WE’RE JUST MAKING MOVIES

Posted by | February 23, 2014 | Uncategorized | 188 Comments
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There are things more important than getting that shot.

This wasn’t what I was planning on writing about this week. Then again, one can’t exactly plan for tragedy.

A young woman, Sarah Jones, 27, was killed on set of “Midnight Rider,” a Greg Allman biopic that’s been shooting in Georgia, after being struck by a freight train.

God dammit.

27. That’s a year older than me. Despite feigning the appearance of an adult, I still very much feel like a kid. I’m sure Sarah did as well over these past few years, navigating through the film and television industry and hoping to settle into her career.

Sarah was 2nd AC (Second Assistant Camera). For those reading this not in the industry, the 2nd AC is a valuable position on the camera crew, assisting the 1st AC, Camera Operator, and Director of Photography. They are a linchpin on set, ensuring the smooth operation of the camera so we can produce all the pretty pictures that end up projected on that grey canvas in your local multiplex.

Responsibilities of the position include, but are not limited to, loading film or media into the camera, changing and charging batteries, changing lenses, operating the slate (again, for those on the outside, that’s the clapper board), filling out camera sheets, marking up actor’s position’s in frame so that the 1st AC can hit their focus, and organizing all the camera equipment for the day’s work.

I wrote that (very limited) look at what a 2nd AC does for a couple reasons. For starters, I want to shed light on the kind of position in the film industry that is incredibly important, yet vastly overlooked by the regular viewing audience. When the credits roll at the movies, people recognize the actor’s names, the function of a writer and director (and maybe an editor), but as soon as positions such as 1st AC, 2nd AC, Gaffer, and Best Boy Electric come up, they don’t know what to make of them.

If only they knew. If only they knew the work that goes into making a film. If only they knew it’s these people in these roles that clock the most hours and put in the most labor. It is a sad reality that 14-16 hour days are not uncommon in the film and television world and, for those in these craft and tech positions, the longest and most trying.

No man is an island, certainly on a film set. It takes an entire crew to conjure that movie magic.

The other reason I listed out a 2nd AC’s many jobs on set is simple: they are, in no way shape or form, responsible for safety protocol. Yes, at one point we all take personal responsibility and ownership for our own actions, but yet.. Someone, be it a producer or director or 1st AD, has the job of making sure that everyone on set is safe and that the work they are doing does not jeopardize the health or well being of the crew. That was not Sarah’s call.

Because really… we’re just making movies. We’re not splitting the atom here. We’re not curing cancer. We’re not ending genocide. We’re creating a product, albeit an entertaining and hopefully enlightening and insightful product, for an audience.

That’s it.

This fatal accident could have and should have been avoided. Details are still coming in, but it appears that while the film crew had permission to shoot in the general area, they did not clear anything with the railroad, nor have permission, to shoot on the train tracks.

They were aware of two trains that would be passing through and waited until they did to set up their shot. When a third and unexpected train arrived, they could not clear the set on time.

God dammit.

Sarah was a “kid” like me. I didn’t know her, but believe me, I understand her. When you’re young and working in this industry, you do as you’re told. You want to make a good impression, especially on the pros that have been working this job for decades. You want to appear fearless and up for anything.

We must get this shot. We must get this shot.

See, a weird thing happens on set. You really do feel kind of invincible. You become convinced that the project you’re shooting is the most important thing in the world (be it a 30 second commercial or a two hour feature film) and you go above and beyond to make sure it’s brought to proper completion. This is true whether you are a Production Assistant desperately arranging the craft services table (“The crew must eat. Without me, there would be no food and therefore no movie!”) or a 1st AC pulling focus on camera.

Group mentality takes over. You’re all in it together.

We must get this shot. We must get this shot.

This is when the “adults” are supposed to step in. The producers. The directors. Those actually in charge. A 2nd AC will not speak up. She will not always say, “This doesn’t feel safe. I’m not sure if we should be doing this.”

A producer or a UPM on the other hand can say these things—and has the moral responsibility to do so. Because, in addition to making sure the show is coming in on budget, they are responsible for the well being of every single living person on set.

We must get this shot. We must get this shot.

A producer gains the proper permits and permission from the county to shoot on train tracks. A producer ensures that no trains are coming within the timeframe of the shoot. A producer is an adult who understands that we’re just making silly moving pictures and that that a feature film is not worth the life of a young girl.

I wish someone spoke up. I wish the director said, “This doesn’t feel safe.” I wish a line producer asked, “Are we sure we cleared this with the railroad?”

I wish these things were said because Sarah Jones never could. Because she was a kid at the age of 27. Because it wasn’t her job to ask these questions. Because someone should have had her back and didn’t.

We must get this shot. We must get this shot.

I wonder what Sarah’s dreams and aspirations were? Did she eventually want to become a cinematographer? What were her favorite movies? What inspired her?

Hopefully we will learn from this. It’s been long known that a film set is not exactly the healthiest of environments. You work long days, you sometimes skip meals, your social life is non-existent, and you get very little sleep.

These are frustrating components of this industry. And they are, for now, the standard bearer for many sets. However, one should never fear that they might be killed. It’s absurd when dwelled upon.

We’re just making movies.

Someone in this production should’ve known better. Someone should’ve raised a red flag before arriving on the day.

Because there will always be that voice in the back of your head once you walk on set.

We must get this shot. We must get this shot.

Rest in peace, Ms. Sarah Jones.

188 Comments

  • JC Davis says:

    Beautiful written. One fact incorrect, the film is being made in Savannah, not Atlanta. The accident happened 60 miles south of Savannah.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      JC, thank you for the heads up. Revised the post.

      • Beautiful words Zach, and what a tragic loss.
        I have been reading most of the comments on this blog and have agreed with most of them. “IF” there had been a couple of PA’s further up and down the railtrack, “IF” people would speak out for anything uncomfortable they may feel, for any query they may have, any fear… “IF”………”IF”………..”IF”…..
        I worked in the business for some 25 years. In Italy, my home country, and not in the US. I worked on near to all the big feature movies that came here, as a video assist and in production before that, and through my experience, I can say, that no matter how many doubts you might have about shooting something, unless you are a key figure, your words are just air in the wind.
        By character I am not one who keeps quiet to have a “peaceful” living, or to save my job. If there is something to say I say it, no matter who I have in front…….be it a producer, an actor etc. but one thing I have learned. In most occasions, the “Show must go on” no matter what, be it “we’re losing the light” or the crew wont mind a couple of hours more work, going on to “you dont achieve anything if you dont take a risk from time to time”.
        Once I was pushed away by a producer because I noticed that the extras had to walk too near to where some horse towed carriages were about to quickly pass by, and I had told my worries to the 1stAd, getting a “I think I know better than a video assist what I am doing”, only to have, 10 minutes later, a lady run over and taken to hospital with a fractured sternum.
        Mine wasn’t just some cheap talk coming from the top of my hat. I grew up on horses from the age of three, but unfortunately I was just a video assist, (which in Italy is seen closely to a camera trainee).
        On another occasion I was witness together with a couple of collegues, (while resting on the beach before our night shoot), of one of our second unit helicopters coming down and crashing into the sea in front of us. Luckily no one got seriously hurt, although the heli crew took 2 minutes to come back to surface. Well, that evening I was asked not to talk about the incident in case the word spread to the flight officials which would have banned our flying in the area.
        So why have I said all this? Because however you put it, ours is a business where “losing the light” or trying to catch up on hours, to keep in the budget, is by far more important than anything else. I know I sound harsh, and I know that probably many wont agree with me, but for this and all I have seen during my 25 years in the business, I am happy to have left it 3 years ago.
        It is wrong to say that while on set, the crew is my family. Family is supposed to protect you, its people to whom you can say anything and who will always accept you for what you are: Family will never turn their backs on you on the next job, because you have put them in a bad light with the “Boss”. They will never ask you to keep some thought for yourself because you might embarass the department. Family will do their best to see that you get home safely.
        Family is Family and this is just a job, and things like losing a life, a young one like Sarah’s, or any other life, young or elderly, should not happen, especially because someone didint do a good enough job that day. I sincerily hope some head comes roling down the hill for what happened to Sarah. This is no way to work……but its how we work, unfortunately.
        To all of those who are in the business, (and yes I admit I had fun and yes, it is a beautiful job, but yes I am happy to have left it, even if it means a part time work which doesnt pay me enough to see the light of the next month), to all those who see it as the best job ever……remember….speak out, ALWAYS, Never be afraid who you have in front. Dont follow the hierarchy of your department if your doubts stay without an answer. If you think you are right “SPEAK OUT” and remember where your real family is………this is just a job, and all of you have the right to be SAFE!

    • Shawn says:

      60 miles south of anywhere is not there, it’s somewhere else. And it’s *beautifully written*

      • Bill says:

        Shawn, I am going to meet you in Denver on Friday at 6:43 am. And there I am going to kick you in the ass for nothing.

        Yes, I am aware it is not the right time or place.

      • Sally says:

        Whether it happened in Atlanta, Savannah, or somewhere else does not change the fact that someone died in a completely preventable accident. The location has no bearing on this being a tragedy.

    • sargebob says:

      Also not correct, it was only a camera test. Not a production shoot day. Many a time the highers get lackadaisical on Safety to get the shot. All the crew does is comply. On those test, it is for camera only. Almost vigilante

      • Bob Fredericks - 1st AC says:

        While it may have been slated as a “test” I know some folks on the crew & the prevailing concensus is they were shooting for the screen with a stripped down crew. No CSX safety rep on set, not even a safety meeting or PA’s posted a 1/4 mile down the tracks to call out strays. The key grip quit after this happened. That gives me a pretty good idea that this was negligence & somebody just said “nahh it’ll be fine”. As a local 600 brother of hers I’ll never forget this & those responsible had better be held accountable.

      • AD Foster says:

        It’s painfully sad this happened and I want to believe this tragedy didn’t happen on a camera test day. That’s just plain irresponsible.

      • Teem says:

        I do not believe it was a camera test. I think that’s what you say to get rules bent.

    • Ofelia says:

      I work in the film industry and all that you pointed out is correct. Where was the union Rep? and the Safety rep? That is who we go to if we feel uneasy about anything, and they can put the breaks on safety issues, and other violations that crop up. It is so sad to loose such a young talented and hard working young woman. What I have observed with some production Managers and producers is that in the dead of winter we freeze our butts to Get the shot, they really don’t have our best interest, not when if you save money by not providing the tents, heaters your pot gets topped up. It should not be the responsibility of the actor to cancel the day because of cold weather alert where if you stay out for 5 minutes you can get fross bite. The general public has no idea how draining working in the film industry is. you said all beautifully. Thank you for writing this.

    • geography says:

      if you’re telling the truth it’s called brunswick. go any further and you hit this little thing called florida, really

      • MX says:

        Good grief. Everyone thinks they know so much about East coast Georgia. Since I live where the incident occured ( Jesup, Wayne county Ga) let me enlighten everyone. Brunswick is a little more than an hour south of Savannah ( about an hour and half real driving time.) Jesup is 45 minutes north west of Brunswick, and about an hour and 30 minutes or so south west of Savannah. Brunswick is also about an hour north of Florida.

    • Sylvia Falk says:

      Very sad and very enlightening…to honor Sara Jones, I hope new safety measures will be enacted before this type of “we must get this shot” scene.

      • sally rice says:

        So tragic, such a beautiful young woman with a brilliant career and life ahead. Not gone, just gone on ahead…..

        But in response to Sylvia, new safety measures would be redundant. There are already very strict union safety policies everyone in the industry is well aware of, and usually practices for the protection of the crew. Perhaps this crew was non-union, or lacking in budget money (today’s industry standard) to properly police the set.

        Yet Zack hit the nail on the head, with all of his ‘bullet points.” It is a collective mentality with a strict hierarchy, whereby the well-being of the media project is paramount, and “getting the shot” the Godfather concept underlying everyone’s sense of duty. That’s what makes the industry thrive, and keeps people going 16 hours a day.

        Sadly, this kind of outcome will affect everyone, not just the Producer or the L.Scout – but everyone in the crew will certainly feel horrendous grief and collective responsibility in some shape or form. It is truly a great loss.

        Peace to the family and to all who knew Sarah.

  • Matthew Rohn says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and passionate testimonial about our industry. I did not know nor ever work with Sarah, but news of her 100% preventable death has jolted and disgusted everyone in my circle of crew members here in NYC (I am an electrician in local 52).

    I must however strongly disagree with the implication that safety is only a concern for a limited circle of people on a film set, and if you’re not in that circle you shouldn’t concern yourself. Sarah did absolutely nothing wrong except perhaps, as you say, trust that the many layers of bosses above her had it under control. Clearly, collectively, they did not. We don’t yet know exactly what went down that day, whether there was a proper safety meeting, railroad rep or law enforcement present, etc, but it would have been and should always be within her or any–ANY–member of the crew’s rights to speak up with a concern. Everyone on the crew, from parking PA on up, must be encouraged to do that. We as crew members must always have each other’s back and never hesitate to pause and ask questions if something isn’t right. If every single person on a crew doesn’t have affirmed positive knowledge that something is safe, it isn’t.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Matthew, thank you for your thoughts.

      And I do completely agree with you that everyone on set must take ownership or safety and responsibility. I do not believe it is limited to a small group of producers and directors. I think I was speaking from the point of view of an angry and frustrated director and producer who wishes that someone in my spot made some more responsible decisions.

      And I’m doubly frustrated because this is the kind of call that Sarah or anyone in her position should never have to make.. if that makes sense. Sarah was not in control of the shooting location nor the schedule.

      But yes, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. My friend Caitlin Machak is Local 600 and is in the process of putting something together to prompt a change for younger film folk. As she told me, “I am in the works of raising awareness for younger members of my Local, and hopefully, we will have a transparent conversation across unions and guilds…. I’m sad to say, it was more than just one producer and one director that failed Sarah… It took many, many people and little planning to for Sarah to be struck by a train.”

      • Anon says:

        To Matt, As a young, below the liner just starting out I have to say that while safety should be everyone’s concern it is very hard to say something when you’re worried about how it will effect the way you’re viewed by your crew. It’s such a small world and it can be intimidating when you feel like your speaking out of turn. So many of us are trying desperately to impress “the adults” because we know that it will be them that recommend us for the next job. It’s not healthy and it needs to be examined. I think that’s what Zach was saying. I know I wouldn’t have thought to ask if we were clear to be on the tracks. It scares me to know that if I had been in her position and I was concerned about it, I would have kept quiet and did my job because I would think that’s what is expected of me. The thought that I could lose my life from that decision would never have occurred to me. There’s an assumption that people are looking out and I guess, that needs to change to. I know that everyone involved wishes they could go back in time and do that day differently. I hope that in the future, they will.

        • Matthew Rohn says:

          Zach, well said once again. You make perfect sense and I too am completely baffled that a (reportedly) experienced crew so utterly failed in its most basic responsibility. I can’t imagine how this could have happened without at least eight to ten people in authority having signed off on going onto that bridge. It truly is every film worker’s worst nightmare.

          The sad truth is that the prevailing culture in our increasingly frantic industry just obviously isn’t cutting it anymore, as your post so eloquently expresses. I hope that this latest tragedy can finally wake us up as an industry and we all take a long, hard look at how we do things, especially the people whose jobs it is to schedule and budget the work. I hate that change almost never comes except after someone gets hurt or dies, and often not even then. Brent Hershman died on March 6, 1997. That was a few weeks shy of seventeen $#%@ing years ago, and we are working even longer hours now. When will enough be enough?

          Anon, I hear you about not wanting to talk out of turn and stick out or draw undue attention to yourself when you’re new. We’ve all been there. Pay attention, work hard, stay positive, and think before you act, and the bosses will notice, at least the ones you will be glad to work for. If you have a question about something that doesn’t seem right, keep the discussion inside your department to start, or go to your shop steward. Any crew member worth his or her salt will be glad to take the time to help a rookie understand what’s going on, and will appreciate that you are asking the right questions and might possibly have noticed something wrong that noone else had. Anyone who gives you crap for asking about safety isn’t anyone you want to be on set with.

