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Slates for Sarah
March 4, 2014 3:19 PM   Subscribe

At the conclusion of the 'In Memoriam' segment during the Oscars Sunday, viewers may have noticed a small graphic and photo identifying Sarah Jones on screen. Not a movie star, famous director or other Hollywood luminary, Sarah was an assistant cameraperson killed in a horrific on-set train accident two weeks prior. The push to have her recognized at the Oscars was driven in part by the Facebook group 'Slates for Sarah', where hundreds of production crews across the globe have posted tribute photos mourning her loss. Her death is being investigated as negligent homicide, and has spurred 'below-the-line' crew worldwide to demand greater set safety protocols.
posted by skammer (119 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:28 PM on March 4


That's appalling. They set up a shoot on a railroad trestle, with a twin bed frame as a prop, on the tracks, and had no idea if a train was coming or not?
posted by thelonius at 3:35 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


....when a train arrived unexpectedly,

No, this is where you expect trains. The train tracks.
posted by thelonius at 3:36 PM on March 4 [100 favorites]


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My deepest sympathies to her family and friends, and further sympathies to the rest of the crew and to the innocent train operators whose physical safety and mental well-being were emperilled by the negligence of the filmmakers.
posted by gingerest at 3:36 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


and has spurred 'below-the-line' crew worldwide to demand greater set safety protocols.

I work in the industry, and this has been a huge topic of conversation throughout Hollywood. I'm not hearing a lot of calls for greater safety protocols, because those protocols for the most part exist. What seems to have happened here is gross disregard for protocols. Off the top of my head I can think of at least six people who should have been on set, even on a low-budget picture, who should have never, ever allowed this accident to happen: director, first assistant director, second assistant director, director of photography, locations manager and any producer on set. That it happened was a crime and I hope it's treated as such.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:38 PM on March 4 [80 favorites]


What a shocking tragedy. Not an "accident" or a "lapse in safety" but a deliberate disregard on the part of those whose job it is to make sure that filming can be done safely. And "low-budget" or "guerrilla production" aren't excuses. If you can't afford to film there safely, then don't film there.

No, this is where you expect trains. The train tracks.

Exactly. Train tracks are not toys.
posted by muddgirl at 3:40 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


Ah good:

Georgia law enforcement authorities are treating the investigation into Jones’ death as a negligent homicide, setting the stage for the biggest safety-related scandal to rock Hollywood in at least a decade.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:40 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


What a tragic story... the whole of the Oscar ceremony should have been dedicated to her IMHO... instead of the usual wallowfest of self-loving conspicuous-consumption good-for-nothing-apart-from-90-minute luvvie billionaires. Meh.
posted by Monkeymoo at 3:42 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


thelonius: "That's appalling. They set up a shoot on a railroad trestle, with a twin bed frame as a prop, on the tracks, and had no idea if a train was coming or not?"

Without permission. And it sounds like they might have been specifically denied permission.
posted by Big_B at 3:45 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I work in the industry too, and I really can't imagine how this could ever happen. I personally have been in a position similar to this (not involving trains, but certainly involving a risk of my being killed) and my safety concerns ran up the chain until the director personally came to me to apologize, and the producer made sure my concerns were addressed. This is a tragedy, and I don't think a negligent homicide possibility is out of bounds.
posted by nevercalm at 3:47 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I would really like to see this become a rallying cry for stronger entertainment industry unions. Ironclad twelve hour days, much more stringent safety standards on the management side, and clauses in place that force productions to actually comply with pre-existing standards rather than just throw money at the problem after the fact.

There's definitely a "don't ask for permission, beg for forgiveness" mentality in film production, and in situations like this it puts lives at risk.
posted by Sara C. at 3:49 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


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This is awful.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:50 PM on March 4


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posted by Sara C. at 3:51 PM on March 4


Friends we watched the Oscars with mentioned this. It's even more awful than they'd described.

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posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


As part of my job I have to coordinate technicians and contractors working in potentially-dangerous situations, and one thing I've learned is that the onus really is on me (and any safety coordinator on-site) to be hard-asses. In an ideal world every person on site would feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to identify safety concerns and stop work until they are taken care of, but human nature is to think, "If this were unsafe, someone would tell me" or even worse "If I complain about this, I will be fired."
posted by muddgirl at 3:54 PM on March 4 [13 favorites]


That's appalling. They set up a shoot on a railroad trestle, with a twin bed frame as a prop, on the tracks, and had no idea if a train was coming or not?

The crew didn't have permission to be on the tracks. They thought it was just two trains, which they let past. Then a third one came along. Since there was no permission for the crew, the third train was going along at 75mph and then things got really ugly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:58 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


What a terrible, irresponsibly run shoot. That poor woman had no chance.

horrific on-set train accident

Shouldn't that be "on-location train accident"? I thought a set was something you built in the studio.
posted by w0mbat at 3:59 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


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posted by lord_wolf at 4:00 PM on March 4


Brandon Blatcher's link seems to confirm that they did not have permission to be on the tracks and that they knew they did not have permission. How could the director possibly have chosen to proceed? Why did he imagine that he could anticipate the train schedule? It's completely nuts. I want to say, "there must be some other explanation", but I'm afraid there might not be.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:10 PM on March 4


While this is the most egregious disregard for set safety in recent history, in my career I've seen hundreds of examples of corners cut and minor safety precautions ignored. There's an all-too-common attitude that normal rules and regulations don't apply that is half-jokingly referred to as "cinematic immunity."

Perhaps the greatest safety threat is the industry-standard practice of working crews 13+ hours every day, occasionally as many as 19-20 hours on an especially long day. I've seen timecards from Teamster drivers (!) with several 20-hour days in a single week, and I myself have dozed off at a stoplight after a long day a handful of times. This is compounded by the common practice of switching back and forth from day shoots to overnight shoots in a single week, creating a permanent 'jet lag' amongst the crew.

The cinematographer Haskell Wexler ('One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest') has been a long proponent of revising these crew hour practices, and filmed a documentary about the subject called 'Who Needs Sleep?' some years back. He's created an initiative called '12 On 12 Off' which sets guidelines of a maximum 12-hour day with a minimum of 12 hours off between shifts.
posted by skammer at 4:11 PM on March 4 [27 favorites]


I used to work at the fringes of the industry, well outside the studio zone and the world of studio money and union shoots, where this production lived. And you would not believe the kind of corners that get cut and the shit that gets pulled as filmmakers desperately try to produce some kind of quality movie without actually having the money to do it with. But this surprises even me.

