Update May 29: Georgia authorities disagree with Randall Miller’s understanding of the terms of his probation and are seeking to arrest him. The district attorney’s office in Wayne County told Deadline on Friday that Miller working as a director on “Higher Grounds” violated his probation.
“I have requested Wayne County probation to issue a warrant for his arrest,” Assistant District Attorney John Johnson said. “Randall Miller has violated the terms of his probation … As a director, he’s in violation.”
A representative for Miller previously said the director is allowed to work on films as long as he’s not in charge of safety. To that end, “Higher Grounds” has an associate producer in charge of safety listed in its credits.
Earlier May 27: Randall Miller, the director who spent a year in prison after pleading to involuntary manslaughter when camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed during production of his film “Midnight Rider,” has directed another movie — despite a clause in his plea agreement that called for a 10-year probation in which he was “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”
However, Miller is now in post production on “Higher Grounds,” a comedy centered around a barista championship, that he shot in Serbia, Colombia, and the U.K. Miller’s attorney, Richard Thompson of Brecheen Feldman Breimer Silver & Thompson, said he believed the production did not violate the terms of the plea agreement.
“Our understanding of the terms of his probation is that he’s allowed to direct as long as he’s not in charge of safety,” Thompson told IndieWire. “We were very careful to have an appropriate safety officer here.”
The film’s credits include Jason Allen as “associate producer (in charge of safety).” According to the DGA website, Allen has completed the DGA Mandatory Safety Training as well as optional safety courses in Environmental Safety, Harassment Prevention, and Firearm Safety.
Thompson added that “Higher Ground” was made under a DGA agreement and said the principals involved in the production were aware of Miller’s history. A call to the DGA seeking comment was not returned. IndieWire has also reached out to IATSE seeking comment.
IndieWire contacted the district attorney’s office in Wayne County, Georgia, which prosecuted the case, but has not received a response.
As part of a 2015 plea deal in Georgia, Miller pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter in the death of his “Midnight Rider” crew member, 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones, accepting criminal responsibility for on-set safety violations. Jones was killed and several others were injured when a train plowed through a set that was set up on a Georgia train trestle. An investigation found the shoot was not authorized, and the production was abandoned in the wake of a litany of lawsuits and investigations.
Miller was sentenced to two years in prison in a plea deal that was designed to allow his wife, “Midnight Rider” producer Jody Savin, to avoid being charged with any crime. Miller served only a year in prison before being released to serve 10 years’ probation. The special terms of the probation called for 350 hours of community service as well as the production prohibitions.
In May 2018, Miller sought leniency under the terms of his supervisory probation, but was denied. Miller’s attorneys said the supervision — which includes remaining within 50 miles of his home unless he receives prior approval, and approval cannot be granted for periods longer than two weeks — prevented him from working. However, in his decision Judge Anthony Harrison said lifting supervision would be contrary to the intention of the court’s sentence: “For Miller’s sentence to continue to have the meaning both Sarah’s family and the Court intended it have, Miller’s probation must remain supervised.”
Asked about the probationary terms, Thompson wrote IndieWire: “I am told that the 50-mile restriction has now expired. Randy is now on ‘non-reporting probation’ under which his travel is not restricted.”
Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, issued the following statement in response to the news about “Higher Grounds.”
“The legal system will decide whether Mr. Miller violated the terms of his probation when he produced and directed the feature film ‘Higher Grounds.’ But in our opinion he most certainly violated the moral and ethical standards that informed his court sentencing. To us, his actions were blatantly defiant and egregiously disrespectful to the entire creative community, to the six crew members who were injured while filming Midnight Rider, and to the memory of Sarah Jones, who died on Mr. Miller’s set as a direct result of the unsafe conditions that he willfully and illegally created.
“To help ensure that the film industry consistently protects the lives and safety of all its members, it is imperative to hold those responsible for Sarah’s death fully accountable.
“In light of Mr. Miller’s continuing insistence on pushing and arguably overstepping the boundaries of court rulings and common decency, we urge the Directors Guild to reconsider Mr. Miller’s membership. The prestigious DGA has such an esteemed list of law-abiding, safety-conscious members that it is increasingly difficult to imagine why they would allow Mr. Miller to claim equal standing among them.”
“Higher Grounds” stars Freddie Fox (“The Crown”), Kate Nash (“Glow”), and Saoirse-Monica Jackson (“Derry Girls”) in a story about a woman, struggling to keep her coffee shop in business, who taps her employees to compete in the World Barista Championships. Miller, who produces with Savin, wrote the screenplay with David Rollins, who directed the documentary “Trial of Midnight Rider: Railroaded in the Deep South.” Executive producers are Jay Karandikar, Savin Karandikar, Zak Kristofek, and Michael Melroy Smith.
“Higher Grounds” Facebook and Instagram pages were taken down yesterday, and the film’s IMDb page has been edited to include references to Miller’s role in Jones’ death. A website, highergroundsmovie.com, offers a similar sentiment, along with news stories about Jones’ death. The website alleges that Miller skirted the stipulations of his probation by making the film abroad.