Sarah Jones: The Glaring Afterthought to Last Night's 'In Memoriam' Tribute
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Sarah Jones: The Glaring Afterthought to Last Night's 'In Memoriam' Tribute

By Vivian Kane | Miscellaneous | March 3, 2014 | Comments ()


Last night’s In Memoriam segment had one obvious (halfway) omission that left a lot of people very upset. And no, I’m not talking about Cory Monteith.

If you’re not familiar with Sarah Jones, she was a 27-year camera assistant who was killed last week on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider. The film was in its first day of shooting, and the crew was working on a dream sequence scene involving a hospital bed on a railroad trestle. They waited until two scheduled trains had gone by to set up their scene, but when a third, unexpected train approached and blew its whistle, the crew (and cast, including William Hurt) had only one minute’s warning to get off the tracks. According to Variety,

Miller, who also directed the 2008 film Bottle Shock, and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks. The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed.

An online petition was started in an attempt to get Sarah included in the In Memoriam segment during yesterday’s Oscars, and it accomplished what few online petitions are actually able to: It worked. Well, kinda. Jones was not included in the main montage. Then Bette Midler sang for a while, and just before cutting to commercial, we got a glimpse of this shot:


By that time, though, the Academy was already being called out.

I watched the awards from a bar in a neighborhood of Los Angeles with a high population of TV and film professionals. There was a lot of angry booing before that last shot came up, and a kind of weird, mildly placated confusion after.

The In Memoriam segment is always a cause for debate. There are always people left out that should have been included. It was doubtful that Jones would be included because that recognition is usually saved for those who have made a profound impact on film, generally over an entire lifetime. But her inclusion was important because, in addition to being, you know, an actual person who lost her life in a horrific way, Jones represents a lot of what’s wrong with the film industry. Production Assistants are notoriously overworked, underpaid, and put in dangerous situations with regularity. (This is a fantastic piece about what it is to be a PA.) There’s not a lot of opportunity to speak up for themselves and express concerns because they’re in an industry full of perpetually graduating film students who would kill for that shitty, dangerous job, and it’s really easy to get your name on someone’s “do not hire” list.

There are a lot of accusations flying right now over who’s to blame for Jones’ death. CSX, the company that operates the train line, has said that the Midnight Rider team did not have permission to be on the bridge. The production company claims they did. Either way, it’s clear there was some serious negligence here. To be operating in such dangerous conditions without a proper escape plan (and, according to some, without a medic present) is outrageous.

Jones’ horrific death has received little press coverage. A Facebook page called Slates for Sarah was set up as a place where others in the entertainment industry could leave a small tribute.

true blood.jpg

However, not every response from inside the industry has been so positive. Executive Producer and Reigning D-Bag Extraordinaire, Nick Gant offered this statement, amounting to a big “get over it.”

We are spending too much time trying to place blame on a horrific accident… Sarah and every crew member were friends, family and professionals at what they did. We need to celebrate their accomplishments, their lives and support their families as we move forward.

Additionally, according to a Page Six piece, Gant went full cretin on his own Facebook page on Thursday.

I didn’t see Gant’s post, but a source who did said, “He wrote that young women die of a lot of things. He linked to a Huffington Post article about a woman dying after a bikini wax. So many people told him how sick and stupid it was that he took it down within an hour.”

So yes, it’s a good step forward to have Jones’ name included in the In Memoriam, even as an afterthought, when THIS is the attitude from the people of power, the decision makers, it makes me want to boycott movies forever.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Devin McMusters

    Harumph harumph.

  • duckandcover

    Why is research the thing most lacking for publicized events? It doesn't take a genius to Google or Wikipedia "deaths in the film industry" or what have you in order to compile a far more thorough list than what's served to the public. Oh, shit, it might be long and tedious to some, but to others -- most importantly, the families -- it might be, you know, NICE and HEARTFELT to know that, in some way, the career that cost their loved ones' their lives managed to at least acknowledge them at the greater events in the industry.

    And I don't mean that it'll run long and they'll have to nip segments following (as mentioned below by BGK). They should afford the fucking time to acknowledge these people, no matter how insignificant and paltry it might seem to them or others not directly affected. If you're going to try and convince people that you're an industry that has heart, you might want to go the extra mile once in a while.

    Also, the picture of Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin just made my heart swell. True Blood's a crap show now, but bless those two. So adorable.

  • Kertburger

    No offense to Sarah's memory but shit, they didn't even mention Dennis Farina.