This is no more an accident than when a very drunk person gets behind the wheel of a car and kills someone. We send people to jail for that, and I can't imagine how a prosecutor could fail to see a negligent homicide case here. Someone is probably going to end up in jail over this, especially if it's true that they had been specifically denied permission to shoot on the bridge. That's about as reckless a disregard for human life as you can get.
posted by Naberius at 4:13 PM on March 4


Quoted from one of the links in the "safety protocols" link in the OP:
Putting Sarah Jones in the “In Memoriam” segment wouldn’t sell movies very well at all. It might even make it clear that something is wrong with the way that they are made: that the value of money often trumps the value of humanity, sometimes even the value of a human life, in the business that has been built around them.
The situation reminds me of the Twilight Zone movie from when I was in high school, where Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors were killed in an accident. I never saw the movie because it just felt wrong to consume it as entertainment when someone died making it. I have to admit hoping that the financial people force the filmmakers to drop this movie. If hitting them in the pocketbook is the only way to convince filmmakers to operate safely, let's do it.
posted by immlass at 4:14 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


From the report Brandon Blatcher linked:
Midnight Rider executive producer Jay Sedrish, interviewed by a detective, was asked point blank if the company had permission to shoot on the tracks and trestle.

“That’s complicated,” he replied.
It's such a huge tell when people use that phrase, I wish more people would call them on it. No, Jay, it's not complicated: you didn't have permission. What's complicated is why you went ahead anyway without it.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:14 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


Re the distinction between "set" vs. "location".

Set has a lot of colloquial meanings in film production. There are three important ways it's used.

In one sense, yes, "a set" refers to a built environment, usually on a soundstage. In this sense, the set is designed by the art director, built by the construction department, painted/wallpapered/aged/dirtied by the scenic artists, and decorated by the set decorator and dressers.

In another sense, "set" refers to the general place where shooting happens. In the production office, I might ask, "When does second meal need to be on set?" As in, when does it need to arrive at the place we're shooting today. This could be a soundstage or it could be a separate location.

In a third sense, "set" refers to the immediate area where filming is currently occurring, on location. I might drive to a location, park in the area set aside for crew members to park, and then ask someone, "Where is set right now?" Meaning "what specific area of this location are we currently shooting in?" This is to differentiate the place where the crew is actively working from, for example, where we're going to be shooting later in the day, where we're holding extras, where catering is going to set up later, etc. A location is a lot bigger than just the set.

Usually "on set" given with no particular context is assumed to be the second sense of the word, "place where shooting happens".
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


That it happened was a crime and I hope it's treated as such.

Yeah, that's what they said about Vic Morrow the two children that died with him. But Landis was acquitted and then given movies with even higher budgets. Anyone below the line is expendable.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:17 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I used to work on the railroad a couple summers and there is no way they had permission. Railroads have very strict and pretty universal safety rules, there would definitely have been railroad staff there if it was legal and that section of track would have been closed. Many, many protocols to prevent this exist, they were just ignored.

The railroad can prosecute them too most likely, and probably will.
posted by fshgrl at 4:23 PM on March 4 [17 favorites]


How could the director possibly have chosen to proceed?

Because it isn't really his choice.

On the one hand, the morally right thing would have been for the director to have made it his business to know about production issues like "the permit fell through", and to refuse to shoot on principle.

In reality, however, most likely the director didn't even know they didn't have permission to be there. Because directors don't handle that stuff. It would have fallen under the responsibilities of the locations department, which in practical/non-creative matters reports to the unit production manager and line producer. When the location manager told the line producer that they didn't have permission to shoot the train tracks, the line producer should have taken that as a hard "no" on the train track shoot and figured something else out.

I work in locations, and during my tenure I've never witnessed a deal falling through in this way. However I have worked on other films that lost locations, and the usual solution is not "well let's just shoot there anyway, I mean what could go wrong?"

That's where the failure happened. The person (a producer or maybe the production manager) who said "let's do it anyway" is responsible for Sarah's death.

The worst thing is that the production manager is literally the "boss" of the entire below the line union crew. It is his or her specific job to stand up for them, to make sure they are safe, and to comply with rules and laws on their behalf.
posted by Sara C. at 4:23 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


"Hey, why can't we say 'accident,' again?" "Because 'accident' implies there's nobody to blame."
posted by ckape at 4:25 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


But Landis was acquitted and then given movies with even higher budgets.

What happened to the producers and production manager? I would hope that at the very least they never worked again.

Also, my understanding is that the Twilight Zone thing was a genuine accident or a kind of unavoidable negligence? I'll admit I don't know a ton about that particular case.

This particular death is crawling with red flags about specific people making specific decisions to put the crew's safety in jeopardy. While, yes, below the line are nobodies, a part of me would like to think that in a situation like this one, some chickens are at least going to approach the henhouse while contemplating a nice roost.
posted by Sara C. at 4:29 PM on March 4


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Horrifying.
My thoughts also go out to the train operator, who did absolutely nothing wrong and will likely be haunted by this.
posted by TwoStride at 4:32 PM on March 4 [30 favorites]


Because it isn't really his choice.

While this is generally true, in this particular case the director of this film was also the primary producer (along with his wife.) Additionally, reports online have indicated that he was a bit of a 'cowboy' and on the DVD commentary for his previous film was practically bragging about their "guerilla" style of production.

There will be endless speculation about who should share blame, and it certainly doesn't absolve the UPM and 1st AD of their responsibility to keep the crew safe, but I'm not so sure I'd rule out the director just yet.
posted by skammer at 4:34 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


Sara C.: In this case, the movie is being produced by Unclaimed Freight Productions, which seems to be run by Randall Miller, who is also directing the movie. Do you think that it would still be the case that Miller probably didn't know that they didn't have permission to film on the tracks?

EDIT: Sorry, didn't see skammer's comment when I posted.
posted by IAmUnaware at 4:34 PM on March 4


Holy hell.

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posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:35 PM on March 4


In reality, however, most likely the director didn't even know they didn't have permission to be there. Because directors don't handle that stuff.

it's hard to imagine a director not asking a few basic questions during tech scouts or production meetings about having permits to shoot on the train tracks. Also, it appears that it was common knowledge on-set that a train could arrive. And as the director's final strike, as people point out above, his production company was in charge of the film. I can't believe that the fault lies solely with the locations department.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:36 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Unverified reports (i.e. comments on Facebook pages) have indicated that the location manager walked off the production after higher-ups insisted on shooting there despite being denied permission by CSX to be on the tracks.

I take FB comments with a grain of salt, of course, but given the surrounding circumstances I don't find this hard to believe. Eventually the facts will come out as the criminal investigation continues. The local authorities have turned the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and it's possible federal charges will be in play as federal law has jurisdiction over railroad land.
posted by skammer at 4:41 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


in this particular case the director of this film was also the primary producer

Oh man. Shit. Every single thing I hear about this case makes it worse than what I ever thought it could be. Christ.

it's hard to imagine a director not asking a few basic questions during tech scouts or production meetings about having permits to shoot on the train tracks

OK, so on a typical shoot, it's very possible that this is just information that the director wouldn't have. The tech scout for a feature might happen a month before the date they actually shoot. The permit wouldn't even have been filed by then*. Mundane location issues like "are we allowed to shoot there" aren't typically discussed in production meetings that include the director**, unless there's some seriously thorny issues everyone is already aware of.

A film director is primarily responsible for the creative aspects of the film. All the boring paperwork stuff like location agreements, whether there'll be a safety officer on set, specific wording on permits, etc. is very specifically not in the director's world.

