We were saddened last week to hear about the death of 27 year old Sarah Jones who was struck by a train and killed whilst working on the Greg Allman biopic – Midnight Rider starring William Hurt, Eliza Dushku and Tony Deutch. You can see our tribute to Sarah on Facebook here.
Sarah’s death came hot on the heels of reports out of the UK of an actor who was almost decapitated from an on set explosion. Her untimely death has also sparked debate in Hollywood and across the world as it brings to light the lack of safety rules and ridiculous working hours, film crews suffer. Read Dollygrippery‘s poignant blogpost about Sarah’s death here.
Haskell Wexler, iconic cinematographer has been vocal in his opinion of her death calling it ‘criminal negligence’. Speaking to Variety he had this to say:
“It’s a tragedy, she should not have died. It upsets me. People can learn from this terrible injury,”
Wexler penned an open letter about her death. Addressing the letter to “My Fellow Workers”, Wexler calls the lack of safety rules as ‘criminal negligence’ and the need to have the “industry-wide health and safety issue of chronic long hours officially acknowledged”:
“Sarah and the three injured crew members were not victims of an “accident” but of criminal negligence. Something that would not have happened if proper safety rules were in place.” Wexler went on to say,
“Employers will work you longer for less money and under questionable safety conditions because it is their duty to prioritize the bottom line. As individuals we cannot complain. That’s why we need a Union to speak for us, certainly when our safety, our health, and our very lives are at stake!…never forget that as human beings we believe that every person’s health, safety and life is worth more than any film or TV show we can produce”
According to Sheriff’s reports the film Midnight Rider was denied a railway permit for filming that night. Wayne County Sheriff Sergeant Ben Robertson‘s report states:
“In my presence, Mr. Sedrish was asked by an employee of CSX [transportation company] if he had permission to be on the trestle or tracks and Mr. Sedrish replied, ‘That’s complicated.’
“According to the CSX employee, the production company had previously been denied permission to film on the trestle, and there was electronic correspondence to verify that fact,” Robertson wrote.
Prosecutor’s are investigating Sarah’s death as a ‘homicide’ and the producer’s of Midnight Rider have halted production, withdrawing their requests for permits allowing shooting in the Savannah area.
Meanwhile the online petition to add Sarah Jones’ name to the Academy Awards’ Memoriam Tribute has achieved a solid ground-swell following. The now closed petition managed to attain almost 60,000 signatures, (linked here).
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) February 28, 2014
Support is still growing for the Facebook page ‘Slates for Sarah’ which requests filmmakers “show your slate love” for Sarah. Productions all over the world are sending in their pictures of support.
We at Video&Filmmaker wish our best for the family and friends of Sarah Jones and the Atlanta film community. May you rest in peace Sarah and may the memory of your death never be forgotten. WE ARE ALL SARAH JONES.
Despite the petition for Sarah’s name to be added to the Academy Awards’ In Memoriam section, the producers of last weekend’s televised event did not add her name. However, a tribute to the young camera assistant was flashed across screens during the broadcast, directly following the segment (image below).
In addition, there are unsubstantiated reports coming from Hollywood that say Midnight Rider producer Nick Gant made callous comments regarding Sarah’s death this week on his Facebook page. However, this seems unlikely due to the ongoing homicide investigation and the lack of screencaps of Gant’s alleged Facebook post.
Also, another petition has risen in the wake of this tragedy, Sarah’s Law is petitioning for a ‘rule change’ to be written into all major filmmaker union organisations which would enforce the hiring of a ‘spotter’ for shoots taking place on or near live train tracks. The petition further states it’s desire is to see a “person will be [who is] tasked with the job of finding a good advantage to watch for trains in both directions, and have direct contact with the crew, to warn them of expected trains, or worse, unexpected ones”. So far the petition has only gained a handful of signatures; you can sign the petition here.
Sarah was laid to rest last Wednesday the 26th February, 2014, in Columbia, South Carolina, with over a thousand mourners and 20 of her crew members in attendance. An additional memorial was had for Sarah at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Mershon Hall, on Sunday, just hours before the Oscar telecast, with over 700 mourners in attendance. Union leader Bruce Doering showed visible emotion while addressing the crowd, stating:
“Since this terrible accident happened, we’re trying to figure out how this happened and we’re committed to taking the issue of unsafe conditions as far as we can take it — and like Sarah — full-on” (source).
Doering went on to state that the IATSE annual scholarship would rename its next edition to the ‘Sarah Elizabeth Jones Scholarship’ and will be given to a child of a Union member “who shows an interest in doing camera work”.
It seems that actor William Hurt has now pulled out of the Midnight Rider film amidst a Facebook campaign (by crew of the film) to boycott work on the Greg Allman biopic. Hurt has publicly declined to comment on Sarah’s death, however, was quoted in an email exchange (regarding the tragedy) that he was twice assured that safety measures were in place.
Hurt asked producers “how long the crew had to get off if by some impossible chance another train came” and was told 60 seconds. I said, ‘Sixty seconds is not enough time to get us off this bridge.’ There was a communal pause. No one backed me up. Then, we ….. Just went ahead. I took off my shoes, got on the heavy, metal hospital bed and began preparing.” Then the train came. “We didn’t have sixty seconds. We had less than thirty” (source).
The parents of Sarah have also hired an Atlanta law firm in the hopes of holding someone criminally accountable for the death of the 27 yr old camera assist. Richard and Elizabeth Jones have come forward to discuss the pain of losing their daughter and to publicly state the need for great safety checks on film sets and accountability for crew safety.
Richard Jones (Sarah’s Father) said “They did so many wrong things on so many levels, it’s just unbelievable…This should not have happened. It’s senseless.”
With Elizabeth Jones (Sarah’s Mother) adding that she believed Sarah was attempting to save expensive camera equipment when the train struck, “She may well have had that in mind, not realizing the immediate danger…Whatever comes from this, it has to be something positive, so that her life will not be wasted in vain. All the energy and devotion and love that she had, it can’t be in vain” (source).
Despite the investigation, producer/director Randall Miller is still trying to push on with filming of Midnight Rider, which is slated to begin again in June.
Today Slates for Sarah released a moving video to remind people not only about the loss of Sarah, but that all filmmakers, whether be in the catering dept, or the cast, all people deserve safe work practices. We are all Sarah
RIP Sarah Jones.
An updated article regarding the manslaughter case against Randall Miller has been published on our site, HERE.
The article was amended to add further news on the 4th March, 2014 and again on the 25th April, 2014.