  • Wrestling Fan

    not to be a douche, but they also skipped Dennis Farina and Jonathan Winters, both of whom had extensive film careers. Sarah Jones may have "only" received a brief notice, but it's still more than these two received.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    You are right. Poor Dennis Farina and Jonathan Winters went so unnoticed in their celebrated careers. It is a shame if people take a moment to recognize a nobody who died pointlessly.

    (I like both those performers, and it's a stupid oversight by the Academy, but it's not the point)

  • Wrestling Fan

    Two days before the awards, the people behind the petition to add her to the In Memoriam segment got the petition to include her name to the academy. By that point, the segment had undoubtedly been completed, seeing as they were doing dress rehearsal on Saturday. Given the almost complete lack of time allowed, they did manage to give her an In Memoriam mention.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Do you really. really really. think that it would be impossible for a production company in Hollywood to add what is essentially a 10 second fade in/out of a single frame with 2 or 3 photos and text on it with 48 hours of turnaround time?

    I work in event production for a B2B magazine with far far less money than the Academy has, and even we can swing stuff like that.

  • Kala

    I can't formulate much of an opinion on the matter. I just want to say that this story has made me incredibly goddamn sad and I pray that her family will be able to find some semblance of peace one day.

  • Ben

    So if it turns out that the producers or whatever didn't have the correct permission and they didn't have a medic on hand while doing dangerous shit and just failed general OHS, why is shit not happening to them? They got someone killed for fucks sake.

  • Cheetahdriver

    I am guessing that there is a jurisdictional fight going on (which probably is about to get a lot messier) on who she was working for and what rules she was working under. The production company is out of Pasadena, CA, but the film company was local to Georgia. It sounds in the last press release like the production company is about to jettison the film company to the wolves. Normally workplace safety would be OSHA, and I would expect them to be all over this, but the Georgia Dept of Labor might have been trying to handle it. So far, all I have seen from official pronouncements is that the local sheriff was investigating. I would expect that is going to get ratcheted up quite a bit after the publicity (not a bad thing), not to mention a possible negligence suit. At the least, they should have had lookouts with radios far enough down the tracks to warn of oncoming trains. A shame someone had to die because of stupidity.

  • Ben

    Wow that was a way more informative response then I expected, cheers.

  • Cheetahdriver

    As an update to the situation, the NYT comes to hand.

  • Tinkerville

    What's so tragic about this is it wasn't a freak accident that can be written off as "a terrible thing that happened on a film set." This was negligence and arrogance on the part of the producers who didn't stop to think about what they were doing.

    From what I've read about it, the team had permission to be filming on the property, but did not have permission to be filming directly on the tracks. It sounds like they decided to say screw it and move onto the tracks all in the name of getting a cool shot. She died because they thought they could easily get away with it and didn't think through what could go wrong.

    If this leads to better safety measures and harsher punishments for those who film without going through the proper channels and procedures, that'll be a step in the right direction.

  • WestCoastPat

    According to a brief web (Read: Wikipedia) search, it appears that there were film production fatalities in 2012 and 2013. Did people get as worked up about those? If not, could someone explain to me what makes this one different?

  • chanohack

    I think the difference is that this one is so terrifying. She got hit by a goddamn train. It's awful, and it never should have happened.

    And, maybe because it was so horrific, maybe because she was well-liked, maybe because she was a woman, this particular death resonates with people, and because it resonates, it's powerful in that it could influence change. They wanted her in the montage not because of her amazing contribution to film, but as a reminder to everyone that her death was preventable, and things need to change.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It would be a credit to the industry if they had a moment of silence to recognize and individually acknowledge those who have died during production.

  • BlackRabbit

    And if those people are added to the segment, who decides who gets shown?

  • DarthCorleone

    I'm not going to stop complaining about the In Memoriam until they fix it. The last few years of it have not pleased me.

    Here's the solution: no live singing. At all. Not over the images. Not immediately after the images. If you had scratched Midler last night, you would have had plenty of time to honor at least a few more people including Sarah Jones.

    Nothing against Bette. Nothing against Queen Latifah and whoever else has done the gig. They sing well. I just think the tribute is a solemn sacred moment for reflection. Quiet orchestral accompaniment is simple and works perfectly. No matter how good it is, putting a vocal performance on stage - for me, at least - is a disrespectful distraction.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Let's be real here. Millions of people work in this industry. Over the years, countless actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers, and cameramen/women have died after long careers in which many films they contributed to in various capacities became popular and notable. Yes, it's absolutely horrible that she died the way she did, and no one is saying she doesn't deserved to be honored. It's tragic. The Academy is not saying otherwise by leaving her off of the segment. The media/airtime is bought months in advance, if not a year. If that first speech by Leto goes long even a minute, they have to nip away at every segment afterwords just to catch up so the network and advertisers get what they expect. Consequently, they are given an allotted time for a fixed three to four minute window in which they can play an unedited, pre-produced piece that will run before they cut to a commercial or next segment. That's what this is.