Though, of course, in this case Randall Miller absolutely should have known and had no excuse. The fault here absolutely lies with him, as well as with other producers on the project and the unit production manager.

(It does not at all lie with the locations department, just to be clear.)

*Though I think in this case not only did they not have a permit, they also didn't have the company's permission, which, unless it fell through at the last minute -- which can happen -- SHOULD have been worked out before a tech scout.

**Keep in mind, though, in this particular case the producer WAS the director, which makes not knowing absolutely inexcusable.
posted by Sara C. at 4:43 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


In case anyone is interested in following the story further, the Facebook page of Ray Brown (president of IATSE Local 479, which represents below-the-line crew in Georgia) is being regularly updated with news stories and commentary on this tragic event. It has also been a gathering place for people spearheading efforts to raise awareness about set safety.

Amidst the tragedy, it has been inspiring to see the film community as a whole rally around Sarah and dedicate themselves to ensuring this never happens again.
posted by skammer at 4:51 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Her death is being investigated as negligent homicide

Fucking eh right, it's negligent homicide. Utterly disgusting.

Remember, railroads aren't like highways. They're private property. Without permission (which they obviously didn't have), the whole production crew was trespassing. This is like shooting the final scene of Terminator 2 in the steel mill if the production crew had broken in in the middle of the night to shoot with all the girders and furnaces and no staff present.

From shore, several dozen yards away, a voice shouted to the crew that in the event a train appeared, everyone would have 60 seconds to clear the tracks.

I just...what??? I'm not victim blaming for a second, but I can't believe the crew didn't walk off there. That they didn't even feel like they had the option is insane. Unions, mother**cker
posted by dry white toast at 4:52 PM on March 4 [7 favorites]


A film director is primarily responsible for the creative aspects of the film. All the boring paperwork stuff like location agreements, whether there'll be a safety officer on set, specific wording on permits, etc. is very specifically not in the director's world.

Maybe this is just a difference between television and features, but I'm used to way more interaction between producers and directors than that. As a producer, I would very much hold a director as one of the people accountable. (If I was on-set myself, I'd also hold myself responsible even though filing permits and locations is very much not my job).
posted by Bookhouse at 4:54 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Just to expand on that a little further:

If we were doing something like moving a part of the crew onto a bridge over water with a drop, which is dangerous even without trains coming, I'd expect an on-set safety meeting led by the first AD outlining safety procedures. If that didn't happen, I would expect any on-set producer as well as the director, as authority figures, to ask questions. Failing to do so is negligent.

I cannot imagine a responsible director who would allow something like this to happen, even removing the most egregious details of this specific case.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:00 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


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posted by Joey Michaels at 5:03 PM on March 4


Meanwhile, Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips is broke because he was paid less for that movie than the giftbags at the Oscars were worth. Cool industry you got there, movies.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:04 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


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posted by crush-onastick at 5:05 PM on March 4


Even if they *had* permission, I would expect a signalperson at each end of the track+ comfortable stopping distance, properly trained in how to signal to a train that the track was blocked, in case someone had missed the memo in the train scheduling department. Not having either? Someone(s) damn well better be going to jail.
posted by tavella at 5:05 PM on March 4


Meanwhile, Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips is broke because he was paid less for that movie than the giftbags at the Oscars were worth.

He had no previous experience and was paid $65,000 for less than nine week's work. That's nearly 50% over the average annual median household income in the US.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:16 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


I can't believe the crew didn't walk off there

The complicated thing is that this happened in Georgia, which doesn't see a lot of shoots. These people really need the work, they really want other projects to come to Georgia to shoot, and they're a lot more inclined to be, well, not star-struck exactly, but to fall prey to the "cinematic immunity" idea mentioned upthread.

This is why it's important that the below the line crew have meaningful advocates in their unions and the production manager. Because it's really unfair to leave huge decisions like this to a group of individuals who all mostly just want to come to work tomorrow.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


I'm used to way more interaction between producers and directors than that

Oh, of course. And in this particular case, the director is the producer and the other producer is his wife. So there is really, really no excuse AT ALL.

But thinking of the features I've worked on (which are so far not auteur-ish labor of love projects), yeah, I don't know? It would depend on a lot.

Either way, the decision really really isn't in the director's hands. The director should put his foot down -- and if the director is a producer, he must put his foot down even if he's not married to the line producer -- but the actual responsibility here lies more specifically somewhere else.
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I'd expect an on-set safety meeting led by the first AD outlining safety procedures. If that didn't happen, I would expect any on-set producer as well as the director, as authority figures, to ask questions. Failing to do so is negligent.

QFT
posted by Sara C. at 5:22 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Even if they *had* permission, I would expect a signalperson at each end of the track+ comfortable stopping distance, properly trained in how to signal to a train that the track was blocked, in case

That would not be any safer. When you're authorized to be on the track the Railroad staff do all that for you, no way they let you handle any safety calls or do any signaling. They have myriad automated and manual safety checks and constant comms because they work on the track daily. If you have any experience at all in that field it's immediately apparent they were trespassing.

If you show up to a railroad and there's not someone in official railroad gear giving you constant safety directions, you're either not there legally or not in the US.
posted by fshgrl at 5:25 PM on March 4 [17 favorites]


As I said, properly trained in signalling, which would likely be a railroad employee -- in fact I would expect the railroad would want that for the safety of their fleet. It wasn't just crew members that blocking a track could have killed. But if the railroad preferred that the film company hire Train Safety Incorporated instead, that would have been fine, as long as they knew what they were doing.
posted by tavella at 5:29 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of a mantra from Dirty Jobs, which was: "Safety Third."

We say "Safety First" but the number of people killed on the job every day demonstrates we really don't mean it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:33 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Just FYI, yes, if they'd had CSX's permission to shoot, they'd have had CSX employees doing the signalling.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


but the actual responsibility here lies more specifically somewhere else.

It seems to me like part of the problem is the idea that there's a single person or a few people responsible for safety. In an idea world Sarah Jones would have been empowered enough to halt a production that's trying to film on a train track without the fear of getting fired for it.
posted by muddgirl at 5:41 PM on March 4


We say "safety third" all the time as well, and it's sort of funny, but when it comes down to it and if my ass is on a bridge where a train could sneak up on me and my gear, I'm damn sure going to say "silly question, but they know we're here and there's someone covering us, yes?" And if doing so gets me fired (and it might, depending on how well you know who you're working with) then so be it. Better to live for the next gig than be splattered all over the front of a train for some direct-to-torrent production.

There really isn't any excuse for this.
posted by nevercalm at 5:43 PM on March 4


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:44 PM on March 4


The director should put his foot down -- and if the director is a producer, he must put his foot down even if he's not married to the line producer -- but the actual responsibility here lies more specifically somewhere else.

Agreed.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:45 PM on March 4


the idea that there's a single person or a few people responsible for safety.

But on a film crew, there are specific people who are responsible for safety.

This isn't to say that the average crew member is disempowered or not encouraged to think about safety -- quite the opposite, actually.

But in terms of safety, here's how it usually shakes down.

