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The Rust producers Alec Baldwin and Anjul Nigam are bringing a film to the Cannes market in an effort to launch a new production banner, Persona Entertainment, seven months after Baldwin accidentally shot and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of their low-budget Western.
Nigam says they have financed the film, writer-director Ben Tomson’s psychological thriller False Awakening, through an equity partner and believe distributors will be receptive to the project despite the circumstances of Hutchins’ Oct. 21 death, which is currently under investigation by the Santa Fe County sheriff’s office.
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“Rust is obviously a horrific tragedy,” Nigam says. “The investigation will hopefully be resolved soon and will unveil what happened. Obviously, there will be people out there who will have negative perspectives, but we’re confident about continuing to make quality movies.”
Nigam says he believes that after the Santa Fe investigation concludes, producers will finish filming Rust. “We’re confident we’ll be able to complete the movie,” he says. [After this story’s publication, Nigam reached out to say, “My statement that I was confident the film could be completed was just my optimism, and not an actual plan. Many of those who were involved hope to honor Halyna by completing her last work, but at this point it is just hope.”]
Baldwin will also star in False Awakening, which Nigam likens to movies like The Sixth Sense and Hereditary, as a psychologist who helps the main character navigate sleepwalking episodes that begin to interfere with his life. “Alec loved the idea of the connection to The Exorcist,” Nigam says.
Producers hope to announce the film’s lead actor, the character who suffers from the false awakenings that lend the movie its title, during the festival. Nigam, who is also an actor best known for a recurring role on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, will appear in the film as well. False Awakening is scheduled to start principal photography this summer in the U.S.
Even as their new company and film go forward, Baldwin and Nigam continue to face legal issues related to Rust. In February, Hutchins’ family filed a wrongful lawsuit against Baldwin, Nigam and other producers and members of the Rust crew, alleging that reckless behavior and cost-cutting led to the shooting; in response to the suit, the producers have argued that the case should be thrown out because it involves a workplace accident, which should be handled through the state workers’ compensation system.
In April, a New Mexico safety agency found that Rust’s producers demonstrated a “plain indifference” to the welfare of cast and crew and levied its maximum fine of $136,793 for safety violations against the Rust producers; Rust Movie Productions is challenging that report, saying that it wasn’t the employer responsible for supervising the film set and that safety issues were properly addressed.
At Cannes, Amp International will be selling worldwide rights to False Awakening with a script and sizzle reel. “I’m gonna go out there and sell it,” says James Norrie of Amp. “So far the reaction has been one of interest. I’ve not had anyone come back saying, ‘That’s a funny one.’ The general consensus seems to be that [what happened on Rust] was an awful accident.”
Hutchins’ death has sparked an industry-wide movement for greater safety on sets, including calls for a ban on functional weapons. She was killed during a rehearsal in a church on the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe when Baldwin drew a weapon and pointed it at her and Rust’s director, Joel Souza, who was also injured. Baldwin had been handed a replica of a vintage Colt .45 pistol, and was told it was “cold,” meaning there was no ammunition inside, according to law enforcement records. However, the gun contained dummy rounds and at least one lead bullet.
In addition to Rust, Baldwin and Nigam also made the movie Super Cell together, which Saban Films will release in November, and in February in the U.K. they shot the thriller 97 Minutes, in which Baldwin plays the director of the National Security Administration during a plane hijacking; Vertical Entertainment will release that film in October.
False Awakening will be the first film under their new Persona Entertainment banner. Baldwin and Nigam have multiple television projects in development as well, Nigam says, and hope to work in Europe. “Italy and France would be wonderful,” he says. “Creatively, there’s such an amazing energy about having limited series based there.”
No other Rust producers are involved with the new venture, Nigam says.
Baldwin shared the news of his partnership with Nigam, which was first broken by Deadline, in an Instagram post, saying, “I have enjoyed producing with Anjul Nigam for a few years now. He brings to the table the rare combination of skills that move the process forward and results in something that I am proud to be a part of.”
May 16, 10:13 p.m. This story has been updated with additional comment from Nigam regarding finishing shooting Rust.
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