    • Dan says:

      I agree with Matthew. I’m a Local 492 member in Props/Set Dec. I’ve worked around trains before, and every time the 1st AD would call a safety meeting and encourage anyone to speak up if things became unsafe. The least the production could have done is hire 2 PA’s to stand on opposite sides of the track about a mile away with walkies to give some type of a warning to the crew. Maybe they would’ve, had they planned on being on the tracks. But nobody knows what they planned, except for the crew. It’s sad a life was lost, for a movie. I’m 26, and have been working in this business about 3 years now. When I first started, I got the mentality that what I was doing was the most important thing in the world at that moment. And I still get that idea in my head, but I try to speak up as best I can when we shoot on roads, or train tracks, or on a dock next to water. Remember, we are all part of a team, and we all have to look out for each other. When you’re on set, you have no one else, the crew is your family, and we have to keep them safe.

      • Carmel buttery says:

        I tell guys like you to get out of the film world and become diplomats éh! Been present twice w/trains going by on dead tracks, p.a.’s up the road only way to be safe. Better safe than sorry.

    • Matt says:

      Matt as a member and former shop steward in local one I just have a question, does the local have a s.s. On set? He or she should be checking all safety procedures and equipment.

      • Matthew Rohn says:

        Yes, every unit is supposed to have a shop steward, in which capacity I have had the honor to serve a number of times. I can only speak from my experience in local 52, but I believe it’s similar in other jurisdictions. Normally the steward is chosen by the crew on the first day of a job, but if noone has stepped forward after a few days, the union will get involved and name someone.

        Based on what I have read about this incident, Sarah’s crew were only supposed to be filming camera tests that day, and it was apparently before principle photography had started, so it is very likely a steward had not been selected yet.

        • A tragic story, my thoughts are with Sarah’s family. Here in the UK when ever there is work on the railways, there is always a man who is up track keeping a constant eye on train movement, he sounds a loud Caxton horn to warn the workers that a train is coming, a very simple workflow that works. Unfortunately for Sarah this wasn’t in place. The trouble with most film sets is that everyone is focused on the production, and of course each member has their job to do. Maybe it’s about time an extra credit was added to the credits list, that of “Safety Officer”

  • Kari Olson says:

    Because you mentioned the age of this young woman who got killed, and your own age, I immediately thought of my son’s own story. He died at the age of 26, on December 20, 2013. Just two months ago. He was my only child. He died of metastatic melanoma. Because he was a twenty-something who also thought he was invincible. He was a brilliant artist who had aspirations of possibly making films and studying animals and learning ways to communicate with them, such as through sign language. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. Because if there had been more information out there or his pediatrician hadn’t poo-pooed me about him not getting fevers or vomiting every day all through high school, perhaps we could have done something to help his immune system. If someone who SHOULD HAVE KNOWN the signs had actually taken his increasing health problems seriously, then perhaps that final straw – a sunburn (which, by the way, all of his friends that day got sunburned and did not get cancer) would not have done the damage it did. If my son had been better informed about the importance of getting a changing mole checked immediately or had not had such a hard time getting health insurance (it took a year and a half – long story), perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided. I miss my son so much – I don’t know how to go on, but somehow I manage to muddle through each day, knowing every second that I will have no grandchildren, ever, and that my son will never have the pleasure of raising a child. I truly feel for the family and friends who are missing this young woman, so tragically taken too early.
    Thanks for letting me tell my son’s story.

    Peace,
    Kari Olson

    • I am so sorry. He sounds like he was an interesting young man. It is so difficult to deal with that sort of loss, every day. I wish you well.

    • S. George says:

      Chris Passalacqua (we are linked by our High School) posted the story about Sarah on facebook…. I am reposting my comment to Chris so you may know you are not alone Kari… Sarah is (was) about the same age as my Son, Christopher whose Grandfather my Father…Werner Koopmann almost fell out of a plane with a camera doing that “gotta get that shot” thing…. he was a Director & Producer of television commercials during the “Madmen” of Madison Avenue daze I grew up around when you & I went to High School at Byram Hills….He owned one of the largest special effects studios in NYC (Totem Productions) in the 60s, 70s, & 80s…. I didn’t hear about my Father’s near death experience until his Memorial service 10 years ago when Steve Karmen ( author of” Who Killed the Jingle”… “I Love New York”, The Midas Touch, This Bud’s for you…etc) gave my Dad’s eulogy…. it’s amazing that anyone who works 14 to 20 hours a day for decades, with a passion that could only be compared to an addiction survived until 3 days before his 74th birthday, I”m sure there were many more NDEs i didn”t know about ….. I so agree there are more important things than “getting THAT shot” and that both Sarah & my Dad died way too young in a dangerous industry that seems to eat it’s young….. My prayers to everyone in shock in & around Sarah’s world…. especially her Mom, Dad & family… Rest in Peace Sarah….. Sincerely, Susan Koopmann George

    • Bobbie Phillips says:

      First, thank you Zach for sharing this story with your point of view, compassion and emotion. I was in ridiculously dangerous situations and had more than one ‘close call’ working in my early films. Everyone pushing to ‘get the shot’ including myself who wanted to impress and not complain. I don’t know all the details of this and am only just reading this for the first time. But, I too wish Sarah’s family, friends and loved ones my condolences and healing strength.

      I’m actually posting this as a reply to Kari. Kari, I too lost a son. Sept. 27th, 2012. He was 24. It was just days before his 25th birthday. It was a sudden, tragic loss. For me this past year and a half has been a huge roller coaster of emotion. I feel your pain, the hole in your heart…it’s something one can never truly understand unless you are in it. Every moment can bring up a multitude of thoughts and emotions. I do want to share with you that you will find ways to feel joy again as time continues to pass. Even when it hits you and you feel that devastation, please know it will get better. Never completely healed, but just as your heart has been crushed, you will feel the love from your son. He will always be with you. I wish I could find words to make it easier. Perhaps you’re already there and have found that peace. I just know it has taken time for me.

      I just want you to know that you’re not alone. That the love you have in your heart, for your son… as well as the anguish that comes up, can help others. Just as your writing here on this page. As time continues, you will see him over and over in so many beautiful things and memories. You will touch others because you have been opened up with a different kind of compassion now. Not the way any of us wish for this to occur, but love and beauty can and will grow through you in memory of your precious son. I am just beginning to feel such gratitude for the 24 years I had my son here. A different kind of gratitude. Somehow deeper, more clear. For those special moments. Even the arguments. Everything has a new meaning for me now.
      It continues to open up more and more with time.

      Knowing each one of us only have a certain number of days here. I now choose to make the most of the moments more than ever before. I no longer am letting trivial things bother me like they used to. Every day now, I choose to live my life in the most meaningful, compassionate way. Most of all to myself. Finally, I’ve stopped blaming myself for things and I realize I actually am able to CHOOSE to be happy-even with the hole in my heart. To see others as beautiful souls who are getting through things and finding their way. That with every one we meet, there’s an opportunity to be kind. That each one of those beings can be gone at any moment, or will lose someone dear at any moment. I just want to share that as in my experience over this bit of time, you will continue to grow and heal through this devastating loss. I still have my struggles and grief and sadness, but I also have a new heart that has been opened up in a new way. I hope perhaps some of my story somehow gives you some comfort.

      If either or both of us sharing on Zach’s page here, can even help someone else, Sarah’s loved ones. What a blessing.

      Love and blessings to you dear Kari. From one grieving mother to another, I send you my love and healing thoughts and prayers.
      With love, Bobbie

      • Kari Olson says:

        My heart goes out to you, too, in your loss. No, there is nothing that matches the loss of a child. For me it is still very fresh, so time will tell how this plays out…. It definitely helps to hear others’ stories of loss and talk about mine. Every loss of someone so young is a tragedy. I only hope they all have bigger and better jobs to do on the other side….

        http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/morganolson1

        Peace,
        Kari

    • Susan Reardon says:

      Dear Kari. I realize that there are no words to ease the pain and dispair that a loving mother feels when she looses her child. I acknowledge that you are in agonizing pain . I feel your pain and anguish and I hold it in my heart. I wish you well inspite of the fact that it will not ease the pain of this monumental loss. Take Care, Sincerely, Susan Reardon

    • Sandra Lott says:

      Kari, so sorry about your son. Can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. I have lost my husband, brother, brother in law, sister in law, mother in law, father in law, mother, dad, stepmom and fiancée. I wish you some peace with what happened to him but I know that, as a parent, it is hard to keep from feeling responsible for everything that happens to your kids, no matter how old they are. Sending positive thoughts for you.

  • Frost Wilkinson says:

    Zach Goldberg,
    This is a profoundly excellent article. Your salute to Sarah Jones is sensitive and dignified. You describe the idiosyncratic circumstances of film production from the perspective of us crew folks perfectly. I hope this piece is widely read.
    I’m an aging cinematographer. I’ve been in the business since 1968 and came up through the ranks over the years from Gaffer to Camera Operator and finally Cinematographer and occasionally Cameraman/Director. I’ve even written and produced. At 72, now it’s best for me to teach and mentor young filmmakers.
    Safety has always been a major issue for me and this tragic incident compels me to make it even more so. I never knew Ms. Jones but many of my former film students who are now professionals in the Industry knew her well. This horrific event has gripped the Georgia/South Carolina film community with immeasurable sadness and an understandable degree of anger. The investigation continues and details are still being sorted out but nothing will bring that sweet child back to us. As a father and grandfather I can only share the deep grief of Sarah’s parents and family.
    Continue your excellent writing. I will be an avid reader of your blog from now.
    Thank you for your sense of excellence.
    Frost Wilkinson

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Mr. Wilkinson,

      Thank you for your kind words and for your devotion to the cinema. Genuinely touched. I know a small article does little to ease the pain of such a tragic loss, but I do hope people (especially younger people my age) read it and attempt to take better care of themselves and others on set. All the magic the cinema provide is not worth another life.

      Best Regards,

      Zachary

  • Amy Kupferberg says:

    While I agree that each of us on a film set must conduct themselves in a safe manner, it is only a small group of people that actually have the power to stop us from participating in dangerous practices. How many times have I been strapped to the front of a camera car to work the lights that simulate passing cars….
    Every time we rig a lift, we are using it in a way that it is not made to be used. Moreover, the mandatory certification shifts the responsibility and liability of the incorrectly rigged lift from the production company to the lift operator. How many of us refuse to rig the lift?

  • Allen Facemire says:

    I don’t want to belabor the point that a young woman, a kid really, lost her life doing her job in what appears to be the result of a “beg for forgiveness, ask for permission later” situation. We’ve all done it.

    I’m approaching the autum of my career and as I look back on it I see where I did lots of stupid shit. The lens is turnnelvision. All I see is the frame. I don’t wee what’s inches outside the frame which could be a Klansman with a baseball bat or a kid with a carbine. Those insights come from my years as a network news cameraman.

    My production credits include being 2nd Unit DP of the 5 pilot episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. How and why I didn’t lose an arm, a leg an eye…a life is beyond me. We played it safe but we also played it reckless. No way we could get away with what we did back then now. Luckily nobody got hurt…that is until the show got picked up and moved back to LA. There was an insert car accident an a number of people were injured and…an AC killed. As a result there are now strict guidelines as to how many people can ride on a camera car
    the type of safety gear they need.

    The producer is claiming this was not a guerrilla production. Perhaps not but the shot most definitely was and the ultimate price was paid. Railroad officials knew of their presence but permission was not granted to be on an active track.

    Culpability will not bring this young woman’s life back but some body is responsible and it’s not the crew. As I understand it some voiced concern about the set up but those concerns apparently fell on deaf ears.

    While I was working for ABC in Latin America in the ’70′s we lost a correspondent to stupidity. From that time on, crews had their own rules. If going into an area seemed dangerous to just one person, one NO vote was considered a majority.

    The message here is, if it doesn’t seem safe, if it doesn’t seem smart, then it probably isn’t.

    Allen Facemire
    DP
    Atlanta

  • This is a thoughtful piece that speaks well to the mindset that can lead to sometimes taking unwarranted risks, and as a line-producer I can say two things: a) you are right that someone “in authority” is responsible. Having produced several projects with stunts/vehicles/SFX, if what I understand about the incident is correct (i.e. crew were hit by a train), someone is definitely going to jail as there’s simply no way to be killed by a train without some huge failures of common sense/planning/coordination. b) that said, I would encourage any crewperson to express their discomfort with any given activity on a set as while I believe the majority of shows are run safely by a responsible and thorough production team, it clearly isn’t always the case and despite the desire to be a “can-do” worker, people’s judgment can be faulty or impaired.

  • Gosport says:

    This news is tragic. you have articulated what needs to be said. thank you. As a child advocate on sets, I have sometimes wondered who was advocating for the safety of the adults on set. Each person on a set has a demanding, very focused “piece of the whole” (pie?) and sometimes, through no one’s fault, there are no eyes looking at the overall safety. This situation, however, sounds like someone (someones) must have been careless – how did the crew get where they should not have been? The tragedy of “The Twilight Zone” created the need for child advocates – safety needs to be priority #1 on every set. Glad to hear your union has those safety meetings, no matter how mundane. Philly crews, in my experience, have been the most caring of safety ( and they are the most fun!).
    Please accept my condolences.

    • Caitlin Machak says:

      Unfortunately, it is simply not true that safety meetings are held (even when on the call sheet). Below is an excerpt of my call to action to all locals and guilds…

      Safety education should be required and accessible to all major production hubs, and not limited to a few guilds and states.

      Please email me at cmachak@gmail.com if you are interested in joining my cause “Safety in Memory of Sarah.”

      Cheers,

      Caitlin Machak
      IATSE Local 600

      • Raquel says:

        Caitlin,

        I am so honored to know you and excited that you are starting this movement. I’m currently on a union Tier 1 job that has without fail written “Safety Meeting held at call” on each production report. We had our first actual safety meeting the day after our 2nd AD slipped on the ice (we were shooting during a blizzard of course) and fractured his ankle.

        Education is power. Unions are powerful. Let’s work to create change in Sarah’s memory.

        Raquel

      • Carol W says:

        Caitlin,
        I too belong to IA local 600. Have been a camera operator for 42 years. And I would love to join your cause. I’ve been fighting for better safety awareness since the 1990′s when I suffered permanent lung damage due to special effects on a set. (mineral oil foggers and “fullers earth”) I was at that time a ten-mile a day runner and non smoker.
        Both our wonderful union, the DP, and the production company fought me getting any medical benefits for this condition for years. With the help of lawyers I finally got workers comp for life on the lung condition. Unfortunately, these same materials are still used in special effects. The union ignores the safety bulletins. And crews are still suffering lung damage.
        I spoke up and have said NO on many occasions, have had DP’s curse me, producers and directors swear they will never work with me again, but I still speak up if I find a dangerous situation.
        And I’ve been blacklisted for a time.
        I will continue to speak up.
        Most of the time I’m a one man band because the rest of the crew is too afraid to say anything. Why are we in the film industry accepting intimidation from those above the line? Because our union does not have our back. Didn’t have mine in the 1990′s and still doesn’t have the backs of any member to this day.
        Why do I keep paying my dues? So I can be as big of a pain in the….. to our union leadership until something does change.
        So Cailtin, count me in.

        • S. George says:

          Hi Carol… i shared a comment with Kari and continued reading… i can’t tell you how many times I was injured or put in dangerous prone positions by being my Dad’s 2am “get a grip” girl when he pulled in with a Uhaul filled with production equipment… no problem for a invincible 15 year old burley girl… I’m still upright & breathing… even though he has passed on…. I sure do miss him…. You may find some benefits from a product I helped bring to market… check out the website: http://www.inhalationproducts.com/ W. Banning Vail, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development, Inhalation, Inc. This firm was born when Dr. Vail, a physicist, was gasping for breath and was near death. This followed one more catastrophic airplane trip, and he became desperately ill with the flu. In the end, he lost about 1/3 of his lungs from an infection. If this happened one more time, he would end up on oxygen tanks……. i hope this helps your lungs Carol… Sincerely, junglegeorge4life@gmail.com

  • Tony says:

    20+ year veteran of the Hollywood machine. it is usually a horrible business and you will probably never realize how things actually get done here. I left eventually, after feeling like a drug dealer. Sure, I didn’t make you take the drugs, but I supplied them. Now get off the internet and go help one of the billions of people who need help today.

  • Tyler Bradley says:

    Zach,
    I am a fellow 2nd AC working in Nashville TN on episodic television and it seems a lot of my former friends at SCAD knew Ms. Jones. I just want to thank you for being a voice, for speaking for her after her time has passed. It can and will be a dangerous industry, but as you mentioned and everyone who is responding to your article, its not worth losing a life over. I genuinely appreciate your post here, I don’t do a lot of reading on other peoples blogs, but you sir kept me wanting to read more. Its a gray time in our industry because of this, she will be missed and remembered every time we clap the slate. Thanks again for your post.