The studio has specific production safety policies that everyone is responsible for being aware of and complying with. (Though I think this film was an indie, which means there's less accountability here.)

Below that, you've got the producers, specifically the line producer, who tends to handle more of the nuts and bolts production concerns as opposed to ginning up funding, gladhanding execs, massaging talent, and the like.

Below the line producer, you've got the production manager, whose SPECIFIC JOB it is to directly manage the day to day operations of the crew. Specifically to make sure that management (the producers/production company/studio) is in compliance with things like safety standards and union bylaws. This is kind of a "you had ONE JOB!" sort of deal.

Some jobs (not sure about this one) also have a "production supervisor" who ranks slightly below the production manager and is also charged to specifically deal with these kinds of nuts and bolts issues.

On set, safety concerns specifically fall to the Assistant Directors. On jobs I've worked on this has been more the purview of the second AD rather than the first (for instance mundane stuff like "everybody has to wear safety vests while directing traffic!"), but if there are key safety concerns that are known about in advance, the first AD will be involved and lead the necessary on-set safety meetings and walkthroughs.

Below that, the responsibility for safety goes to the department heads. This would be the location manager, the cinematographer, the gaffer, the production designer, etc. Sarah Jones was a camera assistant. It would have fallen to her direct supervisor, the cinematographer (or possibly the first assistant camera, on a really big feature) to be aware of safety concerns.

Below the level of department heads, yes, each crew member should be on the lookout and aware of safety concerns. But people are busy, and as mentioned above, there are a lot of complicated reasons why someone as low on the totem pole as Sarah might not have spoken up.
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


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I had wondered what the black ribbons were about. Thanks for the post.
posted by warm_planet at 6:12 PM on March 4


A film director is primarily responsible for the creative aspects of the film. All the boring paperwork stuff like location agreements, whether there'll be a safety officer on set, specific wording on permits, etc. is very specifically not in the director's world.

Okay though, but shouldn't the director have noticed the GIANT TRAINS HURTLING THROUGH THE SET? Like, I feel like this is a step beyond noticing whether or not there are pieces of paper or catering waivers or whatever. Because GIANT TRAINS.

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posted by jetlagaddict at 6:19 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


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posted by ob1quixote at 6:24 PM on March 4


How could the director possibly have chosen to proceed? Why did he imagine that he could anticipate the train schedule? It's completely nuts. I want to say, "there must be some other explanation", but I'm afraid there might not be.

From a previous thread ... concerning another fatal on-location accident in Georgia, this one on a student film ...

I remember working as location liaison on some big deal Hollywood film that was shooting in a crumbling ex-refinery. The location manager had secured access to various safe areas but, as is so often the case, once the crew showed up they suddenly needed to push the boundaries a bit (specifically to hang a light in a place that hadn't been secured as it would've saved them a bunch of time). Of course, they wanted me to just kind of nod along and say, "Go for it." But I didn't. I didn't say, "No" either as I didn't really have that authority (which is a huge deal on a mega-bucks production where even fifteen minutes of downtime can cost thousands of dollars of wastage).

Finally, the Director of Photography, Peter Watkin wandered into the discussion. The word venerable applies (DOP credits going back to 1956 including the likes of Goldfinger, Help, Charge of the Light Brigade, The Devils, Catch-22, Chariots of Fire, Memphis Belle, Out Of Africa for which he won the Oscar). He caught the gist of what was going and simply said to me, "Can you not assure me that it's absolutely safe to do this?"

I said, "No, I can't."

He immediately nixed the idea, said he'd made it this far in his career without getting any blood on his hands and he wasn't about to risk it to save a few thousand bucks on a multi-million dollar production. The crew did things the hard (safe) way and nobody got hurt ... except maybe some bean-counter back in La-La-Land.

posted by philip-random at 6:24 PM on March 4 [14 favorites]


Sara C., I don't think this production had anywhere near that kind of hierarchy or structure. It sounds like it was only a notch or two above Survivorman in terms of staffing.
posted by Flashman at 6:26 PM on March 4


.

I remember hearing this on the radio and all I could think of was Landis's "Twilight Zone".

Am I wrong to think that this kind of disregard for the life of the folks necessary to one's project is kind of a white male thing?
posted by allthinky at 6:26 PM on March 4


At least Survivorman only risks his own life.
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posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:29 PM on March 4


Am I wrong to think that this kind of disregard for the life of the folks necessary to one's project is kind of a white male thing?

I think there are negligent and careless people of all races in positions of leadership, particularly if you want to look outside of Europe and North America.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:34 PM on March 4 [10 favorites]


Am I wrong to think......

Not gonna say yes or no, but it's wrong to bring it up here.
posted by cult_url_bias at 6:37 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


If there hadn't been an accident, would anyone have known about the unsafe conditions? Obviously the producer isn't going to brag about it later on the DVD commentary track, but what I'm asking is, at some point would a fake permit have to be forged and added to the legal file of permits and filming rights used to make this show? Is it a standard part of a production to have someone maintain a legal file full of permissions and permits for every location, participant, etc, and does anyone check them, particularly for "indie" productions?

Is footage showing people doing risky things just blindly accepted if noone was hurt? Is there a set of independent freelance lawyers who scan through movies looking for trackside scenes or famous landmarks, who try to figure out where the exact filming location was, and then sue for trespassing on behalf of the railroad/landmark owners unless they get proof of authorization or that the shooting was done elsewhere?

Can indies really get away with hoping noone gets hurt and hoping noone notices enough to sue? Noone audits these things? Sure, you can hide a lot of unsafe activity off-camera, but can you just make a scene on a rail trestle bridge without anyone checking whether you had a permit?

Apologies for rambly question asked three different ways. I'm really curious about the project-management side of filmmaking.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:40 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


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posted by limeonaire at 6:42 PM on March 4


Am I wrong to think that this kind of disregard for the life of the folks necessary to one's project is kind of a white male thing?

Yes.
posted by skammer at 6:55 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]


Is footage showing people doing risky things just blindly accepted if noone was hurt?

as someone who was involved in a bunch of guerrilla level low budget filmmaking back in my youth, I think the quick answer is "yes" unfortunately. We got away with all kinds of dubious stuff. Not because we were evil or greedy or whatever, but because we were young, reckless, ambitious. Very fortunately, though there were any number of close calls, I don't recall any serious injuries.

Meanwhile, you have the car chase in French Connection ...
posted by philip-random at 7:12 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Though, of course, in this case Randall Miller absolutely should have known and had no excuse. The fault here absolutely lies with him, as well as with other producers on the project and the unit production manager.

Wow. When I read the article, I assumed that the people running things must have been new in the business and not known what they were doing but he's been around for a quarter century doing TV and films. Someone with that much experience should have known better.

I might actually be in his movie Houseguest. I was standing in line in a bank in Sewickley, PA twenty years ago while they were filming that movie and a production assistant sticks his head in the door and says "Don't turn around and look out the window, we're shooting in from outside." I've never actually seen it so I don't know if the back of my head made the cut.
posted by octothorpe at 7:14 PM on March 4


Can indies really get away with hoping noone gets hurt and hoping noone notices enough to sue?

