When makeup and hair assistant Katelyn Bushong arrived on the set of the thriller By Night’s End in Smyrna, Georgia, in March 2019, she was expecting a paycheck of $ 125 for 12 hours of work.

Bushong applied fake blood to actors to make them appear beaten and was assured by a producer from 3rd Shift Media, a local production services 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 that they weren’t paid for their services.

“I don’t think you want to go to your job and not get paid two years later,” said Bushong, 25, who lives in the Atlanta area.

While “By Night’s End” was a tiny project by Hollywood standards, according to Georgia business records, it was a big deal for 3rd Shift Media, a company founded in 2016 by Decatur, Georgia-based producer Ryan Dennett-Smith.

The film was featured prominently on a local news show about how filmmakers wanted to create a more sustainable entertainment industry in Georgia by making their own productions.

But Dennett-Smith’s company was recently under scrutiny for its role in the production of Rust in New Mexico after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot by a gun owned by actor and producer Alec Baldwin while rehearsing a scene.

Dennett-Smith, managing director of 3rd Shift Media, was the senior production manager for Rust. The film’s director of production, Gabrielle Pickle, and the unit’s production director, Katherine “Row” Walters, also work for 3rd Shift Media, according to the company’s website.

“Rust” line producer Gabrielle Pickle in 2019.

(Brent N. Clarke / Invision)

While independent film producers can have a wide range of responsibilities, including funding, line producers and unit production managers oversee the day-to-day aspects of filmmaking. Producers hire manufacturing service companies to ensure projects arrive on time and on budget.

Interviews with Rust crew members and documents verified by the Times paint a picture of a troubled set that was plagued by work tensions prior to filming. Crew members said they raised concerns about issues such as gun safety, payment and accommodation.

“In my 10 years as a camera assistant, I’ve never worked on a show that cares so little about the safety of its crew,” wrote Lane Luper, the first assistant to the A-camera, in an email on October 20th Walters the night before the shooting.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Hutchins’ death. Prior to the fatal shootout, Deputy Director David Halls yelled “cold gun” and told a sheriff’s detective that he did not know the gun contained live cartridges according to affidavits from the sheriff’s office. One of the affidavits says that Halls took a prop weapon placed on a cart by the armorer and turned the weapon over to Baldwin, an allegation that Halls’ attorney has denied.

“Rust,” a western with period sets and firearms, was set to cost around $ 7 million and be shot over 21 days, an ambitious timeframe for a period play, film experts said.

A 3rd Shift Media representative, Alex Dudley, declined to comment. Pickle, Dennett-Smith, and Walters did not respond to requests for comment.

Nobody opened the door to 3rd Shift Media’s office last week – a tiny cottage-style house in a shabby neighborhood of Decatur. In the windows next to the front door there were several yellow film location signs – “ACTD2”, “SUMMER 03” and HECK YEAH – as well as an advertising poster for a local brewery: “Weekends 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 received any official complaints regarding gun or prop safety on set, we will conduct an internal review of our procedures during the production downtime.”

Dennett-Smith had worked in Georgia’s rowdy independent filmmaking community for years. As Hollywood brought more large-scale productions into the state to unlock lucrative film tax credits, Dennett-Smith wanted to start a Georgia-based film company.

Both he and Pickle were affiliated with the local filmmaking community through nonprofit groups such as the Atlanta Film Society and the Georgia Production Partnership. In 2018, they helped enroll local film workers and transplant recipients to vote, in part to receive the state’s production incentive program, according to interviews they conducted with Atlanta CBS broadcaster WGCL-TV.

“They came about in this community before the productions got everyone involved,” said a producer who worked with Dennett-Smith, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “When I met them, they were very interested in producing 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 into the film industry after a few years. He has worked on scriptless jobs and reality television shows, including Animal Planet’s “Lone Star Law” and “North Woods Law”. Last year he was one of the directors of production on the Netflix reality dating show “Love Is Blind”.

After starting 3rd Shift Media, Dennett-Smith described it in a local press interview as a “turnkey” commercial and independent film production company that would oversee 20 to 40 projects per year.

“Our company is focused on bringing a project to us and opening the doors to successfully implement the project,” he told Voyage ATL in December 2019.

3rd Shift has been working on commercials, trailers, and shorts and had started moving more towards the feature film.
Dennett-Smith, Pickle, and Walters worked on the action film “Supercell,” another project with Alec Baldwin, produced by Thomasville Pictures and filmed in Montana and Georgia. The owners of Thomasville Pictures, Ryan Donnell Smith and Allen Cheney, are named as the producer and executive producer, respectively, on Rust.

According to IMDb, “By Night’s End” is the first full-length film to list 3rd Shift Media as the production company.

In an online indie film panel discussion posted on YouTube, Dennett-Smith spoke about the challenges of making films with scarce resources and recalled how he did breakfast for the Crew prepared.

“Indie film is a rush,” he said in the video. “It’s about figuring out how crap you can get … what to borrow from friends and family. How much money can you raise to do things? “

Bushong, who had previously worked on various short films, was awaiting payment after completing the 12-day shoot.

An agreement with crew members viewed by The Times said that the compensation would be deferred until the film was sold, an arrangement common to independent micro-budget films such as By Night’s End.

In November 2020, Dennett-Smith emailed some crew members waiting for paychecks, letting them know that the film had been sold – it’s available through services like Amazon, YouTube, and Tubi – but that the payments have been made would be postponed at least until the middle or fourth quarter of this year.

However, Bushong and two other crew members, who refused to be identified for fear of reprisals, said they had still not been paid.

“I had no idea who to turn to because I wasn’t union and they said we would get paid after we made it,” Bushong said.

The economics of indie filmmaking has become increasingly difficult for producers. The cinema market for indies has largely disappeared. The insatiable demand for content from streaming services has resulted in a surge in production. The producers respond 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 affiliated with Rust. “The pressure on these film productions is increasing to make compromises in order to reduce costs.”

On “Rust” many crew members described a rushed mentality on the set.

Jonas Huerta, a digital utility technician, said he had raised concerns about production issues, including safety. The night before Hutchins died, he emailed Walters with his concerns.

“I feel scared on set too, I have ours [assistant director] are rushing to get shots and he is skipping important logs, ”Huerta wrote in his email, The Times reported on Oct. 31.

The next morning, when the camera crew was packing up to leave the set, Pickle ordered them to “work faster,” said Huerta. She pointed to Luper, the first assistant to the A camera, and said: “You have to leave this property immediately or I will call security,” Luper recalled in an interview.

Pickle had faced a labor dispute at another production facility. In October 2018, while serving as a line producer on Keys to the City, Pickle interrogated “employees signing union authorization cards” under a settlement agreement between IATSE and Georgia-based production company Tier 2 Films.

The production company fired several employees, including camera crews, for union activities, according to the document, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter. IATSE, which filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accused Pickle of calling employees and writing to them about their union activities. The manufacturing company also called the police to remove union officials, the union said. Tier 2 Films reached an agreement in 2019 and agreed to repay seven workers’ wages.

The Times authors Meg James, Amy Kaufman, and Julia Wick contributed to this report.