    Every family who has a loved one in show business is over the moon with pride. Of course they'll think that said loved one, after passing away, should get what, in their eyes, is a small token of gratitude for their career. But the reality is that for every Sarah Jones, there is a Tom Clancy, someone who contributed much, much more to Hollywood and it's legacy. The Oscars Memorium is not a measure of how great your life was. It's a measure of your career, and hers simply wasn't a drop in the bucket of anyone who is on that list and segment.

  • junierizzle

    It wasn't just about including Sarah Jones; it was about putting a spotlight on film crews in general. Of course she can't compare to an actor career/fame wise but that doesn't mean she didn't work just as hard. She was only 27, no one knows what she could have accomplished, but that's besides the point.

    "It's a measure of your career, and hers simply wasn't a drop in the bucket of anyone who is on that list and segment." This sentiment is precisely why the petition was started. Just because she was a camera assistant and not an actor or director doesn't mean her role isn't just as crucial in the filmmaking process.

    Your argument about not having enough time is irrelevant. Producers choose who to include and who not to include. If they chose to include her it's because she would have fit in the time frame. They honored Harold Ramis who died on February 24th. From my understanding the cut off point for eligible candidates is February 1. They made an acception. I am obviously not comparing Jones' career to Ramis', just stating the fact that the producers can put whoever they want in the In Memoriam segement.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    "Just because she was a camera assistant and not an actor or director doesn't mean her role isn't just as crucial in the filmmaking process." I'll respectfully totally disagree to this, but to each his own.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    While your thoughts on what the montage is and is not may be salient, an excuse regarding the length of show in an event with built in space for ad libs and a reputation for exceeding its time slot is not. If she was worth including, and they thought she was on some level, she was worth including right . This is an industry of editors - it's not brain surgery for them to make it work.

  • Enrique del Castillo

    I kind of agree; if anything, adding that small text as an afterthought is even worse than just ignoring the petition. If they said they would include her, then do as it was promised and make her part of the montage, if they didn't think she deserved it, then, just say no.

    Also, I'm not sure, but I think in my country we didn't get that shot, though I may be wrong.

  • loganbowes

    "Production Assistants are notoriously overworked, underpaid, and put in dangerous situations with regularity."

    True Story: I worked as a 2nd unit camera op on a big budget action movie here in my town last year. I was brought on last minute and shot on DSLR to get extra coverage for their big action car chase explosions and collisions. I wasn't technically supposed to be there because I wasn't union, and as a result I was listed as EPK. One scene involved a pickup truck t-boning a police car in the middle of a 4-way intersection.

    The main camera ops on the big RED Epic's were placed far away with long lenses and makeshift coverage for protection against any sort of debris that came their way after the hit. The 2nd unit director decided to place me, a man with just a DSLR in his hands, about 25 feet from the point of impact. When I asked "Is it safe to be this close?" he said "You'll be fine, just move out of the way if any debris flies your way". One of the producers mentioned later "Maybe we should put him elsewhere since he's not covered by insurance". Ultimately, I didn't move. I got the shot and nothing happened, thankfully, but there was some debris that came close that caused me to jerk the camera and move away after the impact. Had it hit me it wouldn't have done any major damage, but it still represented a risk they were willing to take with an uninsured add-on they had to bring on under the radar to avoid breaking union rules just so they could get an extra angle.

    I personally didn't mind, and enjoyed the experience. It was a big movie in a small town where I had a chance to impress legit Hollywood folks, and I did for the most part. That being said, what you touch on about underlings being placed in dangerous positions rings true. I shouldn't have been there, but I was because they asked me and I didn't want to let them down.

  • chanohack

    You guys put up with all that and more. When my brother first started in the film industry as a PA, we couldn't believe he worked so hard for so little. He told us that's just how it works: that at first you get paid in resume items, and that it's fair because that's how everyone started. When he worked on his own film, I was his script sup for a while. My other job was at an industrial shipyard, and our safety rules were incredibly rigid-- basically, if anyone could possibly get hurt, we didn't do it. So it was really a shock to show up at my brother's set for the big action scene and find people climbing buildings to set up lights and hasty stunts and shit-- and there was definitely no medic on site, and we were shooting in the middle of the night, and, though we did have permission to be there, we were told each night, "Hey, you're not supposed to be here," because the people who gave us permission didn't notify everyone who might try and kick us out. It's amazing more accidents don't happen. There will always be people willing to put themselves in danger for opportunity, so the only way to change it is from the top.

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