All this paperwork is generated and stored, but there is no particular entity that would pay to ensure every safety protocol was followed after the fact. The paperwork is generally only audited if some kind of incident happens. (One exception: the distributor's legal department will audit all location, cast, music agreements etc to make sure they have appropriate legal rights to use that footage, but they aren't really concerned with safety, per se.)

Short answer: indie films can (and do) get away with it... until they don't.
posted by skammer at 7:15 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I've been a member of the railroad crew on rail-related film shoots. Every time non-railcrew members were working on railroad property (which is much wider an area that one might think), we had safety railcrew in a ratio of at least 1 to 1, and often more, with the numbers of the film crew/talent that were present. That kind of participation is not cheap on a union railroad, easily doubling your personnel costs. Add to that the costs of operational delays and interruptions, (which all are written into contract language for film use of railroad property), and it's

a) not surprising that some Hollywood asshole decided "fuck the permission" and thought he'd get away with a railfan "consultant" equipped with a scanner radio, and/or

b) that the railroad, knowing the condition of the bridge wrt the safety of untrained personnel and the limited clearance at the site, and having operational pressures that demanded they run relatively tight schedules, said not only NO to the film request, but HELL NO.

Even when I operated museum trains at a cash-strapped museum, we regularly turned down remunerative work because there was no way to do a proposed shoot safely. Yes, you might move a film crew to a safer location , but in the end, there's no replacing a human life.
posted by pjern at 7:31 PM on March 4 [27 favorites]


It seems to me like part of the problem is the idea that there's a single person or a few people responsible for safety. In an idea world Sarah Jones would have been empowered enough to halt a production that's trying to film on a train track without the fear of getting fired for it.
posted by muddgirl at 5:41 PM on March 4 [+] [!]


Exactly. And this is where things like unions and employment laws come in.

As an example, I've worked in the mining industry in Australia, and the 'safety first' mantra is absolutely drilled into every employee as a personal responsibility. Employees can advocate for their own safety whilst knowing that their jobs are safe.

During mine-site safety inductions, it is made crystal clear that even the 'lowest' employee should not, and in fact must not, comply with directions from anybody (up to and including the mine manager) if those directions flout even the most minor safety regulation. I would never have been afraid to bring up a safety concern for fear of losing my job. I'm not saying the system never fails, but it's a mile away from the kind of cowboy arrogance displayed here.

The only way to stop these tragedies from happening is to hit people in their hip pockets. It's so expensive for a mining company to injure or kill someone that they make damn sure it doesn't happen. It looks as if the film industry needs a massive shakeup in this regard, because yes, this poor young woman was basically killed by her employers.
posted by Salamander at 7:41 PM on March 4 [12 favorites]


What happened to the producers and production manager? I would hope that at the very least they never worked again.

Let's look in IMDB for the post-accident careers of his 3 co-defendants, George Folsey, Dan Allingham, Paul Stewart, I'll skip the helicopter pilot.

AP George Folsey Jr: Coming to America, Bulletproof, Dirty Work, The Pink Panther, etc etc currently at work in post-production on 3 films.

PM Dan Allingham: A Breed Apart, Into the Night, Spies Like Us, Three Amigos. etc. etc. nothing after 2003.

SFX Paul Stewart: Gorky Park, Predator, Road House, Die Hard 2 3 & 4, Thelma & Louise, Planet of the Apes 2001, Nothing after 2001.

They not only worked again, Hollywood made sure they worked, and at a higher level than before. Nobody gets in the way of the studios, not even the law. I presume the only reason the last two stopped at about 2001-3 was because they retired or died of old age.

Also, my understanding is that the Twilight Zone thing was a genuine accident or a kind of unavoidable negligence? I'll admit I don't know a ton about that particular case.

Watch the accident for yourself and decide. Warning: brutal, horrible death, close up and from multiple angles.

Landis blamed the SFX. Bullshit. Landis made the copter fly low, too close to the explosives, the detonation hit the copter and destabilized it. The pilot tried to pull up but crashed back onto the actors. This was 100% preventable, and 100% due to Landis wanting a more dramatic shot, so he pushed the safety limits too far. The only result was that Landis got a written reprimand for hiring minors without a work permit. It appears that under California labor law, it is OK to kill children during a movie shoot, if you have a work permit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:41 PM on March 4 [20 favorites]


This is horrific. Before seeing this post, I had assumed it was some kind of faulty mechanical problem with the train which was part of a stunt sequence in the movie. Halfway through reading the article, I felt a huge chill up my spine when I realized the train was not part of the film, and they were really shooting a movie on a railroad track that was in active use.

It's an indie film, but the cast, while not strictly A-list, is also not strictly full of unknowns. Which probably wouldn't have happened if the producers were newbies fresh out of film school. It's certainly not Randall Miller's first rodeo. This article has someone from the production who concurs that they aren't first-timers, saying the railroad is lying, and they did have permits (but then where were the RR safety crew?).

.
posted by bluefly at 7:45 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Having been involved in both budgeted and guerilla productions, I can assure you of one thing: this tragedy will do absolutely nothing to raise the safety standards in low/no budget prods. The reason is extremely simple: people are clueless and the pressure to shoot is unyielding.

People are clueless: they really are - like in not understanding simple physics. It's not that they disregard risk, it's that they're unaware that there is risk associated with what they propose. I cannot tell you how often I had a director propose some idiotic stunt and not realize that it was dangerous (even blindingly obvious stuff like setting off fireworks in a bone-dry barn in the middle of a heat wave). Those are the easy cases - when you point out the danger, they're amenable to changes. Some unfortunately are both clueless and touchy about their brilliant idea being shot down.

And yes, if you present the options as: do it safely for a lot more money, or don't do it at all, the choice will always be to chance it, because if you don nothing, you got 100% guaranteed nothing. So they take chances.

Your only solution as a producer is to present safer options, with enough authority and persuasion that everyone falls in line.

The only thing that shocks me is that there aren't more accidents.
posted by VikingSword at 7:46 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


the pressure to shoot is unyielding.

Absolutely. And it's even worse than that. This bit in the article pissed me off more than anything:

Jones, several bags slung over each shoulder, shouted something about what to do with the expensive camera equipment. “Drop it!” Gilliard and others yelled. “Just drop it!”

Here is a woman about to die, and her immediate concern is to save the cameras, not herself. Nobody would make this decision except under extreme pressure. The cameras and the footage is more important than anything else on the set. It was the hairstylist who tells her to drop it and save herself. Too late.

None of this surprises me. I used to live at a popular downtown LA location. One day I saw three movie crews show up at once, oops someone at the Permits office triple booked. I saw three producers get into a fist fight over who got to shoot. Grown men, trying to knock each other's block off, rolling in the dirt and grappling each other over a fucking movie. Just imagine how they bullied their crews.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:27 PM on March 4 [9 favorites]


Obviously the producer isn't going to brag about it later on the DVD commentary track, but what I'm asking is, at some point would a fake permit have to be forged and added to the legal file of permits and filming rights used to make this show?

