Sarah Elizabeth Jones' tragic death has drawn attention to the potentially dangerous situations crew members face and the need for safety mechanisms. Jones was killed last week when she was struck and killed by a train while working as a second camera assistant on the new Greg Allman biopic "Midnight Rider."
Jones was apparently killed after trying to remove a bed from railroad tracks -- and now it's unclear whether the film crew had permission from the railroad operator to film on the tracks. Seven other crew members were treated at a hospital for injuries they sustained on the 110-year-old trestle above the Altamaha River in Savannah, Georgia.
The International Cinematographers Guild, of which Jones was a member, is working with government agencies to investigate Jones' death and the circumstances around it, according to The Los Angeles Times. Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600) said that union officials went to the accident site immediately after learning of the tragedy and that the union was cooperating with government investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board as well as the local sheriff's office.
"The safety of our crews is of paramount importance to this union and we will work tirelessly to ensure that a tragedy of this kind never happens again," Poster told The L.A. Times. "There is no way we can mitigate the pain and the loss of Sarah. But we hope that something good can come out of this very unfortunate situation. It will surely shape our talks with producers in the future. There will be memorials across the country to honor the memory of beloved member, Sarah Jones."
Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that while Open Road Films, the film’s U.S. distributor; Unclaimed Freight, the Pasadena company producing the film; and the Georgia-based Meddin Studios film crew had permission from the railroad operator to film "Midnight Rider" near the railroad tracks, they did not have permission to be on it. Also, a local news report said that the film crew knew that the tracks were active.
The blogger at Dollygrippery questions why nobody said "no" to the idea of shooting on a live track without a representative of the train company there and posted this tribute to Jones:
I don't know all the details of what happened, and try to reserve judgement until the facts are in. I do know that, according to the lead detective on the investigation, the company did not have permission to be on the tracks. I have done countless train shoots. I've rigged cameras on trains, done dolly shots next to the tracks, crane shots of approaching trains and pushed Peewees down the aisles of passenger cars. I do know one thing, you never shoot on a live track without a representative of the train company there. You don't approach the tracks or a train unless they know you are there and you have permission to do it. These situations are tightly controlled. And I suspect one other thing. No one said "No." In this business, we are put in a lot of dangerous situations. A certain amount of risk comes with the job. We regularly shoot in caves, mines, boats, high speed cars, helicopters, and any other dangerous situation a writer can dream up. In these situations we trust that the groundwork has been laid, discussions have been had and meetings held by the higher ups who we often call "the adults" or the "grownups." We call them that for a reason. We count on them to worry about the details of making us safe while we focus on making the movie. All we ask is that if we are put in a situation, that we know the risks. ALL of them. And sometimes, someone has to say "No." As a Dolly Grip, the safety of the immediate camera crew on any given shot is my responsibility. I've earned that through experience, as has my Key Grip. No one said "No" for this girl and those injured in this senseless tragedy. Instead, corners were cut and permissions were broken and a 27 year-old girl who just wanted to do a good job was put in a position from which there was no escape. To get a freaking shot. And that's why we are here, guys: To say "No" for those who don't know they can. As a forty something Dolly Grip who's been around the block a few times, I would have said, Hell no to being on that trestle on a live track without a rep or permission. As a twenty-something young grip with something to prove and trying to make an impression on "The Adults," however, you can bet your ass I would have moved the camera up there myself and stood by it to yank it out of the way if a train came. It's up to us not to let the creative minds override common sense just to get a cool shot. It's up to us to look out for each other and for those who haven't been around as long. To say "No" for them. Because often they don't know they can. When the time came, no one said "No," for her. Now, all that's left is an endless sadness and anger, and lawsuits, and finger-pointing and we are still without a friend and co-worker who was doing what she was told, trusting the adults that it was OK.
To a young lady with a bright future cut short, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't make it a point to get to know you. I thought I had more time. I'm sorry that no one was there to look out for you. I'm sorry for your parents. I can't imagine losing a child, especially to something as ultimately meaningless and stupid as a movie. I'm sorry for my colleagues who were lucky enough to know you better than I did. I wish you could see how much they loved you. I'm sorry for all that was taken from you because no one said, "No." You deserved better. From all of us.