  • Elena says:

    I am really sad and confused and hurt and angry about this. I am a SCAD alumni, and I am in shock that this happened. Savannah is a port, with very active railways in all directions of the city. Trains come through at all hours of the day, and I don’t know why anyone would have done this shot on an active track.

  • Peyton Wilson says:

    Zach, well written. Interestingly enough the live musical entertainment industry has gone through a major safety awareness process in the wake of the tragedies in Marseilles, Indianapolis and Toronto – to name a few. There is now a safety group – The Event Safety Alliance (Google it) – and that group has just now released a guide to event safety. The English are well ahead of us on this. A fair summation would be that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that the workplace is safe and to speak up if they something untoward, I am truly sorry to hear of Ms. Jones’ death.

  • Scherminator says:

    The Sarah Jones Act:

    12 on, 12 off: Movie making is a hard job. The hours are long and we work in all weather conditions. Ad to this, that many filmmakers are commuters and travel, up to an hour, just to get to work and you have just created a dangerous work environment, where accidents and bad judgment are apt to happen. There is no reason that the work of the day cannot be accomplished in 12 long hours. It may reduce shooting ratios, slightly. Do you know what else reduces your shooting ratio? Accidents and injured crew members; manslaughter investigations. We can work just as hard in 12 hours as we can in 14, and the 2 extra hours of sleep, may save a life.

    No stolen shots: There is no good reason to shoot where you’re not wanted, without permission. Someone, somewhere will always let you make a movie on their property, willingly, and covered under insurance. This applies to “Camera Tests” (getting shots during prep) as well. Pay the marginal fees, upfront. Work them into the budget, from “go.” From now on, we plan our shots, like professionals.

    Never shoot on a live hazard without taking appropriate precautions: This means no shooting on a “live train track” without the appropriate permissions and permits. It means no shooting a pool without a trained lifeguard present. It means no blocked exits, ever: 2 ways out …every single time.

    The Assistant Directors are sheriffs of health and safety on set: the number one job of the AD Dept. is the health and safety of the cast and crew. This is an enormous responsibility. It needs to be respected. Not only by those in the AD dept. but in all departments. If an AD says, especially during prep, “This is unsafe” Guess what? We’re not doing it. Re-write it, re-think its execution, fire yourself for being a one-way street…whatever. Just don’t go on with your reckless stunt and endanger an innocent crew member to satiate your artistic ego. There are a dozen ways to accomplish storytelling on screen. Find one that doesn’t threaten the life and limb of people who never signed up to do stunts…and usually aren’t paid for them. AD s : If it’s unsafe, in common sense judgment, you should quit your job before allowing producers, directors or DPs to circumvent safety, over any shot in any movie, ever. If you cannot say, “no,” you should not be an AD in the first place. Hang up your walkie-set and go sell toy tomahawks to tourists in Maine. “We’re not here to say, ‘No!’” is the battle-cry of a coward and an ass-kisser; not the sheriff of set.

  • Anonymous says:

    Well written sir. I knew Sarah (I was also one of Frost’s students) she was an incredible person. Smart, fun, beautiful and got along with everyone on set (even if she didn’t want to). She was also very good at her job. She knew how to be safe. A colleague mentioned to me that earlier in the day, when the two scheduled trains passed by, Sarah was one of the only few to turn her back to the train as it passed so as not to be hit by little pebbles, a safety rule rarely known. On a job a few months ago, with a shot involving a rattle snake, Sarah was first to ask if the snake had fangs or if it was still poisonous. Chances are she probably did ask the questions that needed to be asked and chances are that she probably got the answers she was looking for. A second AC doesn’t have time to call and confirm shooting schedules with CSX (nor was it her responsibility). She, like everyone else on the crew (as well as everyone of us would have), trusted that the powers at hand did their job when they answered those questions, it was a union job with seasoned veterans. We can point fingers at many people but, the real question is, why didn’t the AD department or locations have two people five miles up the track (in both directions) looking out for possible oncoming trains?

    • JB says:

      I have known the Locations Manager on this picture for over 30 yearsxand have worked with him on five or six features and TV pilots. He is EXTREMELY thorough and by-the-book when it comes to having all locations legally and properly prepped from his end. I have worked on productions with him that involved massive explosions, fire, gunfire and extremely complicated stunts. We’ve been together on pictures shooting in very challenging physical locations. He has experience working properly with railroad companies and is very militant about doing things safely and legally. I can tell you unequivocally that the crew did NOT have permission to shoot on or very near CSX . property and Production KNEW it. The Locations department was not on or near set that day because it was indeed a prepro day for them and locations is not typically present during camera and makeup testing. The production office knew tgey did not have permission to shoot on any train line, and so apparently, lied to crew and cast to do it anyway.

      By the way, as someone married to a DP who has shot quite a lot of footage on active train lines for railroad companies themselves, I can tell you a couple of kids standing with walkies a mile away is NOT effective safety procedure for working on an active line and would have done little to prevent collision. Flagmen should have been there, constant contact with the folks in the control tower and railroad workers actually along the line to signal and switch track are the ONLY way this is ever done when permission is given to shoot on tracks.

    • Beth MacDonald says:

      Thank you Sherminator and anonymous and of course Zach. And thanks to Caitlin for starting the Sarah Jones Safety Act. This drastically needs to be addressed. It was a very preventable tragic accident.
      Location scout/manager

  • Joe says:

    I didn’t know Sarah but I know many like her. I work on the west coast and I’m a 39 year veteran. We’ve had accidents out here, rarely are they fatal. I read somewhere that the producers had season veterans on the crew which I think is bulls@@t. Something went really wrong there. A veteran would have spoken up. I have spoken up and got fired for my efforts, they always find a way to do it. I was there the night Twlight Zone happen. I was a lamp operator then and nobody spoke up. You have to speak up all that can happen is you lose you job not your life or limb.

  • Bo says:

    This tragedy could’ve been avoided if the production company would’ve had industry standard protocol in place. When the location was scouted, the scout would’ve been asked by the director about the viability of putting the bed on the tracks. The scout would’ve contacted the railroad and likely had a rail road official as a site rep. There would’ve been insurance and indemnity agreements put in place IF the railroad would’ve agreed. The railroad site rep and a location manager would’ve had the train timetables on hand. The AD, railroad guy and location manager would’ve had a safety meeting with the crew prior to filming. I guarantee none of this happened. Probably the director put together a B unit team and decided to steal the shot. I’ve seen this happen before. Nowadays big shoots pretend to be little guerrilla shoots and cut corners. They should’ve never been there.

    • mama says:

      This is a lovely testimony to Sarah, but I don’t think you have your facts correct about the production not having permission to be there. The train apparently was not on the railroad company’s schedule and the train was speeding. (yes, train’s have speed limits) Being they were on a bridge trestle there was no where to run so they were hanging on while trying to avoid being hit.

      • Zach Goldberg says:

        Hey mama, while they had permission to shoot in the area they did not have permission to shoot on the train tracks or the bridge tressle. That’s been confirmed. They knew of two trains in the area, but were unaware the third would be coming in (let alone as fast as you mentioned).

      • Richard says:

        There is no such thing as an unscheduled, unexpected train. CSX knows where their trains are at all times. It is NTSB, and Homeland Security rules….all trains have GPS trackers and very tight, regulated schedules.
        Multiple trains use those tracks in both directions. They have to coordinate to make sure there’s no collisions. CSX knew there would be a train coming through there.
        This production cannot produce any paperwork that they had permission to shoot on the tracks, and cannot show they had permission to put a bed on the tracks. On a bridge no less.

        It’s very simple-if the production company had permission, all they need is an email, letter or something in writing. CSX has provided emails denying permission to shoot on the tracks. The owner of the land, where CSX tracks run through, allowed them to use their property. But that owner does not control the tracks, and cannot provide said permission, nor allow them to block the trestle.

    • graham says:

      Well said Bo. You could not have stated it better. Oh and by the way CSX has a blanket no filming policy on all of its tracks. The production would or should have known this.My guess is as this show was not into a full shoot they were stealing a day of prep,a common producer scam these days!

  • M Brozinsky says:

    As a location professional in NYC area, I have arranged many productions involving trains. In all situations the railroad companies have very exacting rules and requirements. There are some shots they just won’t do, others that require signal personnel on the track as well as ecpensive railroad insurance within so many feet of the tracks. A representative would be required on set who would generally police the production to ensure nothing would create unsafe conditions. No article has indicated any of that was in place – or that remains to be seen. 2 other details. Union crews (I am an 817 Teamster) are quite safety conscious and are more likely to indicate their problem with unsafe conditions. Props placing a bed on a track would be very cautiou and concerned the bed could be returnded a well as thinking about the safety; and lighting grip and camera people would be concerned for safety of the crew and the equipmemt. There seems to be something missing in this story so far because there doesn’t seem or at least has yet to be reported any hue and cry over the setup. I am waiting to hear how this unfolded. Locati I n folk make most of these arrangements. So far we have not heard from them either. It pays to examine the process so we can try to make sure this is not repeat ed d. Sarah was the same age as my daughter. I feel for her parents family friends and co – others involved in this preventable tragedy..

  • Jon Farley says:

    I have a theatre and film production background, but I also spent about 9 years on a crew that restored and operated an historic steam locomotive. I have experience being a member of a train crew that is not part of the railroad. From that perspective, I feel the need to add to this discussion a point that no one else is addressing: If you are on railroad tracks without express permission from the railroad company that owns the tracks, you are trespassing. Railroads are private property, and they are industrial workplaces. There are explicit safety protocols that anyone on foot in the vicinity of the tracks must observe in order to be safe. Rail employees are trained in these safety protocols. Civilians are not. Trains these days don’t operate by a time-table. There is no such thing as a 6:13 Train. Trains depart when they are ready to go. The fact that there were two yesterday afternoon doesn’t mean that there will be two today. It can take a mile or more to stop a freight train running at speed. By the time the engineer can see that you are on the tracks, it is already too late to stop the train to avoid hitting you. Trains these days are quiet. You can’t hear them far enough away to get to a safe location in time, especially if you are on a bridge or in a narrow cut.
    Everyone is sad for this young woman who died, and I am also. But I also pity the engineer of the train. I know some engineers, and the thing they fear most is coming around a curve onto a group of trespassers and having to witness some young person’s last moment of terror as they disappear under the locomotive. This is serious business, and you have to treat it as such.
    But the bottom line is this: If you don’t have specific permission from the railroad to be at a particular place at a particular time, it is illegal for you to be on the tracks. As a crew member, if your supervisor is asking you to go onto railroad tracks and the producer doesn’t have that explicit permission from the railroad, then you are being asked to break the law. This isn’t a judgment call of is it safe or not. If permission hasn’t been granted, it is illegal. Look around. Is there a representative of the railroad present? If not, I’ll bet you don’t have permission.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jon Farley, THANK YOU!!!
      Coming from a long line of Train Engineer’s, I also am VERY concerned about the Engineer who was unfortunate enough to become a victim of this negligence as well. I am positive he is beyond devastated, and this may very well end his career, if he doesn’t receive proper care to handle what is surely to be PTSD. Out of every single article I’ve read, there was NO permission sought, aside from being on that one company’s land. The RR was nowhere within the scope of permissions asked. As it was, knowing that you must be 25′ off the track, they were in full violation of every single rule of the RR. What is a few more measly dollars, when it comes down to everything that was lost that day?! A whistle blow gives them 60 seconds time to clear the track? 60 SECONDS!! How many of you realize how fast a train moves, and how much time is actually NOT there?? I’m sure most of you, but my point is, the person that SHOULD have known, that SHOULD have done their job, that SHOULD NOT have pinched pennies — THEY are to be held liable. Seems it ultimately falls upon the Director. Had they used the safety measures set forth by the RR, there would have been one trainspotter on one side of the tressel, one on the other side, and they would have been in constant communication with any and ALL RR traffic coming through, making it a safER situation. By the time they heard that train whistle, it was already too late.

      Such a seriously horrific tragedy in SO many ways, and for SO many people, to numerous to count. The train Engineer is who I am actually most worried about at the moment. He could not avoid striking her, a fear that as you mentioned, haunts all Engineers. I’m scared for the entire film community in the Atlanta/Savannah/SC areas. I’m afraid this won’t be enough for them to learn any lesson on safety. A small lesson? Yeah. Maybe. But I am seeing corners cut left and right, and I for one, am NOT afraid to speak up where safety is an issue, or lives at stake. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. Thankfully, thus far, what I HAVE said, was correctly received, and my job remained as secure as it’s going to in this business.

      We have all got to keep our eyes and ears open, our senses sharp, and be alert. PLUS – we must NOT be afraid to speak up when a situation goes beyond the boundaries of sensibility. Yes. We take risks. Those risks also contain certain safety precautions. It’s when those are ignored that we must be our own advocates! SPEAK UP!!

      Jon, again, thank you for the point of view from the Railroad.

    • Kevin Manning says:

      Jon,
      Well stated. I am a stuntman actor, but for a short time in my life I tried to get a real job. I was a conductor for the railroad, or one railroad. The point you make is very important to be told. The railroad has to approve you being there. It is not because they ‘think’ they are so special, THEY ARE and it’s your safety that makes them that way! First and foremost they own those tracks, they are the reason they are there. They are not stingy with using their property because they are nasty people, they are doing whatever they do out of an abundance of safety and caution.

      This ‘accident’ didn’t need to happen, a young lady living the dream did not have to die.

      Even Railroad workers don’t put things on the tracks without clearing with dispatch. Radio communication has revolutionized the world. So many steps were missing. Trains are not running on time schedules as close as it was in the old days because of the use of radio communication.

      I can’t say it enough times, this didn’t need to happen, so many precautions should have been in place.

      I have been on those sets where they think that making the movie is the most important thing in the world. I am here to say that LIFE is the most important thing in this world.

      If you are making a movie and want to use RR tracks, PLEASE, PLEASE CHECK WITH THE RR. Lives don’t need to be lost making entertainment.

      Having been on a train crew I can say without a shadow of doubt that the engineer and conductor will be forever traumatized because of this incident. They too, had no control at the point where she was hit. This is just a HUGE tragedy all around. We used to talk about stuff happening all the time, the question always came up as to how we would feel after our first incident. Those who had been there said, the worst thing was if someone died. I cry to think of how much has been lost and how much could be different if someone had just thought more about the safety than about getting that shot.

  • Sonya says:

    I agree with what you have said and, Jon that is the one thing my husband and I have said over and over, where was the RR rep. if they had permission??? Zach, you mentioned her age and yes she was young but my husband worked with her 6 years ago when she was just starting out, and we have friends, seasoned veterans that was there, on that track!!! I’m not so sure it was her age, or thinking she had to be there, I think they were misled, maybe lied to. The people that witnessed this are in shock and disbelief and in desperate need of counseling. We spoke with a few crew members that are seeking help. A safety meeting, do you think they even had one, and what would they of said? They were playing Russian Roulette!

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hi Sonya,

      If they were misled and lied to, I think that only reinforces my feelings about what happened. This was something completely out of her hands when someone should have been looking out for her best interest. It’s completely senseless and was tragically avoidable. I can’t even imagine what those who were there are currently going through. Hope they find the counseling they seek.

      Best,

      Zach

      • Anonymous says:

        Sonya, Zach, I, too pray they receive the counseling that every single person involved is going to need. Even with that, this incident will be carried with each and every one of them for the remainder of their lives. I totally agree with you both. I really hope that production insurance will provide the counseling needed, for as long as it is needed.

        I am so angry about this that I could probably chew rail spikes, and spit out staples!! WE can substantiate the changes needed!!

        I wish everybody here, and everyone involved Godspeed, and all the best. This is a situation that never should have ever even remotely occurred.

      • Chantell says:

        I’m reading all this and my heart goes out!!! I’m just curious was this a noisy area? Was it a light train? I’m confused on if there really is a blame. If there was a train that was not suppose to be there or not. Why would u not know about a train coming even if 20 miles away on a railroad track u would feel it… I’m not and will not side with the UP or BNSF due to a life being lost nor to producers (with little education on producing) that I feel should be responsible or have someone be responsible for their staff… the thing that really I do not understand is how did no one hear the train? I am in the intermodal world of the U.S. and this is why my question have surfaced. But by no means am I not praying for her and family and friends. Its a very sad tradigdy.

