With a budget of about $6 million to $7 million, according to people familiar with the project, "Rust" was a passion project for Mr. Baldwin. It was expected to wind up on a pay-TV platform or a streaming service, they said.
Once likely to make the rounds of film festivals and artsy theaters, small indie films such as "Rust" now have limited windows of exhibition. The number of independent movie theaters that carry such films has declined over the past decade, and major chains focus on blockbuster fare from major studios. Independent movies are those not connected to a major studio, typically with budgets of $20 million or less.
While streaming services are hungry for content, the biggest platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max are typically more interested in creating their own fare and less likely to buy a low-budget Western such as "Rust."
Mr. Baldwin developed the film with its director, Joel Souza. They worked together on the 2019 police drama "Crown Vic," which Mr. Souza directed and on which Mr. Baldwin was a producer.
Mr. Baldwin was also taking a producer credit on "Rust," which isn’t uncommon for an actor of his stature. A producing credit can provide actors with another source of revenue, particularly when their fee for performing is lower than their normal rate. Often in such scenarios, a star of Mr. Baldwin’s standing would take a reduced salary or defer his salary from acting and producing entirely for a greater cut of the movie’s revenue, according to people familiar with independent film financing.
Neither Mr. Baldwin’s talent agency, ICM Partners, nor a spokeswoman for "Rust" responded to requests for comment regarding his contract.
In the incident Thursday, Mr. Baldwin discharged a prop firearm, and the movie’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, suffered a fatal gunshot wound, and Mr. Souza was injured. Santa Fe County authorities are investigating and filming has been suspended.
A veteran actor, Mr. Baldwin rose to prominence in the soap opera "The Doctors" and then the prime time CBS series "Knots Landing." He became a major movie star in the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in films such as "The Hunt for Red October" and "Married to the Mob." He has also had supporting roles in hits such as "The Aviator" and "The Departed" and appeared in some of the "Mission: Impossible" movies.
Recently he has done more work on television, including a starring role on "30 Rock" and frequent appearances on "Saturday Night Live." He has hosted a new version of "Match Game." In films of late, he has done voice performances in animation, such as in "The Boss Baby" and its sequel.
Like most low-budget movies made without the backing of a major studio, "Rust" was financed and produced by a hodgepodge of companies. These include Mr. Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures and Cavalry Media, a management firm that counts "Rust" director Mr. Souza among its clients.
The financial companies backing the movie include Streamline Global, which describes itself as "a company that provides tax equity financing to the film industry by bringing in investors who enjoy substantial returns through tax savings." The other company involved in raising funds for the movie is BondIt Media Capital, which typically raises production money by preselling the distribution rights to a film and through advances on tax credits provided by states such as New Mexico, where "Rust" was filmed.
Neither BondIt nor Streamline responded to requests for comment. Mr. Baldwin’s publicist referred requests for comment to representatives for the film.
It’s common in the entertainment industry for financiers and managers to have producer credits on independently made films.
Creative Artists Agency sold distribution rights for "Rust" in the U.S. and Canada to The Avenue, a unit of Highland Film Group, an independent sales, film-financing, production and distribution company based in Los Angeles. The rights to distribute the movie were sold for about $2 million, a person familiar with the deals said. Highland is also handling international sales.
With small-budget films such as "Rust," the rates paid to crew members are often lower than those paid on major-studio productions with bigger budgets, say studio executives.
Some workers on the set complained of low pay and poor working conditions, according to search-warrant affidavits prepared by detectives with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
Rust Movie Productions LLC, the company created to produce the film, has said that the safety of its cast and crew is its priority and that, while it was "not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down." The company said it would continue to cooperate with authorities.
New Mexico has become popular for film and TV shoots in recent years because it offers filmmakers financial incentives to shoot in the state. Netflix has its own production facility in the state, and AMC’s "Breaking Bad" was shot there.
There can be a shortage of experienced crew there due to the amount of filming going on at any one time, a studio executive said. That can often result in nonunion people being hired. In the case of "Rust," the camera crew was part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, but many prop and other crew workers were local New Mexico film workers and not part of a union, said people familiar with the film production.
Mr. Baldwin has said he is cooperating with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation. "There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours," he said.