspense-filled story with the backdrop of New Mexico sun sunsets." He went on to say, "And I thought to myself, I could already see the movie forming in my mind."

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Although he thought the plot of the movie had potential, he began to grow concerned after several meetings with "Rust" producers.

“We’re talking in late September, definitely the second week of September, and they were talking about an October 6th start,” Zoromski said. “So there was virtually no time.”

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Zoromoski Had Concerns About The Movie's Tight Timeline

Police in the US have released video footage from the set of the film Rust, including of the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin. Halyna Hutchins, 42, was shot by Mr Baldwin while he rehearsed with what he believed to be a safe gun. Footage, which has no audio, released shows Baldwin dressed as a cowboy rehearsing with a gun ahead of the deadly shooting. He can be seen in stills from that video posing with the gun, and with ammo / ammunition on his costume in a scene set in a church. A clapper board with Ms Hutchins' name on it can also be seen. It's not known if the gun he is holding is the one that fired the deadly bullets. The actor, who was also a producer on the film, previously said he did not pull the trigger and had no idea how a live bullet came to be on the set near Santa Fe in the US state of New Mexico. The Santa Fe County sheriff’s office released a trove of documents released to the investigation this week. 26 Apr 2022 Pictured: Alec Baldwin seen in stills from video footage of Rust rehearsals released by investigators in the US. Photo credit: Santa Fe County Sheriff/MEGA TheMegaAgency.com +1 888 505 6342 (Mega Agency TagID: MEGA851467_005.jpg) [Photo via Mega Agency]
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The Western film had many shooting scenes, and with the tight schedule, Zoromski would only be given ten days to prepare. He noted that a typical film with that many gun scenes would require at least five weeks of preparation.

“So I felt that they were being extremely loose and rather cavalier with cementing this position on the crew,” he said.

Zoromski explained that he voiced his concerns to "Rust" producers and requested five trained gunsmiths and armorers in order to try to finish the preparation on time. Although producers initially agreed to his request, they quickly changed their minds.

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“They had made the decision to reduce my staff to three, and they let me know that, you know, please be aware that this is a low-budget, ambitious production,” he said, noting that he was ready to leave for the airport when the email came in. “At that point, I felt that our entire negotiation fell apart due to bad faith. The clothes were in the suitcase. This is how close I came.”

Even though his clothes were already in the suitcase, he decided to turn down the role and warn his team what they were walking into.

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“And the only thing I would do in closing is just suggest that you not deter from what I have delineated here on how to do this job safely, how to do it right, and how to staff it properly,” he said. “I didn’t want them to have a calamity. I didn’t want loss of life. I didn’t want someone to die.”

Veteran Armorer 'Couldn't Believe' The News Halyna Hutchins Was Shot

Rust movie shooting victim Halyna Hutchins mother, Olga traveled from Ukraine to Hollywood to lay flowers on her daughter’s grave on the 2nd anniversary of her death
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A few weeks after he turned down the job, Zoromski was watching the news when he heard that Halyna Hutchins had been shot on the set of "Rust" while Baldwin had been the one holding the gun while rehearsing a scene inside a church.

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

He said he knew armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the 27-year-old daughter of veteran armorer Thell Reed. She had only worked on one movie set before she was hired to work on the "Rust" film set. “She was over her head from the moment she took the job,” Zoromski said.

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During her trial, photos and videos showed crew members walking around with firearms and pointing them inappropriately. Photos of her ammo cart were also shown, with ammunition strewn about.

“Yes, if the cart looked like the cart that I saw in these photographs and images from the set, there would be a release of duty for the technicians who were managing that,” he said. “It screams inexperience. It screams, ‘I don’t care.’ It screams, ‘I’m not very good at this job.’ It screams accident waiting to happen. So I would never in a million years have a young person who was unseasoned, unskilled and [had] bare minimum credentials wrangle weapons on a major film for with a major star.”

Zoromski Believes That Alec Baldwin Pulled The Trigger

Alec Baldwin poses with gun and ammo in newly released Rust rehearsal video
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In a December 2021 interview with ABC News in the weeks following the shooting, Alec Baldwin insisted that he did not pull the trigger on the "Rust" set. However, Zoromski does not believe him.

“I believe that he did. He did pull the trigger because it’s a revolver. And in order for that bullet to come down and be struck by the firing pin, you have to pull the trigger,” he explained.

He also questioned why Baldwin was handed the gun by first assistant director Dave Halls and not by Hannah Gutierrez-Reed herself.

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Zoromski Says Alec Baldwin Should Have Refused To Accept The Gun

Alec Baldwin questioned by police after fatal Rust shooting
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“If Mr. Baldwin is a seasoned actor, he should have refused that from anyone other than the armorer,” Zoromski said, claiming that an experienced armorer could have prevented the tragedy.

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

If convicted, Alec Baldwin could face up to 18 months behind bars and approximately $5,000 in fines. Jury selection began on Tuesday, July 9.

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