Actually, one of the commentary tracks for one of the various versions of The Terminator has Cameron or Hurd talking about how they often didn't have permits and occasionally running away from cops in a way that's somewhere between really frank and kinda bragging.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:52 PM on March 4


How horrible.
posted by Glinn at 9:51 PM on March 4


.
posted by luckynerd at 10:12 PM on March 4


The summer after my sophomore year in college, I got what I thought was an exciting New York theatre internship, ASM-ing a production of Shakespeare in a park next to the river in Harlem. It soon became clear to me that the director was both verbally and occasionally physically abusive, but I thought that was par for the course in the city and I was paying my dues. There was little regard for rights or concerns.

Our lighting consisted of several Source Fours on 15 or 20-foot-high shaky metal structures, which were to be tied to the park's trees. We did not get permission from the park to do this; in fact, the request was soundly rejected. The lighting apparatus went up anyway, secured to nothing. I think there were a few sandbags.

During the final week or two of rehearsal, the skies darkened to an ominous red, winds whipped up, and it was clear that there was about to be one hell of a surprise summer storm, that would be worse right next to the water, where we were. Dust was blowing around violently and we could hardly see. We should have been allowed to take cover. Instead, the director backed away and shouted at me to save and cover the sound equipment, which was clearly more valuable than me. I stumbled over and started to protect the equipment, unidentified items whipping me in the face. I heard a metallic clanging and suddenly I was on the ground; the lighting poles had collapsed and a giant stage light had smashed into the back of my head, then ripped down my shirt and back and pinned me to the earth. My glasses were nowhere to be found. I felt my jaw click as I tried to shout for help. I was too stunned to form words.

The ride in the ambulance consisted of me and our oldest actor, who after recovering from a stroke a few years ago now had to deal with a sliced forehead from a gel frame. I remember being angry at myself for crying in the ambulance because I couldn't "handle it" and that meant I wasn't good enough, so I remained stoic in the hospital as a doctor stapled the back of my head together and covered my lower back with gauze while gunshot victims were wheeled in around us.

I returned to my dorm room late at night with instructions for my boyfriend to check on me every few hours to make sure I didn't have a serious concussion. The director, grumbling, gave me one day off. When I returned the next day, she made me walk around the city for hours in a massive heat wave to put up posters, a job anybody else who didn't still have dried blood in her hair, no glasses, and terrible back pain could have done. I did it. The company didn't cover my excess medical bills. I got a surprise bill for the ambulance five years later.

I don't have experience in film, but it's obvious to me that there are a lot of low-budget (or high-budget) entertainment-producing companies that have a total disregard for safety, particularly the lower down you are on the pole. One time I recounted this story to a medical professional as a "war story" from my line of work, only to be told seriously that, if the light had struck the back of my neck and not my hard head, I could have been paralyzed or killed for the sake of an unpaid internship and some sound equipment.

This is a terrible thing that could have been prevented. No excuses. It needs to stop.
posted by ilana at 10:21 PM on March 4 [24 favorites]


Such a stupid, avoidable incident. Train schedules are free.

.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:21 PM on March 4


Here is a woman about to die, and her immediate concern is to save the cameras, not herself. Nobody would make this decision except under extreme pressure.

I see and agree with your point, but I've known more than one still photographer who would made that decision for their equipment alone, much less for shot film.
posted by gingerest at 10:22 PM on March 4


I don't have experience in film, but it's obvious to me that there are a lot of low-budget (or high-budget) entertainment-producing companies that have a total disregard for safety, particularly the lower down you are on the pole.

This is absolutely true in the lower levels of the music business. Over the course of 40 years of local gigging, I've been asked to perform in unsafe situations a number of times. Most recently, it was a promoter who wanted an outdoor show to continue despite rain that was leaving water on the stage - Google "Stone The Crows," kids - and a hotel manager who demanded that the band set up poolside, despite the fact that the spot she indicated was in full, direct sunlight on a 100-degree day, on a stone patio (excellent heat absorption!) with no shade or shelter, not even a beach umbrella, permitted. So in addition to the whole water+electricity thing, it also was pretty much multiple cases of heat exhaustion and/or heatstroke waiting to happen.

After a too-long period of reluctantly agreeing to stuff I shouldn't have, due to being young, stupid and/or broke, I now have a pretty specific list of things I won't do, no matter how much I'm getting paid. I understand how Sarah Jones and her fellow crew members could have felt pressured into doing something unsafe, and while it won't bring her back, I do hope there are appropriate consequences for the person or people responsible.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:47 PM on March 4


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posted by From Bklyn at 12:12 AM on March 5


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posted by Tacodog at 12:17 AM on March 5


Train schedules are free.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE TRAIN SCHEDULES.

YOU DON'T TRESPASS ON THE TRACKS

because

YOU COULD GET HIT BY A TRAIN.
posted by tel3path at 2:28 AM on March 5 [21 favorites]


Even if they *had* permission, I would expect a signalperson at each end of the track+ comfortable stopping distance, properly trained in how to signal to a train that the track was blocked, in case someone had missed the memo in the train scheduling department. Not having either? Someone(s) damn well better be going to jail.
I used to work in a railroad engineering company that also employed chartered surveyors + geologists that worked on existing permanent way, doing stuff like general surveying, checking the ballast, that kind of thing. Before even setting foot on the tracks, everybody needed to pass a railroad safety course administered by the national railroad authorities. When a team was working on the tracks, two guards with bullhorns needed to be posted at each end of the section, even during scheduled night shift work on a line that only ever had a few daytime trains coming through.

There is no way I would have been allowed onto the tracks even accompanied by 20 of these people. If you wanted to set up a film shoot I'd expect the whole line would have to be shut down for the duration, and safety personnel from the track owner would definitely be on-site.

Your safety and that of your colleagues is YOUR responsibility.
posted by brokkr at 2:35 AM on March 5


This article has someone from the production who concurs that they aren't first-timers, saying the railroad is lying, and they did have permits

I think someone is lying, but it isn't the railroad.
posted by thelonius at 2:53 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Train schedules are free.


Actually, no.

What you think of as a train schedule has very little resemblance to a railroad's Operating Timetable.
posted by pjern at 3:11 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]


I think someone is lying, but it isn't the railroad.

Yeah, the odds that CSX said "oh, sure, you can block the live railroad line with debris and people and we don't need to have anyone on site" seem... vanishingly small. While the odds that the guy who liked to brag about his guerrilla film technique decided that rules were for losers seem very high.
posted by tavella at 3:35 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]


This is a true tragedy, and it happens in the film industry much more often than is widely known. After almost two decades in the industry, I think I saw six on-set deaths, one on a low-budget show and the rest on medium and large budget shows. And EVERY SINGLE ONE was caused by rushing to get the shot. We could have been on the safest shoot in the world, with the entire crew encased in Zorbs and then there will come a shot where we MUST have golden hour lighting, on a set that we won't be allowed back on EVAR, where we're coming up on a noise restriction in a touchy neighborhood, or where we've closed an interstate on and off for eight hours and the Highway Patrol has handcuffed our producers for lying to them for the tenth time about opening the lanes, that's when people die. Rush rush rush, boom, call for medics and there's an electrician who you ate lunch with four hours ago in full cardiac arrest because he accidentally bridged a stage box. He'll be pronounced dead on the way to the hospital, we won't get the shot and GUESS WHAT? After a day off we'll be back, on that "impossible" set, at that "impossible" hour, getting that same "impossible" shot.