  • Doug says:

    Last year I reposted an article about safety on the set. It talked about the growing occurrence of dangerous accidents on set. Sadly, here we are reading of yet another tragedy. I too have had close calls while shooting and they were always the result of short cuts or budget concerns. In this day of 500 channels to choose from and content hungry networks, it’s gorilla production everywhere. Crews all over Georgia are talking about this. Let’s hope things begin to change, and Sarah is never forgotten!

  • Excellent writing Zach. I love your adult/kid conceit. “Where are the adult supervisors?” is literally a question I ask myself (and my fellow-crew) everyday. In 15 years as a focus puller, every time I have brought a safety issue to the attention of an AD or UPM, I have been either brushed-off (ADs) or literally threatened with blacklisting (UPM’s)–and this is in New York City–not LA! Sadly, there are no accidents on movie sets, only negligence.

  • Bernie says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful piece revealing parts of the industry that lay people know so little of. Similar to my news background (where I felt my duty was to provide information to help people), my work as part of a film crew I saw as a way to enlighten or entertain people. In neither career track did I feel that my life or that of anyone working with me should have to be laid on the line to get that job done.

    So it is very sad to learn more and more details about this fateful day on a set. A set is just that…a temporary setting for a scene, sometimes a “make-believe place” in time or space…but if you place the set in a “real” place (i.e. a working train track) the real use of the space first must be considered, investigated, and respected. It would be interesting to see if a call sheet for this day can be found and what safety memos were attached. Not to point fingers at any one person, but a call sheet goes through many hands before being copied and distributed to the cast and crew. What a nightmare of a production report for the 2nd AD and/or 2nd 2nd AD (fellow crew positions that go through very long days like a 2nd AC) that day…how to even start to write-up…because I’m sure in the end, the PR was still asked for or will be.

  • And for these reasons my films will have the real important people in the credit 1st followed by actors editors and directors. God bless us all

  • Carl Stensel says:

    “We don’t yet know exactly what went down that day, whether there was a proper safety meeting, railroad rep or law enforcement present, etc”

    Yes we do. I worked on a film some years ago involving a lot of railroad footage, some of it on the mainline through the Rockies. There were extensive systems employed to see that this sort of thing could not happen. The people in charge of this crew didn’t give a damn, obviously, and this is the result.

    I knew Sarah a couple of years ago working on Army Wives in Charleston, so I do have a personal interest in this. This needs to be treated as a case of negligent homicide.

  • Brent Jaimes says:

    I’ve worked as a PA, in the art department and as an AD for years on features, commercials and music videos. Before that, and after, I’ve been an attorney. A couple of notes on this tragedy. The consensus from the stories I’ve read indicated the production company had permission from the land owner to be on the property but didn’t have permission from the railroad to be on its tracks. That is when “without permission” becomes trespassing and a violation of the law. It’s against the law to trespass on railroad property precisely because it is so dangerous to do so. And for the producers and UPMS and AD’s out there: when you ignore what reasonable people would know to be dangerous it’s negligence. When that negligence includes breaking the law, like trespassing, it becomes criminal negligence in most states.
    Everyone on a film set is there to do the level best at their job. From the glam squad to the PA to G&E and the camera department. The crew on Midnight Rider were all doing their job the best they knew how to make the production a great one. It’s heart breaking to think that the producers, and AD’s and UPMs and other above the line crew on this movie so utterly failed at doing their jobs that seven people were injured and one person was killed. I hope that when other producers and AD’s and UPM’s consider doing something on set that could reasonably cause injury or worse to the crew if something were to wrong, that they will look over the call sheet and decide who is worth injuring or killing in order to get the shot.

  • KDGA says:

    I’m an Assistant Director in episodic television. I’ve been an AD for almost 10 years. When my crew and producers heard about what happened we were upset, angry, and bewildered as to how this could happen. On our sets whether we are working with fabricated smoke, candles or flames, animals, traffic, or any new location we always have a safety meeting to discuss what we are working with, what precautions to take, and what to do in an emergency. This is a time in which questions are asked and we are put in the hot seat, which I’m happy to be in, it’s my job. We also publish a safety memo and post one up at in a location crew members frequent, like craft service. Prior to the day of shooting with anything that requires safety, we have extensive meeting with proper experts about what we are doing and what precautions to take. There’s never been an accident on my watch or with any of the AD’s I’ve worked with.
    This accident is not because there’s a pressure in the industry to get the shot at any cost. That’s not the industry I work in. It’s because people violated laws, safety precautions, and took short cuts. People on my sets speak up all the time and they are still working without any kind of consequence. There are also safety hotlines and many other confidential ways to express concerns and ask questions. The film industry is not a pariah industry that has little concern for it’s personnel. The majority of sets and productions under the larger companies such as Warner Bros., Paramount, and Fox are in my experience very cautious and diligent when it comes to safety.

    • Romy Sommer says:

      Well said KDGA! There are a lot of ADs, UPMs and Producers who do due diligence and who care. It’s not the pressure of time or budgets or economic crises that cause tragedies like these, because under those same pressures some people choose to do what is right and some don’t.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Thanks for sharing this @KDGA.

  • Sean Irish says:

    The truth is yet much more complicated:

    It’s not just that THIS film crew apparently didn’t have proper clearance/permission to be on those tracks – TRAIN MAINTENANCE CREWS, fully employed by the rail lines, whom are heavily scheduled, trained and monitored and OCCASIONALLY permitted to be on those same tracks for their livelihoods, ALSO face the same problem. Equipment failures, scheduling or chart errors, database errors, mistakes and human error – without a great deal of preparation and precaution, not even scheduled train crews are “safe” while working on an active line, and they are TRAINED and re-trained never to be complacent about safety or to otherwise take it for granted while working.

    With all these precautions IN PLACE AND FUNCTIONAL, the big lines STILL lose several employees a year. This is very heavy industry, it is nothing to toy with.

  • Kay Morris says:

    I believe all of us when we were young & hungry would do anything & everything to get the shot, happily. You assume someone else has made sure it’s all safe. The worst I’ve ever experienced was getting pneumonia, because the old empty factory we were shooting in hadn’t been cleared of all the rat crap. I feel lucky. My heart goes out to her family & friends, someone dropped the ball big time, and that usually means they didn’t want to spend the money to get the correct permits. A life is so much more important than a permit. So incredible heartbreaking……

  • Heath Hood says:

    This is an updated from the 491 union president.

    Status Update
    By Harrison M Palmer
    Train Tragedy Update. Following up on the MIDNIGHT RIDER incident: There was not a full ‘tech scout’ prior to the “dream sequence” being shot on the train trestle. It was a pre pro/prep/camera test day & NOT a ‘production shooting day’, so it was minimal crew. There was no set medic or railroad safety officer on site. (that would be the typical protocol for a motion picture film shoot, but this wasn’t really a typical principal photography day with the entire company.) There was a major Hollywood actor present, in costume, to be photographed while on a hospital gurney. The gurney was positioned on top of the trestle tracks, between the camera & crew, and their closest escape route — a 3 foot wide plank walkway at one end of the trestle. The train’s engineer, upon seeing people and obstruction on the track, immediately hit emergency shut down, which is protocol. It was a fast moving high payload train, and it took about a half mile to stop. The collision could have been far worse had the train derailed.

    The final circumstances, and the timeline of the ‘event’, are still being examined. Matters of location contracts, film permits, and who knew what and when, are as yet undetermined. Most of the crew members, certainly those I have spoken with personally, will not be returning, should Production really try to start back up. Those persons hospitalized will recover physically, but the emotional wounds– for everyone involved– will take a long time to heal. I’ve heard other things, unconfirmed, and like all of you, continue to speculate about what will happen next…but at this point, we need to await the findings of the agencies in charge of the investigation. The best way we can honor Sarah’s memory, is for all of us to ensure this never happens again.

  • Jake says:

    Thank you for this article but I take offense to the statement that we are only making a movie which only trivializes Sarah’s death and demeans our industry that so many of us put in such excessive hours to. Yes, I know that your aim, rightfully is to the producers, etc who should be after our safety but it’s not only the film industry that should be looked at but the trains as well– a few years ago locally some kids were walking on train tracks because it was a shorter way home and was killed because he didn’t know a train was coming.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hey Jake,

      Believe me, I completely respect and appreciate the craft, hours, and labor that go into filmmaking. And my life is devoted to cinema. One only has to read through this website to see that. It’s had such a profound and special impact on my life. However, when someone loses their life at the expense of a production, something must be said. No work of art, no labor, is worth the loss of a life. I did not write this to demean the industry, nor to trivialize Sarah’s untimely death. I wrote this in the hope that the industry responds properly in protecting its most valuable assets– the men and women who clock those extremely long hours to make these moving pictures we all hold so dear.

      Best,

      Zach

    • Richard says:

      Could you elaborate on how in the instance you mention, plus this recent tragedy, exactly what the trains did wrong? The engineers?

      This accident is 100% on the production. Trains don’t stop on a dime, quarter, or even in a quarter mile. The production company blocked the trestle with a bed. Can’t get much more at fault than that.

      Their lucky the train did not derail, and kill more people.

  • Matt says:

    I think you mean to say god damn it, not god dammit. Why would god want to dam anything. That’s what beavers and engineers do.

    Also, I think you meant to say that ACs are the linchpin of a camera crew. I don’t think Sarah actually lynched anybody.

  • Guy Phillum says:

    May i repost this tribute on The South African Film Crew Web Site. A similar thing happened to one of our crew a few years ago………!

    -gp

  • Steve says:

    Very well written Zach….
    I am a Producer in the commercial side of the Film Industry. This is a very tragic incident that did not have to happen. On many occasions, the director persuades the crew to do things that in an otherwise sane environment would not happen. In this case, the crew was asked to film on active tracks that they did not have proper authorization to be on. I am sure that many of the crew members had trepidation about going out on the tracks. However, they went anyway so as not to be construed as “not a team player”. Further, as freelancers (as all film crew members are) you are only as good as your last job. Meaning that if you are tagged as a crew person that doesn’t “play ball” you will have a much more difficult time gaining employment in the future. The fault of Sarah’s death falls squarely with the Director and Assistant Director of this film. They should be indicted accordingly.

    • GS says:

      Steve, i agree with much of what you said however, saying the fault falls squarely with the director seems strange, especially coming from a producer. having worked as both a production designer and a director it is my job, in both situations to be as creative as possible. there are two positions in the film industry, three if you include the studio itself, that are responsible for everyones safety on a set (excluding everyone’s own personal responsibility), they are the AD’s who’s job it is to make sure the set is running efficiently and safely and the other position is the person who ultimately controls the money and that is the producer. if a producer thinks a set is to extravagant or unsafe and too costly, then i am asked to redesign it. if a director asks for a shot this is too costly or unsafe, then a producer does not allow it to be shot unless it is changed to fall within the budget and unless it is safe. the bottom line is always the producer because they control the money on behalf of the studio.
      it doesn’t matter how hard the director may have persuaded the crew to be out there on bridge to create a shot that was important for the director or the film, some one, a producer, allowed it to happen by paying people to be there. the equipment was rented, the location was paid for, permits should have been paid for, , gas, possibly lodging etc… if none of that was paid for by the producer or studio then no one would have been there. bottom line it was a complete and utter tragedy that did not have to happen. someone should have said no. hopefully we can all learn from this.

  • Ken Hawkins says:

    Rightly very impassioned. However, may I just say, we are not ONLY making movies…we ARE making movies, which is a very difficult, sometimes dangerous job but very rewarding when it is done correctly. In the whole of your article, one very important member of the crew is not mentioned…the Location Manager…who, if the job is being done correctly will have, on behalf of the Producer, obtained all the essential permissions and provided copies of full insurance indemnities, will have done a risk assessment in conjunction with other key heads of department and arranged for Health and Safety reps from the companies involve to be on site during filming. The LM in conjunction with the 1st AD will often make himself/herself unpopular in the interest of safety before and during the shoot. I work mostly in UK but without these conditions listed above, we cannot and will not go anywhere near a rail track. The last time I filmed on a rail track, I was required to have 1 Rail Safety Officer present for each ten crew. I expect that State-side, similar rules apply. Since 9/11 all trains are now track-able, so with essential radio communication between the track and traffic control, plus assistants down-track with two-way radios, most options are covered. This tragedy should never have happened

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Mr. Hawkins,

      Thank you for adding this. I think, in my passion, I didn’t take the time to further break down other facets and protocols of production that when handled correctly lead to a safe and proper work environment on set. Thank you for sharing this and I hope people jump down to the comments section to read your thoughts.

      Best,

      Zach

      • Ken Hawkins says:

        Thanks Zach…I love film and I love American movies..I too felt passionate about it both as a professional and as the father of a daughter not unlike this lovely young woman. I forgot to say it was a very good and valuable piece you wrote.

    • Beth MacDonald says:

      Thank you Ken Hawkins. I am a location scout and manager and you truly hit the nail on the head. This pre-production with the LM was where all this should have first started. The LM would have been the first person to make contact with CSX and set-up rules, contracts, training and personel needed for this very complicated shoot and very unlikely it would have happened at all on such a busy track and on the trestle. Such a sad, very avoidable accident.

  • I spent many years in the film and tv business above the line. I assure you, there are not grown-ups. Please take care of yourselves out there and speak up when things don’t seem right. You might risk your career but you’re life and sanity could be saved. Beautiful article.

  • Mark Joy says:

    well done Zack…thank you…R.I.P. Sarah….

  • Marc says:

    This is terribly sad, but really, completely unsurprising and inevitable, considering the manner in which this industry operates. As a veteran of the motion picture industry of more than 25 years, predominantly as a location scout and manager in commercial production (plus some long format), I have seen first hand many, many situations that simply were not safe. There were in fact times when I would clearly and directly make the producer aware that there was imminent danger to cast, crew, and/or the general public. All too frequently, my warnings were not heeded. In fact, there were circumstances where I was compelled to leave set, letting the producer know that, if the situation was not made safe, I couldn’t stay.

    Truthfully, that was chicken-shit. I should have stood in front of the camera and said “fix this situation, or I’ll be calling the film (permit) office and will have this shoot shut down.” But I was scared. Scared for my reputation, for my job, for my future. This industry relies on the sheep-like (non) reactions of crew members in order to operate outside the bounds of common sense and safety.

    In a situation like this, I look immediately to the location manager. Where was (s)he? That’s the person who most specifically knows the circumstances under which the filming permit was issued. They knew exactly where they were allowed to be, an exactly where they were not allowed to be. And if they didn’t, they should have. Of course, the producer is liable too, but it’s the location manager first and foremost, who should have been on top of this.

    This is one of the main reasons (amongst one or two others) why I left the industry. I couldn’t reconcile the powerlessness of my position as a location manager – especially in commercial production – in relation to the huge amount of responsibility the position came with.

    My heart aches for Sarah Jones, her family, friends, and colleagues. And although I place very significant responsibility on the location manager, his/her team, the producers, perhaps the first A.D. and perhaps even others, I blame an industry that, as others have said here, puts safety well behind a magical looking image. How quickly it can turn to black magic.

    I feel for Sara’s colleagues, even those who are most directly responsible for this tragedy, for what they must be going through emotionally (and maybe legally). What an awful, painful, haunting thing to have to live with. Maybe this will be the inspiration for change, so that Sarah’s life and her tragic and avoidable death will have a greater meaning.

    • JB says:

      The Locations Manager informed Production that they did not have permission to shoot on or near tracks. He is a 30+ year features and TV vet with a solid rep for being thorough and safety-minded. Locations wasn’t at what was supposd to be a camera test because it was a prep day for them and there was no base camp or large crew to deal with. The Director apparently lied to crew and, without properly prepping for such a dangerous set up, engaged in guerilla filmmaking – regardless of what he claims now.

