When assistant makeup and hairstylist Katelyn Bushong arrived on the set of the thriller “By Night’s End” in Smyrna, Georgia in March 2019, all she expected was a salary of $ 125 for 12 hours of work.
Bushong applied fake blood to the actors to make them appear beaten, and was reassured by a producer at 3rd Shift Media, a local production service company, that she would be paid after filming was completed.
But Bushong and two other crew members who worked on the low-budget film told The Times they were not paid for their services.
âI don’t think you’d want to go to your job and not get paid two years later,â said Bushong, 25, who lives in the Atlanta area.
While “By Night’s End” was a small project by Hollywood standards, it was a big deal for 3rd Shift Media, a company started in 2016 by Decatur, Ga.-Based producer Ryan Dennett-Smith, according to records. businessmen from Georgia.
The film was featured on a local news show about how the filmmakers wanted to create a more sustainable entertainment industry in Georgia by making local productions.
But recently Dennett-Smith’s company came under close scrutiny for its role in the production of the movie “Rust” in New Mexico, after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot by a gun. owned by actor and producer Alec Baldwin as he rehearsed a scene.
Dennett-Smith, managing director of 3rd Shift Media, was the production manager for the oversight unit on “Rust”. The film’s executive producer Gabrielle Pickle and unit production manager Katherine “Row” Walters also work for 3rd Shift Media, according to the company’s website.
While independent film producers may have a wide range of responsibilities, including funding, line producers and unit production managers oversee the day-to-day aspects of making a film. Producers hire production service companies to make sure projects arrive on time and on budget.
Interviews with “Rust” crew members and documents reviewed by The Times paint a picture of a troubled ensemble plagued by social tensions ahead of filming. Crew members said they raised concerns about issues such as gun safety, payment and accommodation.
“In my 10 years as an Assistant Camera, I’ve never worked on a show that cares so little about the safety of its crew,” wrote Camera A’s first assistant, Lane Luper, in an October 20 email to Walters the day before the shoot. filming.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Cackling’s death. Before the fatal shooting, Deputy Director David Halls shouted “stabbing” and told a sheriff’s detective he was unaware the gun contained live ammunition, according to affidavits filed by the sheriff’s office. One of the affidavits stated that Halls had taken a propeller pistol installed by the gunsmith on a cart and handed it to Baldwin, a claim which Halls’ attorney denied.
“Rust”, a western involving vintage sets and guns, was said to cost around $ 7 million to make and was to run over 21 days, an ambitious timeframe for a period piece, experts said. movie theater.
A 3rd Shift Media rep, Alex Dudley, declined to comment. Pickle, Dennett-Smith and Walters did not respond to requests for comment.
No one opened the door last week at the 3rd Shift Media office – a tiny brick ranch-style house in a run down area of ââDecatur. In the windows next to the front door were several yellow signs of film locations – “ACTD2”, “SUMMER 03” and HECK YEAH “- as well as a promotional poster for a local brewery:” Les week -ends are overrated! “
“The safety of our cast and crew is a top priority for Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions said in a statement the day after Hutchins’ death. “While we have not been made aware of any official complaints regarding the safety of weapons or accessories on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is down.”
Dennett-Smith had spent years working in Georgia’s disjointed independent filmmaking community. As Hollywood introduced more large-scale productions to the state to take advantage of lucrative movie tax credits, Dennett-Smith wanted to start a motion picture company from Georgia.
He and Pickle have both been involved in the local filmmaking community through nonprofit groups such as the Atlanta Film Society and the Georgia Production Partnership. In 2018, they helped run a campaign to have film workers and local registry offices registered to vote, in part to preserve the state’s production incentive program, according to interviews they did. with Atlanta’s CBS channel WGCL-TV.
“They came into this community before the productions attracted everyone,” said a producer who worked with Dennett-Smith who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “When I met them, they really wanted to produce quality content and were always very vocal about being safe and working hand in hand with the unions.”
Dennett-Smith began working in music after high school, but moved on to the film industry after several years. He has worked in both reality and unscripted TV shows including “Lone Star Law” and “North Woods Law” from Animal Planet. Last year, he was a production manager on the Netflix reality show “Love Is Blind”.
After launching 3rd Shift Media, Dennett-Smith described it in a local press interview as a âturnkeyâ commercial and independent film production company that would manage 20 to 40 projects per year.
“Our company was created to present a project to us and open the doors for us to succeed in the project,” he told ATL Travel in December 2019.
3rd Shift worked on commercials, trailers and short films and began to focus more on feature films.
Dennett-Smith, Pickle and Walters worked on the action film “Supercell”, another project starring Alec Baldwin, produced by Thomasville Pictures and shot in Montana and Georgia. Thomasville Pictures owners Ryan Donnell Smith and Allen Cheney are credited as producer and executive producer of “Rust” respectively.
According to IMDb, âBy Night’s Endâ is the first feature film awarded to 3rd Shift Media as the production company.
In an online independent film panel discussion posted to YouTube, Dennett-Smith spoke about the challenges of making films with limited resources, recalling how he made breakfast for the team every morning on “By Night’s End. “.
âThe independent film is a stir,â he said in the video. âIt’s about how much you can get what you can borrow from your friends, your family. How much money can you raise to do things.
Bushong, who had worked on various shorts before, expected to be paid after the 12-day shoot was over.
A team member agreement seen by The Times indicated that compensation would be deferred until the film is sold, a common arrangement for low-budget independent films like “By Night’s End.”
In November 2020, Dennett-Smith emailed some of the team members who were awaiting their paychecks, informing them that the film had been sold – it is available through services such as Amazon, YouTube and Tubi. – but that payments would be deferred at least until the middle. or in the fourth quarter of this year.
However, Bushong and two other crew members who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation said they still had not been paid.
âI didn’t know who to talk to because I wasn’t unionized, and they said we would get paid after production,â Bushong said.
The economy of independent cinema has become increasingly difficult for producers. The indie theatrical market has largely disappeared. The insatiable demand for content from streaming services has led to an increase in production. Producers are responding by trying to make films faster and cheaper.
“The model is broken,” said Alex Ferrari, an Austin-based director who hosts the Indie Film Hustle podcast and is not connected to “Rust.” “There is increasing pressure on these film productions to reduce costs, to do it at a lower cost.”
On “Rust”, many crew members described a rushed mentality on set.
Jonas Huerta, a digital utilities technician, said he had raised concerns about production issues, including security. He sent an email detailing his concerns to Walters the night before Hutchins’ death.
“I am also anxious on the set, I saw with my own eyes our [assistant director] rushing to get pictures and he’s skipping important protocols, âHuerta wrote in her email, The Times reported on Oct. 31.
The next morning, as the film crew were packing to leave the set, Pickle ordered them “to work faster,” Huerta said. She pointed to Luper, Camera A’s first assistant, and said: “You have to get out of this property immediately, or I’ll call security,” Luper recalled in an interview.
Pickle had faced a labor dispute over another production. In October 2018, while executive producer on “Keys to the City,” Pickle “interviewed employees about signing union authorization cards,” according to a settlement agreement between IATSE and the production company Georgia-based Tier 2 Films.
According to the document, first reported by the hollywood journalist, the production company laid off several employees, including a film crew, due to union activities. The IATSE, which filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accused Pickle of calling and texting employees about their organizing activities. The production company also called the police to remove union representatives, the union said. Tier 2 Films settled in 2019 and agreed to reimburse salaries to seven workers.
Times editors Meg James, Amy Kaufman and Julia Wick contributed to this report.