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by Paula Bernstein
February 26, 2014 12:04 PM
28 Comments
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Investigation Into Sarah Jones' Death Continues as Industry Asks: 'Why Didn't Anyone Say 'No?''

Sarah Jones

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."

Read More: Crew Member's Death Prompts Investigation, Production Halted on "Midnight Rider"

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.

28 Comments

  • nick sharpe | March 2, 2014 9:12 AMReply

    amen.

  • Marcus | February 28, 2014 2:02 PMReply

    The problems have been on lower budget shoots that decide to do away with safety staffing and proper planning/permissions, accelerate shooting schedules and frankly don't have the experience, maturity or professionalism to do it right-and that means safety always comes first. You can always figure out a way to get the shot safely.
    No one on this thread knows the circumstances of what transpired on that shoot. So why don't you withhold judgement until you have a full picture-which frankly may never emerge in its unbiased entirety. A young woman lost her life and that is a tragedy-show some respect for her and our industry.

  • nick sharpe | March 2, 2014 9:26 AM

    withhold judgement? if the story is indeed fact, then the experience of being a PA in Hollywood when I was 27 (long ago), for me, there was a heightened sense of invincibility, and a ridiculous "can do " attitude, not so much to impress "the adults" but as a personal challenge.
    You learn that you truly can do "anything", even risking life and limb to get a shot, or in this case, go against union rules and turn from AC to prop girl.
    the point is, someone should have said "No" and didn't, regardless.
    This is SOB (thx Blake Edwards). And where's Ralph Nader when you need him?
    Respect? On an Allman bros story, no less - another Rock n Roll tragedy

  • Ed | February 28, 2014 10:42 AMReply

    Producer at fault. As a location manager, I can tell you the locations department is in charge of securing permission of any given location. Train tracks are always impossible, so the producer probably chose to steal the shot. Producer is at fault because, regardless who's job it was to secure permission, if you don't have it, you don't shoot and put people at risk. Bottom line.

  • Camden Sutter | February 27, 2014 7:43 PMReply

    It would seem she died for stupidity. What an idiot. All these union people are IDIOTS and OVERPAID! Now the producer is the one who's getting the flack when it's the UNION who should be put OUT OF BUSINESS!!!! DESTROY THE UNIONS!!!

  • nick sharpe | March 2, 2014 9:33 AM

    Jeffe and Obsedian- obviously Camden knows how show biz works if for no other reason that he got you guys and ME to respond to something so ridiculous- how do you think David Sheehan made his Backstage in Hollywood shows (precursor to ET) back in the day (for HBO and Showtime)? then y'all tellin him to stfu - played right into his hands, just like joe public.
    now you know why Fox News is such a big money maker- it's all entertainment. u cant take it serious -

  • CAMDEN SUTTER | February 28, 2014 9:58 AM

    But Jeffe and Obsidian, she was the one at fault. She exist. She was there illegally. The law is blind to matters of whether or not someone "knew" - now come on, gear up and help me defend those valiant producers for trying to make the greatest movie they can!

  • Jeffe | February 28, 2014 4:12 AM

    You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. You should seriously stfu.

  • Obsidian Prime | February 27, 2014 8:49 PM

    Your lack of empathy and dickish comments leads one to believe you should spend much less time posting and much MUCH more time in therapy. Seriously, if you can't contribute something intelligent without all of the vulgar cynicism you should just stfu.

  • teddy crescendo | February 27, 2014 7:35 PMReply

    She looked like quite a tasty little bird.

  • Jg | February 28, 2014 4:11 AM

    What a douche

  • B V | February 27, 2014 2:45 PMReply

    Why didn't she just leave the bed on the tracks and get off the tracks herself? the train would have zero problem doing that and probably wouldn't even stop... my grandfather was getting on a slow moving train in MO. it was snowing probably would have been a great shot... my mother and grandmother were both seeing him off.... he slipped went under the train and was cut in two... needless to say that left an impression on my mother which in tern trickled down to my childhood sucking bag of d. Trains are dangerous.

  • M. Jones | February 27, 2014 11:16 AMReply

    Well put article Dollygrippery, and great point Nick. We as a people should not put our vanities for art over a human life, especially when proactively avoid a tragedy (or possibility of one). Listen to your hearts not "ego" when the reference of movies are "stupid". Don't take out of context emotionally charged wording or feel rage for ones opinion. A young girl died for reason that could have been avoided. I agree with the article and many other of my colleagues, her life over the movie any day. Question now is what do those living do know and will we be out right if this situation presents itself again (which it will).