  • Michael Margulies, ASC says:

    Zach,
    This should have never have happened. I’ve seen this time and again. There has to be more safety awareness in this industry.
    Michael Margulies, ASC
    Retired DP
    Local 659

  • AtlFilm says:

    We all know the bottom line- if someone DIES, someone isn’t doing their job, and it’s not the victim. Speaking up about feeling unsafe is one thing, but this is bigger. THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN THERE. We all know that there was no spotter at least a mile down the tracks on either side and no train rep on site. That answers any questions. It was NOT ok. If those elements are not in place, they weren’t doing what they were supposed to. How disgusting that the production company is claiming it was an accident and that they weren’t in the wrong. Some asshole thought it would be cool to put a bed on the tracks, which you would NEVER DO with live tracks, and now a life is lost. This was COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE. We took a moment of silence on our set the day it happened. We all need to take a moment and consider our personal safety when things like this come up, but this is way beyond that. There are people responsible and we know it. Those people deserve to have everything that is coming their way- I hope it’s enough. I hope it exacts change within our industry, but we all know that this was not the work of a prepared crew with permission. And it’s not their fault. Once you arrive on set you are doing your job for the day. All the precautions should already be in place, you should not be worrying about permits or RR reps because those are supposed to be there and it’s not the job of the shooting crew to put that in place. Someone didn’t do their job and it’s so obvious- probably because this was a tier one movie and budget reigns supreme. But at what cost? The leash needs to be tightened. The voice of reason should not continue to fall on deaf ears. “Is this a good idea?” should not have been the question that day because if it was properly planned it would have been safe, plain and simple. This is why we make a plan. The people in charge clearly did not. Sometimes, the show must not go on. I hope in the case of this project that is the case because these people do not deserve to get their movie made. Not the crew- the people in charge. The people who thought it was ok to cut corners (because we all know why they did- it’s cheaper). The people who are directly responsible for her death. This was not an accident- it was homicide.

  • simon nixon says:

    I work in the British Film & Television industry and while I think it would be imprudent to comment on this tragedy individually I am increasingly of the opinion that the overbearing need ‘to get the shot’, the ‘Dickensian’ pushing of people to the legal and physical limits and the eleventh hour planning that all seem to be synonymous with our unregulated industry play a part in every tragedy and it is something we should all unite together to change.

  • T says:

    I do not know the details of the situation on Thurs. I wish peace and strength for Sarah Jone’s loved ones.

    I appreciate that we are asking people to speak out while simultaneously expressing compassion for the reasons people tend to not speak out. I write this comment as a Director / Producer who worked as an AD for years.

    Let’s remind all crew members to approach the 1st AD immediately with any concerns they have on set. A good AD will not call out the person who brought a problem to attention, but will instead investigate and deal with the situation until safety is insured.

    Producers and director, listen to the ADs concerns with respect, and act on any safety concerns immediately. Crew, support the AD on your set. When an AD threatens to walk off set, find out why. It is almost always out of concern for the safety of cast and or crew.

    It’s up to the producers and director to hire an AD who is up for that kind of responsibility. It’s not a job for a friend to take over, it’s not just about getting all the shots and making the day. Someone with the inner strength and awareness, the maturity, to walk off a set and take the cast and crew with if it is not safe, is requisite.

    As someone who survived a chronic, life threatening illness while growing up, films did improve my health and my ability to stay alive. Storytelling is a powerful medium. It’s the last great export of American industry. It’s an incredible challenging and often dangerous art medium. I hope that what we can learn from this tragic incident is to
    take the job more, not less seriously.

    Again, I wish peace and strength to the friends, family and crew who knew and loved Sarah Jones and in memory of Brent Hershman, Brandon Lee, Vic Morrow, the children who died with him –any and all production-related disasters. We can learn and make appropriate changes before moving on to the next set up.

  • Sherry Heart says:

    Zach, you have captured my exact sentiment for years. We are not curing cancer but yet it seems that the studio’s and people in charge put the ol’ mighty $$ first over human lives most of the time. If we really want to change this business we work in, how about changing the hours worked per day and the turn around times? How are we still letting them do that to us? You work a 16 hour day and by the time you get home with in the 9 or even 10 hour turn around your sleeping on the average of 5 hours a night. Until I see that being changed, I would not expect the regard for human life to be different.

  • Miriam Quintao says:

    Very sad.

  • Freddie D. says:

    If you go back to the TWILIGHT ZONE movie catastrophe (there are a lot of terrific articles and even a book on the subject), you’ll see that some filmmakers live in that odd valley between reality and movie-dream-land. John Landis, who was an LA kid, lived in that zone – didn’t see that that helicopter might explode when he asked for bigger fireballs. It wasn’t real enough. The danger was movie danger to him and, clearly, others around him (or were they intimidated?). I contend that no one on that production wanted to see anyone get hurt. They say the director, too, was nearly killed. But I DO think that the production is likely guilty of residing in that “valley” – where a camera is immunization against tragedy. It ain’t.

  • Vanessa Meier says:

    As a 20-year veteran of the film & TV industry, 15 of those years as a script supervisor and a proud member of Local 871, I do believe the important lesson for all of us in light of this tragic occurrence is that we DO have the power to say NO if we feel even the slightest bit unsafe, or we see something that even looks the slightest bit unsafe. We are required to take safety lessons for a reason and the common message throughout all of the safety courses we take is this: if it smells unsafe, it is unsafe so just say NO. And, as the script supervisor, I have come to learn that as a department of one, we often become the “wailing wall” for the crew– we have contact with everyone in every single department, we sit next to the director and the producers all day long, we report directly to the UPM and as a result, we can be the messenger for those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up for themselves. I have no problem with taking that hit for the team, and I have done it many times without any negative consequences from “the grownups”. As a matter of fact, they have often thanked me because they can’t be everywhere at all times and so they do welcome the extra eyes and ears on set. I would much rather see us have a great experience creating the best production possible than see us experience something like what the “Midnight Rider” crew experienced. Nobody should ever have to go through that. So I’m putting this out there for all of you: If you are ever working on a set with me and you feel intimidated about speaking up about something, you can come to me. I will be the messenger and I have no problem taking on that role. (((hugs))) and xo-love-xo from the Momma on set. :-)

  • Quinton Aiken says:

    Sadness throughout the story of her loss, I hope she continues to be remembered for the lively, hard working, and trusting person she was. I hope there are serious examinations of what happened and what can be fine to alleviate this from happening again.
    That said,
    There’s a little known mantra in the working world called ‘Trust, but verify’. It’s been a calling card throughout both my civilian and military career. Trust that someone will handle their business, but verify that they have. This ethos has saved lives, and time, something that I can personally attest to.
    There is also the Toyota principle, ‘Anyone in the production line can stop the process for any reason’ . I have seen this save valuable time that would have been lost due to backtracking and correction what would have gone wrong.
    Now,
    Being a photographer, I can certainly appreciate capturing that ‘moment’ especially when depending on nature for backdrop and lighting, etc, etc.
    For me, that one shot happens, and doesn’t happen again, and you get it, or you don’t.
    But keep this in mind, living creates moments yet to come, but once you’re gone, your moments are done.
    Don’t let anything stop you, or scare you enough that you don’t consider speaking up, and living for the next moment.
    We all have a responsibility, and role in doing our part in making sure things happen, things go smoothly, and life is successful. But even in the gravest scenarios where you’re depending on AND KNOWING that someone has your back, you still call out to them asking, are you there. Trust, but verify.

  • I work on film crews – on set painter – WAY on the bottom rung. I really wonder if someone with production actually lied to the crew about either the train schedules and/or permission to be on the tracks. I, for one, wouldn’t have been out there unless I had asked about that. I have been on a number of “shoot and run” crews, and know the rules have been stretched. My condolences to her family and friends. Thank you for a thoughtful, well-written piece that voices my opinions also. I’m the old lady of the crew usually, but have watched a lot of those “kids” come up through the ranks.

  • Shawn says:

    Having worked on sets I know the feeling. When you are an assistant let alone a second assistant you to what is told. I was once told to stop traffic and wear and orange vest. The orange vest didn’t give me permission to stop the traffic. No producer got that permission to close the road. So when one impatient redneck didn’t want to wait any longer he yelled to me “if you don’t show me a permit I’m coming through.” The stop was only for noise and not for visuals of the set. But if you don’t have the proper audio to go with your shot they are just going to reshoot the shot right there. So of course Mr. Redneck in his 30 year old beat up loud truck decided he was going through. He nearly ran me over as I stood there with my hand held out to stop traffic donning my orange vest. Then comes on the radio. “Who the !@#$ was in charge of traffic. We have to go for another take now. !@#$… !&@$” So I got me ass chewed out because the director (or one of the adults on set, literally since I was only 17 years old) should have been one of the people to check if we had a permit to stop traffic or just be aware of the general safety or the crew. It was pretty much a few more things like that over the years that I solidified in my mind that I wanted to work in Post. Getting into the professional world and working Post Production was much more cozier then being out on set. I’ve be on sets in the middle of the winter while it’s -5 degrees out and in the middle of the summer when it’s 110 degrees. In sound stages and in the middle of the street in some bad parts of town. I’ve been all over sets and post is such a nice change from that. Cozy offices, couches, good food, internet access, etc. The bosses sometimes have similar attitudes as the adults on sets. In stead of “We must get this shot” it’s “Must make that deadline, so what if you are on your 14th hour and it’s currently 2am. Keep working. But if I doze off no one will get killed. So here I sit in post, looking at footage wondering what it was like to shoot some of these things. I sometimes wonder what the PA went through on this shoot or how did they get that shot. But I’m perfectly happy in my comfy chair. I just send prayers to those on sets to be safe.

    Well written article by the way. Thank you for writing it.

  • Nick Adrian says:

    Thanks for posting. This was well stated. There is a safe way to do these things. I worked in locations on a film called Man on a Ledge in which we did some shooting in a train yard. My Location Manager made sure we had the proper permits, the railroad knew we were there, and nobody got hurt. Georgia is seeing a sudden boom in filming due to the tax incentives. I hope they aren’t hiring inexperienced crew just because they know the region. Safety first.

  • Greg Palermo says:

    I was a grip for almost 30 years in Toronto. There were many instances where i questioned the logic of attempting something without putting peoples safety first. One particular occasion where we had technicians in scissor lifts in a bad lightning storm, and i was ridiculed for demanding they be brought down. It always gets overlooked and scoffed at, until something like this happens. I hate the expression ‘everything happens for a reason”. This does not bring this poor girl back. You are so right that the youth in the biz are sometimes exploited by people who should know better………RIP….:(

  • Ron Grey says:

    As a member of IATSE 891 in Vamcouver, BC recent changes in our laws regarding worker safety are slowly starting to be recognized by local productions. That said, fines and slaps on the wrists have done nothing to those in charge in the last history or film making in Vancouver.

    It’s very hard to hold those accountable as a production flies into town, and flies out before anything really could be done. Until now…Worksafe BC has new legislation, which producers and PMs along with department heads (or for that matter anyone not speaking up and just turning a blind eye) can now be held criminally responsible for injury or death.

    Yes I said criminally which means actual jail time which could translate into involuntary manslaughter charges if an accident occurs and someone chooses to ignore the dangers that caused it to happen.

    However…the wheels of change are slow and too few productions take even legislation seriously. Until of course a death occurs. That’s when thing change. Sadly it shouldn’t take that long.

  • Todd says:

    I like so many here in the Carolina’s had the great fortune to work with Sarah, since her first day on set. Sarah started young and was very eager to learn/work, and even when the days were brutal, she was always smiling. I probably never had more than a dozen conversations with her (not counting “Good Morning” which she was always the first to say it) and all those conversations were a real treat. As we work day to day, from shot to shot, we all become a family of sorts and I speak for all that knew her, that her loss is beyond painful. There really aren’t any words.

    I wasn’t there when this happened so I will refrain from laying blame to anyone, until the facts are honestly told, but I will say that safety on set has at one time or another been a problem on every production I’ve worked on. Sometimes it just wasn’t discussed enough beforehand in those grueling meetings and sometimes it wasn’t viewed as too important “On the day”, but I will say that every crew member I’ve worked with has always recognized issues before tragedy, and I cannot thank my brothers and sisters enough for that.

    As an Armorer, my work is nothing but safety considerations, days and sometimes weeks before we go to picture and is paramount “On the day”. That being said, 99% of the time the adults listen, ask questions, express concerns and take it very seriously, almost to the point of it being annoying, which I will gladly accept anytime. My Camera crews and grips are always on top of the safety side, and we/they always take it one or two levels higher than it perceptually needs to be, and for that I am more than grateful. Very often Camera has to wait on me and my team, it it’s usually about safety (sometimes the weapons are camera shy and act up), but mostly it’s waiting due to the overall safety concerns of the crew as well as the producers. I say that because every delay of the day costs the production money and we all share that concern, but fortunately safety always prevails. I have said it, 1st AD’s have said it, FX guys have said it, and I quote “If anyone sees anything that seems unsafe, wrong or dangerous, TELL us, Stop the shoot, whatever it takes” Though I’m sure that some younger crew members didn’t speak up when the felt like they should because they were intimidated or afraid of getting fired. I myself was like that in the beginning and I started in this business late in life, but over the years and past mistakes, I no longer hold my tongue, if I get fired or not asked back, oh well, life goes on……..for everyone.

    AS I type this, there is a show/network trying to create “Shake and Bake” armorers so they can save money this upcoming season. I could write a book about why this is wrong and myself and other armorers in the region are teaming up to stop the stupidity before it gets any further. The short version is that they don’t want armorers or weapons wranglers on set when weapons are not firing, or expected to, they want the prop teams to handle it all (along with moving chairs, propping the cast and bg and all the other endless tasks that department has to deal with) The armorer should be a dept head, be there for the scouts, be included in the meetings, work with the prop master and director on what has to be there and what has to work, etc, Some shows do it this way, some don’t. For the Producers, it’s all about saving money. FX and Stunts have the same issues on some shows too. We all as people in the industry need to step back and look at what we are doing and what we have to do to make it better, safer etc.

    Loosing Sarah and injuring our brothers and sisters is Bulls%$%, we all know it. We all share the responsibility of it not happening again, no matter how big or small the shoot is, no matter how small the budget is. “Just Say No” has a totally different meaning in our world.

    Prayers to her family, her friends, the injured and our family of the industry.

  • eLLe says:

    Amen and preach on Zach! I’m saddened by any loss in our industry, but especially those which we feel could have and/or should have been avoided, that leave us to embrace that it was “just her time to go”. My heart aches for those personally dealing with this loss. Your message was beautifully written & it left me compelled to “rant & rave” a bit (which I may often think about but don’t often take time to post… so please bear with me).

    Unfortunately these days, your message seems to only begin to touch on a very serious issue involving film production management, that needs to be heard at least once by those who routinely film (the next blockbuster in their mind) “on-the-side”, crew volunteers who are just “trying to help” but are unaware of production responsibilities & those “instant filmmakers” who think filmmaking is easy & often FOTF: Film on the Fly (you know… those who just grab a camera, a “crew” (a few friends) & shoot wherever they want regardless of laws, rules, contracts, safety & others) AND that needs to be heard again by professionals who just need a reminder.

    Not saying that was the case in this situation, but just trying to emphasize your sentiments in the importance of each crew position, from top to bottom of the line (including location scouts & managers as @Ken Hawkins & @Marc mentioned earlier)! BEFORE shooting, every filmmaker should understand the roles of each member of the production team & crew (and cover the responsiblities of others when working with a skeleton crew)… Every team & crew member should understand their roles and film protocol as well. If they don’t know, then they should do some research or better yet, just ask someone on their team… yes, that word “TEAM” is commonly used in production, so they should feel comfortable learning from (and teaching) others on their TEAM.

    I realize that accidents can happen on any set, whether pushing with “we must get this shot” or not, but any accident (or tragedy) that occurs while pushing with “let’s just make a movie” is a terribly sad way to learn film protocol as well! There are reasons why the terms “Pre-Production” & “Location Release Forms” etc, etc, exist! Understanding the requirements of film production management does not happen overnight, but it should not be overlooked by anyone working in the industry.

    In most cases of loss, society looks for someone or something to blame. When any filmmaking loss or problem occurs, those involved may first look to place blame outside of our industry (of course) but then later, may point blame toward production or crew members. It may hurt to admit, but in the fine print on the bottom line, every & all persons involved in the project are responsible for EVERYTHING & EVERYONE on set! Whether large or small projects, the general protocol that should be followed to get help from, or a message to the correct dept head or to ANY one above the line, should be understood by everyone involved in the production… In other words, a producer may take the blame, but if a PA was aware of potentially life-threatening issue on set, but for whatever reason, did not said anything or did not ask who to address… Yep! Probably a guilty conscience forever if loss occurred!

    Well, my rant was sadly spurred by a dark situation, but I’ll end here with a rave… My prayers go out to those suffering loss, pain or guilt due to this particular tragedy. May their lives be forever touched by only sweet memories of Sarah. Also, my hat goes off to those dedicated TEAM members in this industry, who share their services, leadership & knowledge through a positive example for others. May their passion for filmmaking & genuine love for those working alongside, bring joy back to them and bring a ray of sunshine to others.

