It’s been just over a year since Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was killed during filming of the movie Midnight Rider. Jones was killed early last year while filming a scene on a railroad trestle. When an unexpected train appeared, the cast (including William Hurt) and crew only had about a minute’s warning to flee, and Jones was unable to clear the tracks in time.
At the time, there was some question of who put all these people at risk. It wasn’t quite clear if the production company had permission to be on that bridge, or if the train line misscheduled their trains. Finally, though, someone has taken responsibility for what has happened. Tonight the film’s director, Randall Miller (Bottle Shock), will spent his first night of two years in jail after pleading guilty to criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter. Following that will be another eight years of probation.
There is no undercutting the tragedy of losing a young woman to such carelessness. Sarah Jones was a real person, not a symbol. But the terrible fact is that she has become the face of the all too common (if thankfully not usually with such horrific consequences) reality of how Hollywood abuses its ambitious lower level labor. Steven Poster, the president of the International Cinematographers Guild, of which Jones was a member, released a statement today declaring the union’s dedication to its members’ safety.
There were no winners today. Randall Miller’s sentencing in the case involving the tragic death of IATSE Local 600 camera assistant Sarah Jones is nothing to be happy about. But the quick conclusion to the case does provide some small sense of closure following last year’s tragedy, and helps continue the healing process for Jones’ family, friends, and fellow crew members.Sarah’s father also spoke out against the atmosphere of accepted neglect so prevalent in this industry.
We cannot comment on the specifics of the legal proceedings, but we hope this sentencing sends a message to everyone in the industry that the safety measures already in place must be followed at all times. No movie or TV show is worth a life, which is why Safety on Set is our highest priority as a union.
We hope this message gets out to everybody in production — from student or low-budget films to major productions — and that workers recognize their rights to a safe set and safe working conditions at all times. We also hope all crew members will now feel empowered to speak out against unsafe working conditions. That’s why we developed our new safety app that includes the industry-wide safety bulletins and safety hotline numbers. We encourage workers to remember the spirit of Sarah and exercise those rights.
I do not seek revenge, but rather I seek healing from all those involved, including those responsible for my daughter’s death. At the same time, we cannot send a signal to the film industry that it is OK to disrespect life, to commit such selfish, dangerous acts for the sake of so- called cinematic immunity.When a young person dies in such a tragic way, there is no “silver lining” that can make it feel better. The attention being brought to the exploitative practices so common in this industry is necessary and hopefully sparks some actual change, but the fact that it took a woman’s life to start this conversation is just despicable.
There needs to be accountability. It’s not about payback, it’s about drawing boundaries. It’s about not giving permission to the film industry to be so careless with the safety and lives of their cast and crew.