And this is just deaths. How many times have I seen someone injured so severely that they miss a year's work? Hell, for that matter how many times have I been on that knife's edge between surviving and not, as well as being injured myself? Strong unions notwithstanding, and I belong to a couple of the strongest unions in the industry, producers will always cut deals to get crews to work a week of eighteen hour days, with "adjusted" turnaround pay, and cash disbursements in exchange for our true union hourly rates with overtime, golden and platinum time. My personal best on a six day work week? 116 hours. I was falling asleep at every stoplight on the way home by the last two days of that week.

And here's where the pitiful dichotomy that is film production comes into play. We WILLINGLY come back and work on films, often for years upon years, because that's what we do. We take a certain pride in our craft and certainly the wages are not to be sneered at. But to a certain extent, we feed this monster ourselves. I've only seen two movies where production was halted for safety concerns. In both cases it required one person pointing it out, immediately getting fired by a producer, and then their whole department had to walk off to make it stick. Think about that for a minute. In one case it was just a matter of changing the camera angle to make it safe. We tugged around some set dressing, moved the dolly track, and fifteen minutes later we got the shot. And saved lives.

As you may be able to tell, this is a major issue to me. It's a contributing reason why I left the industry. I could write another five thousand words on this subject (I won't subject you to that, I'm just not that good a writer). I haven't even touched upon what happens whenever survivors attempt to sue a production company over a loved one's death. That deserves its own FPP. Or when you cross of one of the few (thankfully) producers who actually are powerful enough to make the statement, "You'll never work in this town again" actually stick. Hope you had a back-up job in another field. Or the casual, constant sexism and racism present in the industry. Don't come in with a thin skin. Don't come thinking you'll be able to sue your way to justice, because the minute you make trouble, all the people who might have witnessed whatever oppression you faced will disappear, sometimes bribed by producers but more often just threatened by them. And you'll be left there looking the fool.

One last nit-pick. The chief safety officer on any set is the key grip. The ADs might give safety meetings and pass out whatever special safety gear is required but the person on set for any safety issue is the key grip. You approach him/her if you see anything wrong and they make the call.

. For that poor second AC.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 4:34 AM on March 5 [42 favorites]


Warning: brutal, horrible death, close up and from multiple angles.

That's got to be the worst part about these things -- they are caught on camera. An article in Variety claims that the cameras in this case caught some or all of the incident and that the footage was secured as evidence by the county Sheriff's Department, although in this case perhaps the jurors in the trial will be spared having to watch it.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:36 AM on March 5


I also feel for the train crew. It's not like they could break or swerve to avoid this accident.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:49 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]


We've been in similar situation with my brother shooting a scene in which the actor was perched high on a truss bridge meditating, and we were lucky that no trains came during the shoot, because we'd have to hit the narrow sidewalk and pray and the actor might have been blown off the trusses into the river by the blast.
To our defense, we were all 14-16 years old at the time. And the track was a side line to a factory. And it was Sunday.
What a sad, sad story.
posted by hat_eater at 6:05 AM on March 5


Train schedules are free.

Believe it or not, trains don't always always run on a schedule, especially when there's no permission for anyone to be on the track.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:12 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


What a horrible tragedy.

Is is a crime to place large debris on train tracks? Because it seems like it should be.
posted by lalex at 7:18 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Sara C., I don't think this production had anywhere near that kind of hierarchy or structure. It sounds like it was only a notch or two above Survivorman in terms of staffing.

Quick note, Sarah Jones was like a 2nd Assistant Camera or something. Which means yeah, they absolutely DID have that level of hierarchy.

You don't have a camera department that large and not have a line producer, a UPM, or a cinematographer.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Is it a standard part of a production to have someone maintain a legal file full of permissions and permits for every location, participant, etc, and does anyone check them, particularly for "indie" productions?

Yes. In fact, on my current job, that person is me.

That said, the problem here isn't that somebody didn't make a copy of the right document for the file. When there's a significant production issue like not getting permission to use a location, that's a conversation that happens much higher than Person Responsible For Paperwork.

If something like this happened at my job, and my various bosses were unscrupulous assholes who were willing to put lives at risk, the line producer and the location manager would just sort of agree* to not have the requisite paperwork. Now, my job is a legit studio union gig, so there would be someone auditing all that paperwork at the end of the job. Which is why legit studio projects typically don't do this sort of thing. There's a whole structure of executives and lawyers who would be apoplectic just for liability reasons.

Going back to the specifics of this particular case, all the production's files (location oriented or otherwise) are going to be evidence in the case. The lack of a paper trail on the railroad location is going to be particularly damning.

*This is the biggest liability in a situation like this. It's a lot like the anecdote above about the crew wanting to work in an unsecured space, and is the location guy going to say no, etc. There is a lot of pressure to be laid back, look the other way, and say yes if you can find any other way of saying yes.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 AM on March 5


I can assure you of one thing: this tragedy will do absolutely nothing to raise the safety standards in low/no budget prods.

It should be noted that this was NOT a low/no budget production by any means.

It was a union job.

It was a biopic about someone for whom the producers would have had to obtain the life rights (which means money).

It was a large crew.

The cast contained well-known actors.

This was not this production team's first rodeo.

Framing this as some clueless nobodies who couldn't be expected to know about safety is bullshit.
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 AM on March 5 [11 favorites]


As to the size of the crew, this article states there were 20 present.

This article claims that there was no tech scout performed and that this wasn't even a scheduled shooting day, which is why there was no medic. Variety claims to have obtained the call sheet that lists it as "Pre-Shoot Day 1 of 1". It was a camera test, yet somehow William Hurt and his hairstylist were there? Yeah, somebody was trying to cook the books, definitely.

Is is a crime to place large debris on train tracks? Because it seems like it should be.

Criminal trespass most likely. (IANAL)
posted by Rhomboid at 9:18 AM on March 5


there were 20 present

Keep in mind that a lot of the crew, especially the production team responsible for a lot of the safety issues, may not have personally been on set that day. (Though it would have been expected that the line producer and/or UPM would have been there if it were a normal shooting day.)

A film crew isn't limited to just the shooting crew. A bare-bones shooting crew of 20 for a "camera test" implies a much larger production than some people would like to think this was.
posted by Sara C. at 9:26 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


It was a camera test, yet somehow William Hurt and his hairstylist were there? Yeah, somebody was trying to cook the books, definitely.

I understand why number one on the call sheet wouldn't be present for a camera test, but how would a fake camera test help cook the books? I'm pretty ignorant of the financial side of production.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:22 AM on March 5


I'm sorry, I'm just sitting here being amazed that anyone thought it was possible to film on an operational railroad track and survive.