    I appreciate the opportunity to comment here and that’s aLL from me… You keep writing and thanks again for sharing your lovely message.

  • Bill Hayes says:

    Zach, a perfect blog for the terrible situation. In the UK the film industry is talking about this tragedy as much as over the there. As a location Manager I have experienced that fog that descends on to a film crew that we can get away with anything – and often you can when it’s a just a little shot – that extra something.

    But not this.

    This was a huge set up. I cannot imagine a Rail Road allowing such a thing (bed on the tracks) to take place without shutting down the line, having numerous safety staff there and only after numerous planning meetings between the Production Company and the Rail company.

    As a location Manager I have seen a few small accidents on set, and they were just that – accidents, a little bit too much zeal, a stunt car not quite hitting the spot etc, but essentially accidents. They happen. But this was criminal neglegance and I am sure will be prosecuted accordingly.

    Perhaps this will make future producers think long and hard about the decisions they make and even encourage more crew to step up to the plate and object when all is not well.

    may she rest in Peace.

  • Len Holt says:

    Why are people splitting hairs over where and when this happened and wether it was a camera test or a shoot day.. Fact, a young girl lost her life and it should never have happened.. Thanks for your well written article, you summed our industry up perfectly.. I am a Best Boy Electrician in the UK and as such have a lot of responsibility in terms of Health and Safety, not only to My own crew when rigging, derigging and shooting but also to the shooting crew and the public at all times, Risk Assessments are posted as they are with all departments and are signed off by the Producer or Line Producer.. Somebody must be held accountable and steps have to be taken to ensure this can’t happen again.. RIP Sarah Jones..

  • Emilio says:

    Wonderfully written article. Many times we are tasked with explaining to outsiders how our industry works. Sometimes, we need to talk to each other to make sure we’re still doing things the right way. Thanks for the talk.

  • Romy Sommer says:

    What a beautifully written post, and I couldn’t agree more. Why do we take ourselves so seriously?

    I started in feature films and these days I make 30 second TV ads. I sacrifice time with my children, a social life, and often my health to work around the clock. For an ad that very few viewers will remember a day after they’ve seen it?!
    I’m sure others give up way more. Sarah Jones certainly did.

    I love making movies. It sure beats working a normal desk job, but you’re right… we’re not bringing world peace or curing death. We really need to keep perspective.

    I’m also astounded that the ‘grown ups’ didn’t take more care. It’s their job.
    I work in production, and yes I sometimes complain about how much extra work all the new liability and insurance issues create, but I wouldn’t for one second contemplate shooting in a dangerous location without taking every precaution, or considering what safety issues we face, and I would never consider breaking a law to get the shot. Because it’s my job to take these precautions.

    No amount of money or time saved, and no shot (no matter how gloriously epic) equals the value of one life.

  • LindsayC says:

    This is a very good post, and an enlightening one about the industry.

    I’m sad for Sarah and her family and you’re right, this tragedy could have been avoided. I’m not entirely sure from your telling whether she was wholly caught off guard and killed before she knew what was happening, or whether she had some ability to either speak up or act physically to save herself, even if equipment was sacrificed in the process.

    But I was less keen on your continually positioning her as a helpless kid and the responsible parties as adults. I think this line of reasoning works well in general life, like when a 47-year-old like myself goes to meet some farm fellows who are all 21-27 and calls them “kids” to my husband at the breakfast beforehand. And yes, they are still learning, as was she. But in the end I see them as adults whose humanity, growing maturity and judgement, and personal interests are now in their hands, equal in validity if not less experienced than other adults.

    My problem with the kid vs. adults reasoning was that it ran awfully dangerously close to moving the needle of adulthood from 18 (or rather 21) to…27, and then how much longer? When are young people not only expected to — but also empowered to — question authority and those in the positions of responsibility and accountability? Or to act even if there’s no time for questioning?

    You’re right about the pressures of feeling you have to comply with the higher-ups and what you risk if you rock the boat. This is real and it’s as true in the film industry as it would be in many others, from risky investment banking deals to edgy journalism practices to the daily office politics in desk jobs everywhere.

    What I worry about is the message that only the higher ups have any accountability, and NO responsibility (or empowerment) is expected from or tolerated in underlings. If true, it’s that subterranean problem that should be rooted out over all, culturally, rather than perpetuating the notion that the grown ups in any room will always do the “kids” wrong and there’s no recourse for the “kids” but to suck it up, whatever the cost.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that, in fact, much responsibility falls on young people, not least of which is doing things like this blog post. But more than that, getting involved in deconstructing cultural predicaments overall and working to unseat both issues in the abuses of power (from unpaid internships to practical negligence, from hegemonic political control to the burden of college loans) and ignorance of the issues that matter to young people — equality, diversity, and environmental sanity.

    In the end, standing up on the issues beneath the surface, generation to generation, will make the “kids” feels less helpless and the “adults” less like they get to still make (or break) all the rules. But first the parties have to see themselves and each other as valid partners in the conversations that affect us all.

  • john says:

    Am I missing something here? The track was LIVE!
    Who sets up a shot on a love track? Why isn’t THAT the first question being asked?

  • Mary says:

    I know from a PA’s perspective I’ve been asked to do a few things that would cause concern like go out on a dock surrounded by water with lighting bolts come down every where, I told the Key set who told me to do it to do it himself, the 2 AD came back later and told me that I did the right thing for sticking up for myself and not put myself in danger, the key set was pissed. But there have been other times that I’ve worked being on a splinter unit and just start stop and film 2-3 feet from a busy hwy with nothing one, no safety vest, not meeting, nothing. Im 28 and been trying to get my foot in the door for several years. I done both BG work and PA work and I can tell you from experience that the union guys at least have a little more say so when it comes to those things where someone like a PA doesn’t have anywhere to turn, the only union would be the DGA and I don’t know anyone in there right mind who would go to the DGA and risk career suicide. Union guys at least have some where to turn to where others on a set who aren’t eligible for union statue have no where!

  • Tom Price says:

    “Details are still coming in, but it appears that while the film crew had permission to shoot in the general area, they did not clear anything with the railroad, nor have permission, to shoot on the train tracks.”

    It is ALWAYS trespassing to even walk on railroad grades and tracks without permission. There are many instances each year of photographers (mostly wedding and portrait photographers) and/or their clients being injured or killed while trespassing on railroad property?

    It seems to me that there is a great deal of liability to pass around this production company.

  • J says:

    Simply put, this was a tragedy. Could it have been prevented. Of course. Does the responsibility fall onto ONE person? Absolutely not. Like so many other accidents & deaths that have happened on the clock, it’s easy to point the finger. But as every project is a group collaboration, everyone holds some amount of responsibility. Let’s not pretend that due to the horrific events that occurred, this industry is going to change out of concern for crew. This is a odious & disgraceful fact.

    We make the conscious decision to dedicate our lives & livelihood to be involved in “entertainment for the masses”. The downside, we’re abused. We unfortunately accept this, because we all know that every single one of us is replaceable. We work in one of the most competitive industries, that truly in the greater scheme of things, doesn’t benefit the human race as a whole. We push ourselves to our physical, mental and emotional limits for a PRODUCT. We accept crap pay & sometimes work under questionable conditions in order to “pay our dues” to hopefully at some point be able to live out our dreams. Sadly, this industry doesn’t ACTUALLY care about us an individuals.

    Your position be it a PA, Medic, Transpo Captain, Production Coordinator, Set Decorator, Department Head, Gaffer, Accountant, Stylist, Producer, AD or even Studio Executive; when you step on set you are a number. You register as a liability, a dollar sign, a line in a budget .

    Someone is going to financially pay for this, and THAT is what will be the reason for change. No one wants to be sued. The question that will be addressed is: What needs to be done to prevent loss of life so our insurance deductible doesn’t increase, our show doesn’t receive bad press & financially we don’t take a hit?

    That’s the sad reality of what we literally give our lives for.

  • Kristen Anthony Local 478 says:

    Thank you Zach and Rest in Peace Sarah. For all fellow film makers and artists out there, please please use your voice. Our unions were established for a reason, to be the voice of the worker when we feel we cannot speak up for ourselves. I spoke up on a set over fire safety and food concerns as a Costume Supervisor two years ago in New Orleans. I was fired from the film for being unprofessional, but really because I spoke up for the crew. Two years later the NLRB determined that the production wrongfully terminated me under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act which protects our rights as workers to speak out about working conditions. It took several affidavits, witness testimony and a hearing in Los Angeles, but my voice was heard and it would not have been without my local union. I urge you all to use that voice because “Safety Comes First.” We all run the risk of never being hired again…I will gladly give this up if it saves a life. Which is way more important than the dollar so many productions jump over to save that penny.

  • michael says:

    So tragic! Safety is ultimately the responsibility of everyone on set but that can be overlooked on an overworked crew of specialized filmmakers. While it is difficult for individual technicians to stand up to production, they can express concerns to their department heads who can alert the 1st AD. There have been many occasions when 1st ADs were fired from a production for refusing to shoot under unsafe conditions but that is preferable to putting people in jeopardy. An AD that doesn’t care about the crew is not a leader and should not be in that position.

  • Tim Murphy says:

    I am sorry that such a young aspiring film professional lost her life. Georgia has a burgeoning film industry, and I have relatives that make it their lives. So, if at all possible, please , make sure talented young people don’t lose their lives like this EVER again. This was preventable.

  • Michael Lapins says:

    My condolences to her family and friends and hope that whoever is responsible, is held accountable, since there is little of that in this business .I refer to myself as a legend in Hollywood for all the WRONG reasons. In April of 93 I was on a show and yes, “we just want to get this one shot before we break for dinner.” Ever hear that one? So, having just rigged a scissor lift w/ 2 maxi-brutes on cinevators and a 5K, which I was adjusting when the hydraulics lines burst and the lift toppled down the side of a mountain from an elevated height of 60 feet. Busted spine, legs, calves, thighs and broken feet. In my case, it ended my career. Safety first, safety last. And the real bottom line is that 98% of the productions we work on have so little real value, cultural or otherwise, that the loss of this young girls’ life throws the whole crazy idiocy of the business into a rather harsh light.

  • Chuck Schulthies says:

    As a 2nd generation IATSE Local 44 Special Effects/Pyrotechnician (retired) I can’t tell you how many times I had to bring up the subject of safety on the set, or bring it to the attention of the AD’s or UPM’s. In the old days I would have the fireman on the set take the heat for me. At least before retiring when working in a hazard area we would have a safety meeting with ALL crew members present. I too was present on the set the day Boris Segal, our director walked into the tail blade of a helicopter and died from the injuries. I’ve taken the heat more than once for calling for a cut because the scene wasn’t going as rehearsed or the actor had their hand over a bullet hit.

    I can’t stress enough if you feel something isn’t safe, and they don’t want to do something about it, pack your gear and walk off the set. I promise you, your fellow members will walk with you when you bring it to their attention. It’s would be a great reminder if everybody would take a moment to remember Sarah each day before the day of shooting begins. Just the name Sarah taped to the film mag would be a reminder.

  • L. says:

    Poignant and thoughtful. This is certainly a huge tragedy and could have been avoided.
    You said: “A producer gains the proper permits and permission from the county to shoot on train tracks. A producer ensures that no trains are coming within the timeframe of the shoot. A producer is an adult who understands that we’re just making silly moving pictures and that that a feature film is not worth the life of a young girl.”
    Zach – yes, there is a lot of responsibility that goes with being a producer. Just making silly moving pictures is not one of them. These folks also get the money and do the business deals that pay the people who work on the films. This is not a game or playtime to them. So, yes, they should, and hopefully do, take things, including safety, seriously. I don’t think that singling them out as negligent parental figures is the answer here. I tend to agree with the many voices saying that we all have to have each other’s backs on set, on test shoots, on scouts, etc.
    Unless it is a low budget indy, it is not the producer who is pulling permits or getting licenses signed. That would fall generally to coordinators and UPM’s who might have to run the paperwork.
    If it was, indeed, a scout or test shoot, the producers most likely weren’t even there. They often don’t come to set even.
    And by golly, one would hope that the producers aren’t the only adults in the food chain. While you may feel like a child at 26, all people working on a film set should be conducting themselves as professional adults. It’s not a game – there are many inherent safety hazards and concerns every hour of every day.
    We must all take responsibility.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hey L, really great points.

      I did not mean to single out producers specifically, but rather wanted to use someone in their position as an example of someone who could’ve made the proper call. And of course crew members such as a UPM or a Coordinator gains permits. I think I was speaking from the point of view that there are certain members of production responsible for making these specific calls and they clearly were not made.

  • Jaymie Bickford says:

    You have written a very clear and touching piece Zach. The public at large does not understand all that goes into making a movie/TV series/etc. I was brought up in this industry that the prevailing thought is “It’s only entertainment!”, like you said, “We’re not splitting an atom.” However, the “adults” would have you feel as if it were just that important to “get the shot”. As much of a joy it is to be apart of this industry, it is moments like these that hurt my heart in so many ways. First and foremost for the loss of a life (I did not know Sarah, but she has that sparkle in her eye in all photo’s I have seen), Second, for her family and friends loss. Third, for the lack of care taken by the appropriate people to obtain permits, provide a safe working environment, etc. I could go on, but I won’t. Thank you so much for your tribute and your words. We need our community to band together for a change that will prevent such things occurring in the future.

  • Leigh tait says:

    So sad people got hurt and someone died

  • Allen Crute says:

    “The message here is, if it doesn’t seem safe, if it doesn’t seem smart, then it probably isn’t.”
    Allen Facemire’s post applies to life beyond the sets. As I told my children years ago: if they begin feeling uneasy at a party (or any event), they should have left an hour ago. (Call me!) When I was younger, I was fired from several jobs because I refused to do something illegal or unsafe. I didn’t always say NO, and I’m fortunate to be alive with no charges or guilt from creating a tragedy. Money is often at the root of unreasonable risks: keeping our job, driving all night to avoid a hotel bill, or, “I can fix that gutter myself.” My condolences to the family of a young woman who loved her work and all of those affected by this tragedy.

  • Leigh tait says:

    So sad people got hurt and someone died It did not need to happen it should never had happen
    People have a right to be safe when they go to work and if you don’t feel that speak up it’s hard to do but sometimes it’s needed to be spoken about RIP

  • Nat says:

    Was she struck trying to save equipment? I feel as though many people would have heard the train coming

    • Jon Farley says:

      You can’t hear a train far enough away to save yourself, and by the time the engineer can see you, it is already to late to stop the train in time. This isn’t about safety per se. It is about trespassing. If the crew had had permission to be on the bridge, there would not have been a train to worry about. The latest article in Variety says that not only did they not have permission, they had been explicitly told NO by the railroad.

      • Greg Palermo says:

        WOW….. i hope that is not the case. Because that would mean that someone had total disregard for the safety and well being of the people affected. There is simply no excuse. I hope this piece of work never gets completed or released. I could give a rats ass if people take a financial raking here. A life has been lost. People have been injured. Others scarred for life. Makes me sick.

  • Suzi Rayve says:

    I too am praying with all my heart for all those involved. This is a tragedy that could have been avoided and should have been. Zach you have written a wise and incisive piece here and I thank you. This young lady’s death is so heart wrenching. Having worked as a background artist and stand in on the bottom rung long long ago, I can tell you the care and safety of any and all people on the set should be foremost and usually never is. I remember having my rib cracked by being directed to do something wholly unsafe back then and knowing if I argued I would be blacklisted. Now, fast forward 20 years, as a producer there will NEVER be, nor has there been, an unsafe moment on my set. For anyone. Safety meetings MUST happen. Then what has been spoken about in said safety meeting MUST be adhered to. I don’t care if it’s first unit, second unit, tests or a frickin scout! This is not simply the producer’s call. Safety is everyone having everyone else’s back. FROM THE START!! This is negligent homicide, no more no less. I look at this beautiful young lady’s face and my heart breaks for her family, co-workers and friends. Caitlin Machak, I will be emailing you. From the guerilla shorts, to the big budgets. Shortcuts can not be taken that threaten safety and lives. They simply can’t.

  • Kathie says:

    Being a producer of local TV spots, I know there were times when we pushed the safety envelope. This tragic story is eye-opening. Thank you for such a great, moving, piece. I will be sharing it with my co-workers. Rest in peace, Sarah.