  • Bill | February 27, 2014 11:02 AMReply

    I use to work on the LI railroad. It is policy that whenever you do work on the tracks, that are live.....that there a 2 guys at either end, with airhorns, that signal when a train is coming. Seems like there was no signal men to warn the crew in advance. Tragic and someone needs to be held accountable

  • Zice | February 27, 2014 9:15 AMReply

    I'm pretty sure the blogger from Dollygrippery is a guy.

  • D | February 27, 2014 8:06 AMReply

    Those of us who work in the industry of course love movies. The words "stupid and meaningless" refer to the fact that in the scheme of things when compared to human life, they are stupid and meaningless. No one should ever die making a movie. Sorry you didn't pick up on this.

  • jd | February 27, 2014 1:32 AMReply

    to me it always comes down to the director.....safety should always be the first thing in a directers mind, regardless of the cool shot they want.........and any, and i mean any directer who stops thinking of crew and or cast as people but as mere objects, needs to be slapped silly......hopefully by their momma.......to me there are no unimportant jobs or people in the making of a film.

  • Julian Boyance | February 26, 2014 5:45 PMReply

    Powerful and eloquent wording Dollygrippery. I commend you.

  • nick | February 26, 2014 3:34 PMReply

    I can not tell you how many times, as an AD, I've had to fight with lunatic producers, directors, DPs, actors, bla bla bla about safety on set.

    Wether it's someone insisting on using live ammo on set with real guns, placing people in busy intersections with no traffic control, or hanging out of cars at high speeds with an 18 year old PA with little experience behind the wheel and no sleep...the list goes on and on. And every so often we have to read about inexperience and ineptitude making a tragic collisions in the work place.

    I really hope there's a positive side to this story, and clarity is gained. People in charge need to maintain a broader scope rather than succumbing to the stress and desires of the moment. And someone needs to step up and take responsibility.

    My heart goes out to Sarah's family, friends and co-workers.

  • Steven Murell | February 26, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    I think a lot of local film industries are so caddy and such a little "cool kids club" sometimes. No one wanted to be the crew member to say "no" because then no one work with them again.

    I suggest film folks stop being so got-dang caddy.

  • Bill | February 27, 2014 11:14 AM

    I totally agree! Its gotten to the point that everyone, on the smallest budget set with DSLR cameras, thinks they are the next Tarantino but have NO idea of the extent of safety measures on his set, nor the professional stuntman/woman, fight coordinators, etc etc. that are employed.

  • Gus | February 26, 2014 12:48 PMReply

    As has been stated in other threads, it was not Sarah's job to say no. It was the job of those in charge. But had she said no and caused the production to lose the shot, surely she would have been seen as the bad guy, the tight-ass, the fearful one.

    The problem on these shoots is that the people at the top simply have to be the responsible ones. No one lower down the chain of command can come out looking good when they reject a task on principle. Crew members know this, and that's why these threads about Sarah have also been full of anecdotes from DPs and camera (or G&E) members about ways in which their lives were endangered for a shot.

    The sad reality is that most of the time, when the crew is endangered, no one is actually hurt. And so the feeling of invincibility feeds back to those credited with the creations themselves and the danger is put on the crew.

  • Clint | March 1, 2014 9:18 AM

    Exactly, Gus, exactly. Well and succinctly put, as was the Dollygrippery blogger's post.

  • ROHAN SHARMA | February 26, 2014 12:44 PMReply

    No doubt a sad tragedy but please refrain yourself from labeling films as stupid and meaningless...Movies are much more than just entertainment..all your other points are valid...Films and other such sources mean a lot to me and fans of such medium of arts like this...

  • tej | February 27, 2014 7:26 PM

    No. Movies are just entertainment for the audience.
    They are something else for those who make them. They're a creative job.

  • Thomas Earlham | February 26, 2014 2:38 PM

    Why would anyone interpret Rohan Sharma's comment to mean that a movie trumps concern for a human life.

    Movies in general are not stupid and meaningless (although many specific films probably are). They can have a powerful positive effect on the lives of millions of people. In any case, there are ways to make all films (the stupid ones and the brilliant ones) in a manner which is safe for the crew, for which no one needs to lose a life or a limb. That is the concern here. Not whether movies are "stupid."

  • francis | February 26, 2014 1:45 PM

    no movie is bigger than a life, even a dog's life.

  • No | February 26, 2014 12:56 PM

    No, Rohan Sharma. When a life is needlessly and tragically lost because some is killed over basic neglect and incompetence, the project becomes a "stupid movie."

    So, are you saying that "Films and other such sources mean a lot to me and fans of such medium of arts like this..." trump concern for a human life?