The tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of "Rust" in October 2021 led studios and labor representatives to immediately commence negotiations with respect to safety protocols on film and television sets. On July 10, 2023, Governor Newsom signed S.B. 132, which in addition to extending California's tax incentive programs – discussed in this earlier post – included long-awaited language addressing set safety from a previously proposed bill, S.B. 735.
The new bill establishes the nation's first state safety regulations for the motion picture industry, which take effect on January 1, 2025, and the nation's first Safety on Production Pilot Program, which takes effect on July 1, 2025. The safety standards apply to all film, television, streaming, commercial, and other productions of moving pictures irrespective of whether the project is produced for a commercial purpose.
What S.B. 132 Requires
The regulations represent best practices that were already utilized by major productions and studios in the state, but now as enacted into law. S.B. 132 prohibits the use of firearms (as distinguished from a replica, simulated firearm, or a special effects device), blanks, and ammunition on sets except in limited circumstances and subject to certain safety practices and create minimum training standards that focus on the safe handling of such devices and objects in all motion picture productions across the state.
Upon the effective date, any use of a firearm or blank in a production of moving images requires a qualified property master, armorer, or assistant property master who handles the object throughout production to maintain a current entertainment firearms permit or dangerous weapons permit or license issued by the California Department of Justice and a federal document for the possession and custody of the firearm. In addition, the property master or armorer must have completed training on industry protocols, state and federal laws, and best safety practices. The use is only permitted for purposes of rehearsal, actor training, the filming of an on-camera sequence, or as otherwise used in the pre-production or production of content, and in each case, such use is subject to the following conditions:
- the device is under the custody and control of such qualified property master, armorer, or assistant property master;
- such individual is the only person who hands the firearm to the performer/cast/crew member during the scene, and must collect the firearm upon completion of the activity;
- such individual must not have any other responsibilities during the time the individual is preparing the use of a firearm and the firearm is in the possession of the performer, and until the firearm is no longer in use and safely locked away;
- a production safety meeting is required;
- an individual must be identified by the employer to be contacted by performers or crew with respect to safety compliance;
- there must be sufficient staffing of such firearm handlers to comply with all of the requirements; and
- the employer must require and pay for all employees responsible for handling or in proximity to firearms on set to complete a safety training course.
In addition, there are specific rules that apply to ammunition, which is not permitted on set unless:
- it is in a controlled and supervised environment of a shooting range or equivalent and for the purposes of actor training or postproduction gunfire sound recording, a documentary (but not for use in fictionalized reenactments of events), or firearms education;
- it is essential to the subject matter of the work, such as a competitive reality show, a documentary (but not for use in fictionalized reenactments of events), or firearms education and safety training production; and
- while filming footage of trained military or police personnel firing weapons in a controlled military or police facility.
All range safety rules, federal, state, and local laws, and requirements of the Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee (composed of union, guild, and employer representatives) must be followed under the supervision of the property master, armorer, or qualified assistant property master, armorer, or assistant property master.
About the Safety on Production Pilot Program
The second part of the legislation addressing safety protocols reflects new regulations through the five-year Safety on Production Pilot Program. The program applies to all productions that receive a California state tax credit and mandates that such productions employ a safety advisor, a new full-time position tasked with assessing risk regarding the use of firearms and overseeing production safety in the following circumstances: workweeks of more than 60 hours, use of major pyrotechnics and explosives, major stunts, use of aircraft or trains, use of vehicles of road, use of watercraft in open water, situations where an individual is underwater for prolonged periods, and process shot moves. The advisor should also determine whether a specific assessment is needed for any other activities such as in connection with the involvement of animals and inclement weather conditions. The advisor must be exclusive to the production (and not employed in any other role) with access to various locations and facilities involved in the filming activities.
The key requirements are daily safety meetings, an identified point of contact for performers and crew to contact in the event of compliance issues, risk assessments (including the identification and evaluation of all preproduction and production activities or locations that may pose a risk to employees and a mitigation plan to address them by department heads), the availability of the advisor's risk assessments to all crew, performers, and labor representatives, and the creation of a final safety report by the advisor submitted to the Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee and the California Film Commission based on actual risk and compliance throughout production. The safety reports from all productions participating in the program will be assessed by an organization selected by the Committee and Commission, and such organization will then make a set of recommendations to the California Legislature based on its overall evaluation.
Enforcement and Next Steps
The new laws will be enforced by California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), which will have the authority to investigate, inspect, and cite employers for failure to comply.
The bill garnered close to unanimous bipartisan support and was unopposed by The Motion Picture Association. It remains to be seen whether other states will look to mirror the bill in order to create a consistent standard across the country. However, as part of the DGA's recent agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, studios represented by the Alliance have agreed to implement the pilot program for at least one 75-minute or longer dramatic project in each state and have committed to establishing similar pilot programs in New York and Georgia. An added benefit of California's legislation is the creation of new job opportunities for state residents and further incentive to maintain productions within the state.
 The required federal document must be one of the following: "(A) a signed rental sheet or copy of a completed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 'ATF Form 4473,' stating the lawful transfer of Title 1 Firearms to that property master, armorer, or assistant property master or a copy of a current Federal Firearms License (FFL) establishing the applicable individual as the lawful possessor of the firearms who may obtain and retain custody of all firearms used in motion picture productions; [or] (B) In the event of the use of restricted firearms classified under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Firearms Act Division (ATF NFA) rules, and including 'assault weapons,' as defined by California law, a set of current dangerous weapons permits issued by the Department of Justice, or in the absence of such permits, a clearly dated extension letter for 120 days from the Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms permitting the property master, armorer, or assistant property master to continue their activities with restricted firearms, and a signed rental sheet from the federally licensed armory providing the firearms, or a current FFL and current ATF Special Occupational Tax Stamp establishing lawful possession of restricted firearms by that property master, armorer, or assistant property master shall be presented for the property master, armorer, or assistant property master to obtain and retain custody of NFA firearms. In such a case, the dangerous weapons permit(s) issued by the Department of Justice shall supersede the entertainment firearms permit."