  • Andrew Millians says:

    In my experience people get stupid around trains. They don’t respect how fast they move, how big they are and the kind of damage they can wreak. People think they’re big, friendly behemoths that are easily spotted and avoided. The brutal reality is that if you find yourself on a trestle with a freight train bearing down on you, there is little you can do to get away. Having found myself standing between two trains while on a shoot I know firsthand how dangerous they truly are. I’ve also taught students that found themselves in the same situation as this film crew and they were lucky to survive with only a broken leg (the director).

  • Ed says:

    How do you shoot on a live train track and not know the correct number of trains, when they are coming and from which direction, well ahead of time? Especially when you have crew on a bridge, unable to get to safety without running down the tracks in the direct path of the train! If you don’t have at least two escape routes for everyone, you need double redundant safety measures to make sure that your people have enough warning to get to safety.

    How do they not have a PA at each end with a radio , at least a mile (preferably two) away from the set? Everyone knows loaded freight trains take at least a mile to stop, or more.

    Someone (or several people) is criminally negligent & should go to jail over this 100% preventable accident.

    RIP Sarah, this was not your fault. My condolences to her family.

  • Video guy says:

    Very well written and points well taken.

    It seems nobody mentioned the responsibility of the key grip. In my union training, many years ago, I was taught that the key grip had the last say on safety and could pull the plug anytime something wasn’t safe.

    I have also been on huge features with all the safety meetings and precautions where explosions just didn’t go as planned. Very famous talent and crew could have been killed if things fell just a few feet in a different direction. That is the difference between an accident and negligence.

    Life is not safe and most of us wouldn’t want it to be risk free, but the people who set this up should not be in our business. I think the attorney called it correctly when he labeled it criminal negligence.

  • Liz Kat says:

    A beautiful article about a terrible, avoidable tragedy. I’m currently location managing a show for CBS and know all too well the miles of red tape and truck loads of paperwork involved to clear a location. However, this system exists for a reason and the reason is to avoid exactly what happened to this poor girl. They were allowed to film on the private property the tracks ran through and were expressly told to stay off the tracks, or permit them through CSX railroad. Shame on the production, as a whole, for cutting corners and filming on live tracks without proper supervision. May she rest in peace.

  • Beaudreaux says:

    It’s tragedy and I understand your sadness and frustration, but you do not need to take the Lord’s name in vain. Please try to be more respectful to the people reading what you write.

  • Sarz M says:

    There’s no way a Safety Report was lodged and approved prior to that scene. Forget the Producer, who was the Safety Supervisor? This is their entire job, to create a safe working environment for all onset crew. They shouldn’t have been anywhere near rail tracks during a live crossing.

  • Greg Runnels says:

    As a former set dresser I remember speaking up on a night shoot where we had a very dangerous rig that required two scissor lift at about 30 feet suspending heavy weight between them. The weight was so heavy that the back wheels lifted on each lift so the crew ratchet strachted each lift to a tree, the Art Director wanted to put me on of the lifts to man it “in cars something went wrong” I refused. I had two days left on the job which was a high paying commercial. I was replaced and never called back, it was a dry couple of months as I scrambled to get with another crew. Btw the 1st A.d. UPM and Director were all witness to this ridiculous set up but said nothing while I was left out to dry for not going along.

  • Steve Barnett says:

    Look in a mirror – the person you see is the main one responsible for your safety – yourself. Until that simple mantra is taken forgranted more will become victims. That aside the rank stupidity of being on railroad tracks without the knowledge and support of the railway is criminal really. those in change of filming should be prosecuted for her death!!

  • Jo says:

    Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I am a lecturer in Television Production in the UK and have shared this with all my students – you have said so well what we try to teach. RIP Sarah.

  • Laini says:

    So sad to lose a young woman in such a tragic and avoidable way
    20 years in the film industry and have many times been concerned by situations like this .. I have lost friends and have seen the destruction of relationships from the stress and expectation
    USA crew come to Aussie and get 12 hour turnaround we get 10 hours if lucky .. camera crew and other key departments R pushing to get there in one piece .. Danger is pushed to the edge on a daily basis and money is poured out the tubes of industry… people r worth little the shot is worth everything .. Glad I have walked away …. Hope things change

  • dennis elliott says:

    my feelings about the loss of sarah at such a young age Is a loss to everyone , leaves me to adk what we in our industry do to prevent it happening again.’ We must get that shot, We must get that shot ‘ says it all, perhaps the way forward is for the unions to get what would be known as ‘ Sarahs Law ‘ [ I am speaking from the UK where we have very strict laws on Health & Safety , mabe your unions could consult BE CTU my union to see our guidelines] if your industry could bring in ‘Sarahs Law’ on every shoot it would be a wake up call for the Whizz Kids who will take any risk to get the shot in !!, I will use a simple analogy ,/There is no such a thing as a safe gun, too many people get killed by assuming ‘ That Gun is Safe’ Always assume the same for filming. we have lost too many filmmakers making that assumption. – ‘ Sarahs Law’

    my

  • Marcus Cloherty says:

    A very moving article
    There is no reason for anyone to be injured of killed on a film set. EVER
    That can only be negligence on the part of the production company, irrespective of who was negligent in there role. (failing to do their job properly)
    This stuff is just entertainment.
    To put your crew in danger is beyond irresponsible.
    We all know there is always another way to achieve the visual effect required to propel the narrative.
    This incident fills me with enormous sadness.
    I just should not happen
    My condolence to to the friends and family Sarah Jones

  • Colin Noël says:

    Anywhere on the planet, producer slack of security is know. We don’t have to shoot in some foreign country to know that security and health is always the last to receive attention from the Production. We ,for shure, have multiples exemples of that kind of situations where you have two choices; leave the shoot or look somwhere else for the time of the shot… Camera test or full feature won’t change that poor girl life cause she’s dead. I really hope all the crew will go together on this with the help of your union and make those ignorant pay for thare lack of humanity….

    Colin Noël, Montreal, Canada
    ETCP Arena
    ETCP Theater
    Key rigger
    Key grip.

  • J says:

    Such a sad tragedy. Bottom line is that “getting the shot” is all that the producers studios and directors care about. I’ve been on job where gangs shot thru production vehicles for shooting on their turf. Productions answer? Keep rolling!! I worked on a kids movie the last 1/4 of ’13. I deadly shooting occurred two blocks from set. Productions answer? Keep filming!! How about fraturday? How often is the whole crews life put in danger with an 80 hr work week finishing at some ungodly hour early Saturday morning. We all know the truth, as crew members we are nothing more then a serial number and an expense to these people. They don’t have the slightest care about us as people. Unfortunately it’s tragedies like this that make people actually talk about it!

    • Erik Olson says:

      Thank you for writing this story for Sarah Jones, who would certainly want others to take a lesson from her untimely death.

      Safety on the set is the responsibility of every crew member. If we all apply that paramount rule to our workday, we will have the power to influence how modern film shoots operate from a safety standpoint.

      In our company, we have a safety protocol called “Take 1″, where every crew member applies one minute to ensure that the current set-up is safe. This doesn’t always require a safety meeting, but it does require that everyone approaches the work with an eye toward getting the shot safely. This mindset actually begins to influence the way people approach the work – from pre-rig to wrapping a location out, safety habits eventually become the norm and not an unnatural afterthought to the work.

      As many of those posting here have said, a PA or AD or intern posted a distance down the line with a radio would have made this situation entirely avoidable. It took less than a minute for the people posting to make that recommendation. Certainly, deploying the suggested measure can eat up some time, but that is what we have producers, ADs and department heads for.

      You can make your day and be safe. That is the mandate we must all adopt as we approach our work.

  • Tugboat Films says:

    Most Producers and Production Managers Do care!! I am one of them! Sadly, I learned my lesson after the Vic Morrow/ John Landis/”Twilight Zone” tragedy. The industry (led by Warner Bros) created a system with manuals and safety bulletins. However, you are only as safe as the people you work for on your little production out in the field. I once had a Producer tell me, “If you are in doubt about whether or not you should do it…picture yourself at a funeral and then if front of a Judge, if you can’t successfully explain yourself to parents and then to the Judge then don’t F______G do it!” I have remembered this statement for 30 years. Safety should always guide the decision makers and usually does. Don’t blame the executives back at the studio…they just get you the funding….blame your Producer, Line Producer & Production Managers that are in the field with you. If the decision was made to “cheat the shot” and be somewhere that you don’t have permission then why wasn’t a PA placed at least 3 miles back on either end of the tracks you were shooting on? I am positive that CSX would never have given permission to shoot on a “HOT” track and certainly NOT on a freekin’ trestle!!!! This whole incident enrages me! At least, if you are going to “cheat the shot” have an, insurance REQUIRED, safety meeting and make plans for the inevitable train that is coming soon. I am at a loss for words to Sarah’s parents. Very sad indeed. Lesson is: know who you are working for and demand the best from them!!! Don’t ever forget Sarah and make your Producers and Production Managers accountable on every shoot you work on. It’s a village and you have responsibilities just as much as they do thru your department heads. Don’t allow something like this to ever happen again needlessly!!!

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hey @Tugboat Films, thank you so much for sharing these comments. It is encouraging to remember that many producers, production managers, people in charge DO, in fact, care.

      I’ve heard the “Twilight Zone” story many times from a college professor of mine, and it was always paramount for this professor in particular to stress safety on set. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me in the proceeding years following my time in college and I (as a director and producer myself) become frustrated when those with the power to make sure everyone is protected fail to do their part to have the back of the crew.

  • Raf says:

    This is a tragedy. But at least in the USA you have unions to help fight these cases. In the UK there are none. Most productions I worked on used abandoned buildings, nearly always with asbestos. When asking about the safety of working in an building made from asbestos they would always say the same thing. If you don’t like it you can leave.
    I think the film industry really needs people to act and even if you are just a PA or 3rd AC speak out. I did and none of my coworkers wanted to join me. I ended up being given the option to quit or be thrown off the production.
    I left. Since then I have only worked on small productions with less money as they are more collaborative and they do not ask you to risk your health/life as much.
    The bigger the production the less they care and the more they ask of you.

    It is sad that incidents like this and that of the explosion on the London production are happening but if we use them to make change their injuries and the loss of this woman will not have been in Vain.

  • Christina says:

    My husband has been a Class One pyrotechnician for over 20 years. When there is a live explosion, or “fake” gunfire or anything of that nature – the buck stops with him when it comes to safety. No matter what. I am most proud of the times when he’s stopped a crew from working because actors/producers were walking through locations where he was setting bombs. Or the time he was fired because he and his partner told the producer/director of a film that just because they were shooting in China didn’t mean using fake snow that was banned in the US because it damaged the lungs of people exposed to it was a good idea. They were fired. Uma and her new-born never knew that two unknown and unemployed special effects guys protected their health when no one else would.

  • stephen says:

    Beautifully and soulfully written. Almost 30 years ago, I was running a production company that financed a movie during the shooting of which a camera car careened out of control and crashed. One person was so badly injured that he was confined to a wheelchair and died many years later at a much, much younger age than he would have had the accident not occurred. Another person was critically injured and declared brain dead within hours. I was in the hospital when his wife gave the orders to have him removed from life support. That experience scarred my heart and soul forever. As you said, Zach….as much as we love what we do, it’s only a movie.

  • Jane says:

    This is exactly why I left the industry and have not looked back 3 years later

  • Dan says:

    I know your heart is in the right place but this kind of finger-pointing might not be helpful to either Sarah Jones’ family or her co-workers, so soon after the tragedy.

    The piece portrays senior crew and showrunners (who you don’t appear to know personally) as completely reckless and inconsiderate people. Perhaps their negligence was the cause of the accident, but please consider for a moment that they are probably in mourning too and will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hey Dan,

      Of course, and I tried to be as respectful as possible in my post. I’m not in the business of finger pointing and understand that everyone involved with this shoot is obviously in a state of mourning. I was speaking from a place of frustration. Because the bottom line is they simply did not have permission to be shooting on that train track and someone should have spoken up and made sure the proper precaution was taken before arriving on the scene.

      Best,

      Zach

    • Leigh Rose says:

      As a paramedic working in the film industry for the last 6 years I have only ever been able to draw one conclusion: The producers, UPM’s and as you call them “adults” DO NOT ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE SAFETY OF THE CREW. Their ONLY concern is the end product and how much it costs to get there.
      There is absolutely NO ACCOUNTABILITY! Not a single job has gone by where we in the health and safety departments have not had to fight tooth and nail to ensure that crews operate safely and that the appropriate safety equipment is provided (and I can assure you, producers HATE been told they have to spend money on safety requirements as most of them view that kind of thing as a complete waste of budget!). Not a single job has gone by where it hasn’t been made blatantly obvious that the only reason a medic and safety officer are employed is so that the production company can a) receive proper insurance and b) when something does go wrong, the production company immediately has a scapegoat to blame it on. Nevermind the fact that under no circumstances (specifically in SA) does the safety officer actually have any authority to do anything about the unsafe practice seen on film sets day in and day out. It is soul-destroying! But it also goes further than just the “adults”. The attitude on set is seldom one of actual unity between the crew members, instead it is always a case of “my job is more important than yours, therefore I am more important than you”!
      Yes, every person is responsible for their own safety, in any situation. However, with the nature of work in the film industry you are constantly reminded by the “adults” just how unsecured your job actually is, that for every one of you there are 10 or 20 other people who could easily replace you (this is particularly true for the country I work in, I can’t comment on other countries). Crews, in SA, have almost been conditioned to just shut up and do as you are told, because if you don’t, well there’s the door – off you go!

      As of June last year, I no longer work in the industry. As the medic required to piece everyone back together after a complete lack of thought resulted in near tragedy, and then having to watch while absolutely no corrective measures were ever implemented to prevent a repeat, I somehow lost my soul. I could no longer keep my mouth shut. However, when I did open my mouth I would be threatened with job loss or worse.

      But the one thing I would very much like producers to answer: What exactly, could EVER be done in the name of “entertainment” that is actually MORE important than someone’s health and well-being? And more and more of these stories should be made public, because maybe when the movie goers start to understand the danger that so many people put their lives in just to create a make-belief story there would be a bigger outcry (and this is not limited to actual dangerous activity like working around railway lines – there is a reason why most health and safety regulations throughout the world stipulate maximum working hours for a week, and there are few places in the world where 18 hour days, 6 day weeks are considered legal. I’ve seen so many accidents happen caused by nothing but absolute fatigue). Nothing about the death of a crew member is make belief! It really is time that those who failed to do their jobs are held criminally accountable!

  • Sam G says:

    Thank you for the story and all of the great comments – there are a lot and I didn’t read them all, so if this was already mentioned, then it bears repeating. Was this a union show? If so, is Georgia a ‘right to work state?’ I write this from Burbank California, where a lot of productions that used to be made here have now gone in search of cheaper locations. It’s not like accidents and neglect can’t happen here – but states that are newer to this film industry stuff have less regulations regarding production shoots and therefore – at least superficially – less cost. When you’ve been making movies in a place for over a hundred years the regulations and the cost build up. But they’ve built up for a reason: people have been hurt and killed. I’m sure less regulation is often, if not always, seen by producers as a plus. It obviously isn’t.

  • Cosmo says:

    End of the day everyone is responsible for personal saftey, and the AD is responsible for everyone and everything. In a business where it is a common saying “Saftey Third” I would just like to know who the AD was that said yeah, sure, lets get those sticks out on those live train tracks? Are you joking? I would need to see the Govenors signature saying there will be no trains before I would let a crew even think about doing this.

  • Our condolences to Sarah’s family and friends.

    So many of the comments about the way this industry operates, made by those in the industry (wherever in the world they are) ring so true for us. Example: speaking out against things that are out of order, and would never be accepted in most other workplaces = never work with those people again, or get fired for no good reason. Been there, done it – and would happily do it again.

    It is tragic this young woman lost her life; sadly, it will happen again until the dangerous practices and nasty attitudes that plague this industry are run out of town.