This is such an obvious "death is inevitable" situation that I don't understand how anyone could think otherwise.

You stand on a railway track, you die. This is not complicated.
posted by tel3path at 10:32 AM on March 5


how would a fake camera test help cook the books?

They have a shooting day, but they don't call it a shooting day, so that it doesn't seem unusual that no location agreements are on file.

Normally you don't have a camera test on location, especially a complicated location like a railroad bridge. For shoots I've worked on where there's no soundstage work at all, the camera test is usually done out at the camera vendor's warehouse. I can see the Savannah area not having easy access to that, but again, you don't have a camera test on a railroad bridge. Book the local VFW hall or something.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I myself have dozed off at a stoplight after a long day a handful of times.

You do know that driving while impaired is a crime and you just confessed to it right?
posted by srboisvert at 11:00 AM on March 5


how would a fake camera test help cook the books? I'm pretty ignorant of the financial side of production.

It lets you operate with a skeleton crew without running afoul of union rules, and it gives you plausibility for being at a location that maybe hasn't been fully scouted or whatever ("it's just a few test shots, you know.") It's been reported that the crew did have permission from Rayonier to film on the land surrounding the tracks on the day of the incident. Perhaps somebody called up CSX and asks for permission to shoot on that trestle, and they're quoted a hefty fee -- after all, the line has to be shut down for the whole day and there will need to be a number of railroad safety officers present the whole time, potentially for long hours, and those guys are union too. Maybe that seems like too much cost, and maybe the director is someone who in the past has expressed an affinity to shooting gonzo without permits. So maybe you just secure permission to shoot on the surrounding forest land, and call it a camera test or something because you don't actually have any scenes set there, but wink-wink if you happen to wander over and get a few shots on the trestle while you're there, nobody's the wiser.

I don't know. That's pure speculation from someone that really doesn't know much about the industry and shouldn't be speculating. I could be completely full of it.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:01 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


If you're wrong, Rhomboid, you're probably not far wrong.
posted by muddgirl at 11:07 AM on March 5


.

I only hope that the Jones family sues everyone associated with this project for everything they ever owned in life or will ever own. When someone actually has to pony up for this horrible, horrible crime, then MAYBE personal accountability will factor into decisions about breaking the rules.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:09 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


You do know that driving while impaired is a crime and you just confessed to it right?

I just went to the police station to turn myself in. They laughed and laughed.

In all seriousness, nobody drives away from a set thinking they're too tired to drive. That's why the problem is so insidious. The sleepiness sets in suddenly when you are about halfway home.

FWIW, when it's happened I've pulled over to a parking lot or roadside to catch a quick nap, which is a common occurrence in the industry. Driving home after a 17-hour day is dangerous, but most experienced crew KNOW it's dangerous, and will snooze in their car trucker-style when warning signs appear.
posted by skammer at 11:26 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I myself have dozed off at a stoplight after a long day a handful of times.

You do know that driving while impaired is a crime and you just confessed to it right?


This happened to me a number of times when my son was a newborn, falling asleep with my forehead resting on the wheel. Sometimes I think people running on sleep deficits is the rule, not the exception.
posted by jokeefe at 5:17 PM on March 5


You do know that driving while impaired is a crime and you just confessed to it right?

Whereas being a smug, self-satisfied jerk isn't a crime, unfortunately. And it doesn't help move this conversation forward at all. Perhaps you could go buy your own radar gun and start documenting all the speeding drivers going 66 mph in a 65 mph zone.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:47 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


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posted by homunculus at 6:57 PM on March 5


In all seriousness, nobody drives away from a set thinking they're too tired to drive. That's why the problem is so insidious. The sleepiness sets in suddenly when you are about halfway home.
FWIW, when I was working nights I drove home falling asleep most mornings, even knowing I was too tired to drive, because it would have taken me four times longer to get home (hence to bed) by bus. I wasn't on night shift by choice - almost every new-grad nurse has to take nights sometimes. People can be as holier-than-thou as they like about it, but we do what we have to do.
posted by gingerest at 7:06 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I'm a Georgia below the line crew person, IATSE 479. My slates for the last 2 weeks have had Sarah's name on them. I'd met her, but only once or twice on set. I was not on her set, but I would like to clear up a few things said in this thread.

Georgia, unlike stated upthread, is no stranger to production. Aside from the last 3 Hunger Games movies, we have dozens of movies & narrative episodics shooting here every year thanks to our film tax incentives. My union alone has over 2500 active members. This feature, I'm fairly sure, happened under the purview of Savannah's union, 491. Sarah was a member of 600, the national camera local.

This was not a tiny indie, even if it was operating under the IATSE low budget agreement.

According to acquaintances on set, this was a camera test during a Prep day, as shown on the callsheet. Several other people were injured, a couple quite seriously, by flying debris or while clinging to the trestle as the train passed.

This production company had (locally) a reputation for cutting corners and word had spread to avoid them.

What I know about Sarah Jones was that she was very highly regarded among a lot of camera department folks I work with, who'd all been keeping her busy and bringing her up the chain.

This hit everyone in Georgia production hard, especially my colleague who started the Slates for Sarah campaign. I saw him hug his 2nd AC a lot last week.

Working in production is difficult at the best of times. It's hard to convey to people outside the business, but the semi military hierarchy of a set can't be overstressed- we depend on everyone else to do their job so that we can do ours safely. I've stopped situations on set that were clearly unsafe, but I've also spent a lot of time so wrapped up in my department that the sky could fall and I wouldn't notice.

It comes down to this: there was no reason in the world that this had to happen and the above the line people who are responsible should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

RIP Sarah.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 7:09 PM on March 5 [31 favorites]


When there's a significant production issue like not getting permission to use a location, that's a conversation that happens much higher than Person Responsible For Paperwork.

Thanks Sara. Just to be clear, the motivation for my question wasn't to blame the Records Keeper position, just to find out whether or not a paper trail was normally maintained for future audits. Like you pointed out, the absence of paperwork should heavily implicate the high-ups involved in this needless death.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:53 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


No, I gotcha.

And, yes, a paper trail is absolutely maintained. Unless it's not, and that's a huge red flag.

I actually spent most of my day making binders of all last season's location agreements and permits.
posted by Sara C. at 8:55 PM on March 5


I spent many years in the industry starting as a set production assistant, so I understand the pressure and desire to please one's superiors in order to get the next job, and the excitement of being a part of making it all happen. As mentioned above, the motivations are complicated.

As I began to climb the assistant director ladder, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor who insisted that I read Outrageous Conduct: Art, Ego, and the Twilight Zone Case. It should be required reading for all members of a production, above and below the line.

It's an excellent book and it made a huge impression on me. It informed many decisions that I would go on to make and several "no's" that I would go on to say to directors later in my career. There is intense pressure to be a team player to get the movie made, and just push a little harder, get a little closer, make it a little bigger, work a little longer, we're almost there. But in the end, it's just a freaking movie and no one's "vision" is worth an injury, never mind a life.

And heartily seconding everything that purposeful grimace said above.

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Rest in peace Sarah Jones
posted by lunaazul at 12:37 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


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