  • frank navas says:

    What a TRAVESTY !!! So sad!! I cant believe this was even allowed o get to that point. Someone needs to be held accountable. This not just some L&D that gets taken care of and replaced. ITs a HUMAN life for Christ’s sake. Taken from this world, her friends , her family,for no goddamn reason? WHY? to get the shot??!! Are you fucking kidding me?!!! I fee such sadness an and anger for Sarah and her family, but as a DP/OP I feel ashamed to be in this business right now. I know that not the norm of how most productions are run, but that this was even allowed, un permitted!!! is a travesty. WE have all been there people and we want to go that extra for the show , for the production, even for our department, I DO understand but something is seriously wrong when a bright light like Sarah pays the price for someone else’s incompetence!! Because that what it is at the highest and truest levels. Nothing is worth that. This production company should never be allowed to produce anything ever again. Accountability people we are ALL resposible for that and that structure , that chain of command , LET SARAH DOWN. I cant say it enough, if you feel its wrong or not safe SAY SOMETHING!! Pleae for your sake or someone else’s.
    COMMON SENSE could have prevented this, but when we get on set we forget about all the real dangers because we are MAKING MOVIES , and we love in our own bubble. I HAVE put myself in situations and places that i probably shouldn’t have for the sake of the show, or my Team! You don’t want to let the production down or be the downer. Cmon how may times have you hard that you have to BLEED for you r art? When we are so young , we are so easliy manipulated, so easily convinced, because we place our faith in our elder experienced colleagues, we give in and we are all GUN HO !! I am lucky on occasion because I have let this happen and not listen to that voice in my head and that I never ended up hurt or yes even dead is a miracle. I knew better , we knew better the production knew better. WE just got lucky.
    CINEMATIC IMMUNITY- heard that saying before well thats bullshit an it has to stop. Has no place in our Industry . No prodution is worth a HUMAN LIFE !! NOT ONE!!
    My Heartfelt sympathies and condolences go out to Sarahs Family and friends,, GOD BLESS Sarah may she rest in peace. Lets make sure that she did not go in vain and DO SOMETHING about these unsafe practices and the companies and quote un quote profressionals we perpetrate , and condone this behavior.
    To all my Crew Brothers & Sister, take care of yourselves and each other. Bless you all.

  • Doug R says:

    Having been background on numerous union jobs, I’ve always been most inspired by crew, rather than my fellow actors, especially when the day gets long and it’s fk-ing-ass freezing or way past meal break or … you know. The crew’s still out there getting it done, and it kind of forces you to get your own A game going. I’ve worked with so many crew people like Sarah, all of whom have shown this (much older) guy how it’s done, and I’m just heartbroken for her loss…for her family, for her hopes and ambitions, and for all who were enriched by her presence. The people who should have had Sarah’s back, and didn’t, ought to pay BIG for this, if for no other reason for the deterrent effect. I’m sure it will all come out; this isn’t one of those deals where ‘nobody ever shot on train tracks before’ and it’ll be known who did or didn’t…etc. etc. But for now, I just pray for everyone’s safety; you all are MUCH too precious to be put in harm’s way like that. Say ‘no’ if you can, and if you can’t (understandable) please take extra extra care.

  • Jeff says:

    The real tragedy is for the train crew. Trains are pretty quiet for their size and can take over 1 mile (5,280′) to stop. Someone died on these railroader’s watch because people were on the tracks who were not supposed to be there. Being on the tracks without permission is a crime called trespassing.

    Each person who went on the tracks and bridge (which is never a safe idea) took his/her own life and safety in their own hands. Each person should have confirmed whether or not they had permission.

    It’s too bad that someone was killed. These dangers are known dangers and this whole thing could have been prevented by the movie crew. Because of the movie crew, the train crew has to live with this death for the rest of their life.

  • Jeff says:

    “When Executive Producer Jay Sedrish was asked if he had permission to be on the trestle or be on the train tracks, Mr. Sedrish replied “That’s complicated.” The report goes on to say that according to a CSX employee, the production company had previously been denied permission to film on the trestle, and there was an e-mail to verify that fact. The e-mail was betwee Charlie Baxter, the location manager and CSX employee Carla Groleau. Finally the report says while speaking with the director, Randall Miller, that he was asked who owned the production company or who would be in charge, the report says Miller said “He guessed that would be he and his wife.”"

    http://www.wsav.com/story/24780061/update-incident-report-on-train-accident-claims-no-permission-given

  • David Pastecchi says:

    being a 36 year vet of this business…many times i have felt unsafe and voiced my concerns. i would either get…”yeah yeah…we know what we are doing” or “you can leave if you want” meaning dont come back. i always voice a concern if i feel something is unsafe…usually starting with the Key Grip and Shop Stewart…but if they are not around at that moment i go above and thats when i get those answers… but there are a few that i have met, that will listen…. but the list is short.

    reading and talking with people that knew her and have some of the real facts of all this…. doesnt really make a difference to me. what does concern me, is that. even IF there was permission to be there…even IF they had a safety meeting. ( have to add here that on almost every Call Sheet there is a safety meeting, every day) even though we all know it never happens ??? so…. even if they had every paper in place…. the crews safety was NOT looked after… NO precautions taken in the event something was to go wrong. AND IT DID.

    will this make a difference in how things are done in the future…. who is to say, i dont have much hope. every year we lose brothers and sisters driving home from sets and falling asleep at the wheel or impaired that they crash. we work an average of a 63hr work week and only get a 30min work break…usually not until 7hrs into our day….. until production is held accountable for these accidents… i dont think much or any change will happen… i can only hope. its sad….

    if you drink too much at a bar and drive home and kill someone…. the bar owner is held accountable…

    SOMEONE here needs to be held ACCOUNTABLE….

  • Shaheen Isaacs says:

    My heart goes out to the family and close friends of this beautiful girl , may al who knew and loved her find comfort and peace .

    This indeed was very tragic and uncalled for . There is always another minute to shoot the shot .SAFETY FIRST !!!

    As a camer operator who does a lot of stunt filming it always 50 /50 with the stunt as timing is everything . Check check double check Everything ! Question the surroundings and never leave your guard down .

    As a focus puller I have pulled the camera off a rig a few times and demanded that more safety measures be put in place , I’ve taken batteries off cameras to stop a shoot as my team was in the RED ZONE a few times . By doing this I reminded everyone around me to be more vigilant about safety .

    On the feature film Safe House I narrowly escaped death by a moving flying vehicle passing through the air in a stunt we were filming .

    On another occasion I had to jump in a helicopter 1 metre way from a 200mm cliff.
    I broke my hand on Flight of the Phoenix always breaking my neck . And yes I’m nothing but a number . But I’m responsible for my own life , I don’t listen to anone if I dont feel safe….. I thicken my voice and make myself clear by literally bringing the shoot to a halt , until the proper safety measures are put in place .

    The show must go on yes , but only when it’s safe to do so!

    LOVE and LIGHT and sincere condolences to Sarah’s family .

    All the way from the Film Capital Cape Town South Africa .

    Shaheen Isaacs

  • Mitch Mitchell says:

    Coming from the construction industry as an electrician I have seen many many very scary things on film sets. I personally have been attacked by a 400 lb bengal tiger on set and lived. I shouldn’t have been there! I can’t even believe that steel toe boots are not a requirement on location sets, AT LEAST! Everyone is responsible for safety and I have found that there is a hesitancy to speak out of “Rank” on film sets leaving safety as someone else or some other departments problem!. I have found that Art department people who haven’t been trained on machines proper lock out procedures like unplugging an auger b 4 sticking ur hands into one etc etc etc Januz Kiminski (2 x academy award winner for Schindlers list and Saving Private Ryan) personally came up to shake my hand for shutting down his production B4 a lightning storm hit. Safety is everyone’s business.

  • stephen says:

    being a locomotive engineer there have been many times i have had to swerve off the tracks to avoid hitting people…….NOT!!! JUMP OFF THE TRACKS!!! i know how stealthy those 200 ton engines can be, but COME ON sad yes needless death yes….ONE WORD IDIOTS!!!

  • Tom says:

    Wow. You’re a KID at age 27? Or age 26, even?

    You’re not responsible for using your own judgement in terms of safety or not? PEER PRESSURE or a JOB can make you do unsafe things because “we must get this shot”?

    I’m very sad when anyone dies–under any circumstance, just or unjust–but the “adults” and “kids” portion of this article simply amazes me. Pray tell, at what age will a person graduate to being responsible for their own safety and ability to judge whether an employer or superior is putting them in a bad position?

    “Kids” at 26 and 27? Wow.

    • Zach Goldberg says:

      Hey Tom,

      I completely get what you’re saying. Of course a 26 and a 27 year old is an adult in a every practical sense. But there is a culture that exists on a film set that is very unique. When I speak of “kids” and “adults” I’m speaking to a certain responsibility tat exists for the producers, directors, and the such to ensure the safety of the crew. It is one of their primary roles. And unfortunately, as has been mentioned numerous times in these comments, many crew members won’t speak up out of fear of being fired or blacklisted.

      Further, from what we’ve heard so far, it appears that Sarah and her crew members were under the impression that this would be safe and they would be protected. They were under the impression that their producers did their due diligence in gaining proper permission to shoot in the area.

      And yes, at age 26 and age 27 on a film set, you are still very much green. There are people who have been doing this for decades and you’re still in an apprenticeship stage. There are times when, even if you’d rather not, you still very much feel like the “kid” on set.

      Again, this is not to say that individuals should not take ownership and responsibility for their actions. But there is evidence of gross negligence on account of the higher-ups in this production– the “adults” in this scenario. I would’ve written something similar if Sarah was 30 or 35. Perhaps I would not have used the word “kid,” but I still absolutely would’ve used the word “adults” to describe the producers and directors and those in production. Because set safety is a key responsibility on their part.

      Best,

      Zach

      • Tom says:

        Orson Welles. 25 years of age. CITIZEN KANE. Green?

        Sorry, but I’m not buying the “green at 26 or 27″ argument. And I’ve spent just a little bit of time on sets doing shoots. Even when I was 25. Didn’t consider myself a kid. Wasn’t treated as one.

        And would NEVER do anything to jeopardize my safety, nor would anyone with ethics require me to. Peer pressure wouldn’t make me. And certainly the viability of my physical being would loudly and longly trump currying favor with those who would casually have me suspend my own personal well-being.

        All sorts of people are responsible for safety all the time. But the FINAL obligation is that of the individual. ADULTS don’t put their life or safety in jeopardy to get along better with those who would have them do so.

        So, no, I don’t think you get what I’m saying, nor do I think you’re likely to.

        It’s pretty simple. If you’re working for someone who requires you to do something you believe is unsafe all for “We must get this shot” then quit your job and go to work for someone who won’t require you to. The notion that this is an industry standard which is a) predominant or b) unavoidable is just flat out wrong.

  • Laurel says:

    Completely needless accident. Unfortunately, film crews are not thinking about safety all the time…until something tragic happens.

    I am a safety consultant in Atlanta. Since the influx of production companies have come here, I have been sending out my resume and business information to each production team. I never get a response. It’s sad that a young life is lost when it could have totally been prevented.

  • Jon Jost says:

    I beg to differ with you on a lot of accounts, but the first one is that Sarah Jones could have said no – at 27 she was not “a kid” but an adult who properly should be making her own decisions. Ditto those up and down the totem pole could have and should have said NO but they didn’t because they are sheep inside a corporate run slaughter house making inane movies.

    Then I differ with you on the description of filmmaking – you are describing for-profit corporate filmmaking, not “filmmaking.” I am a 50 year vet of the process, and I do my own camera, writing, directing, editing and gripping. I make films that look “professional” (when I want). You – the writer – are an example of the cowed by-the-book corporate schooled generation which never asks questions, obeys, and does so to grab your slice of the cash. The commercial movie biz is a bloated immoral con-job, the sole function of which is to make money, no matter what the “product” is – porn, violence, whatever sells. Those who work in it are as responsible as those who invest and profit from it. http://www.jonjost.wordpress,com, http://www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com

  • sean gerace says:

    Wonderfully written.

  • Joanna Kennedy says:

    Well written and I totally get inferring the ‘kidness’ of the adventure and exuberance of being on set. Crew shows up expecting safety concerns to be taken care of, everyone has a job and will be busy from the moment they set foot on set. I can’t imagine that proper permits were in place for a working track. I have to wonder what production thought they were doing, and if they’d heard that they’d have one minute to clear the tracks ‘if’ another train came by… well that’s not they way you shoot on a track. There are no ‘ifs’ on a working track. Why weren’t the details taken care of, or a piece of track built and the rest cgi’d! They had a safety meeting in the morning, of course, were the track reps there, and if not that would be a red flag. Was it explained the number of pa’s and track reps who would be placed for how far along the tracks for safety, that track reps were on radio with all trains, or the central dispatch that monitored the trains. If these things didn’t happen, all crews need more training to know what needs to happen to insure their safety, and all dept keys need to be saying we’re not taking our crew into that. And the DGA needs to explain why their safety training doesn’t insure an AD and UPM that knows what it takes to be prepared for this shot. IF there weren’t permitted onto the tracks, this is not a place to steal a shot period. This should not have happened, and even if there were permits (which it seems there weren’t) then the proper safety protocols weren’t taken care of just the same. They say they planned for weeks for this shot, so what happened then. This shouldn’t have happened, just shouldn’t. How do we take care of our crews to prevent this, to know what they should be looking for in safety situations, to know when to say no. The DGA needs to up their safety training, and we need to provide more safety training for our crews, who are mostly young and adventurous and not expecting that those they are depending on could drop the ball so badly. Sarah is dead, a crew and train driver are traumatized. For what… a f#@$^% shot that could have been created on a set and in post??!! More than one person’s elevator in the planning of this shot did not go all the way to the top, because this was stupid and preventable.

  • Crystal Lotus says:

    I am so saddened at the loss of Sarah for her family, friends and the world.
    I am married to an on-set electrician and can’t tell you how many nights I have stayed awake just waiting to hear the car in the drive way….and know that he doesn’t tell me the awful “near-misses” that have occurred over the years…. and as an ex-producer, I am well aware of them as well as how other will cut corners…and forget to do the smallest “to-do”… very very sad.

  • Terry Pettigrew says:

    Someone on that film crew should be and must be held up for manslaughter. There is no justice if they are not. Nothing justifies putting someone’s life in jeopardy as I know from over twenty years in the business. I was taught the safety rule if you can’t stand up in court and justify it then don’t do it and I’m guessing the person responsible for this definitely cannot justify it. Make sure they pay and pay hard

  • Kim Bailey says:

    Zach…..

    Bravo, you have most certainly given perspective to a moment in time that we should reflect upon and yet the show must go on. For 37 years I have have known nothing else but my career for the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. It has taken me around the world twice and I have given almost every moment of social life to the craft that has tortured and driven me since I entered in 1976. I have lost very close friends and colleagues over my long career from either the chemicals we have all been exposed to or from incidents that caused loss of life. As we say, “No film is ever worth losing your life for”, yet it is true we take terrible risks and place ourselves in harms way for an art form that very very few ever get the chance to work in or even see it’s creation.

    Now a production designer, in the beginning of my career I too have spent countless hours while an effects man, loading explosives and tempting fate for that one time a charge would go off without notice (and it does happen). I have been lucky, very lucky since I have had devices that I have designed and built explode in my hands and came away without a scratch. Yet with todays industry more and more risks are taken and nothing is said simply because some know how precious having the job is.

    You are correct when you say it is up to the Director, Director of Photography, 1st AD and the Art Director or Production Designer (if that person is on set). Those individuals are the core to a film and ultimately responsible for everyone on a working set (either location or a sound stage).

    Will things change? Most likely not…. The jobs are hard to find, the work is in all parts of the world now and far too many people willing do risk everything for that moment to get close to the camera. The dance has been the same since I entered this industry and even though some things are now practiced, there is still far too much left to chance.

    This is why I write this today…. leaving things to chance is not a way to do business and this is a business. The professional conduct of every person you work with on and of set should be the first concern. We are a family in film, a family that cries together, we laugh together and we remember those before us like no other industry in the world. My honor has been to have worked with the greatest artist in history and have shared their visions in film making. Sarah will be deeply missed, there are far too few of us who have the talent that she possessed. For those who work every day in our craft, let us never forget this lesson. For those dreaming about film, remember that the person next to you may someday save your life when you need it most.

  • […] of grief and kind words for Sarah Jones both within the entertainment community, particularly those that work behind the scenes, and the rest of the country in general. One of the more noteworthy gestures is a petition to […]

  • cindy Whitehead says:

    I work in the advertising photography end of the business. Since we are not union, we have even less in the way of safety regulations than film does . I have been doing this for 25 years and have been in some crazy/dangerous situations in my career. One involved a professional motocross rider crashing while doing a “no handed landing backflip” off a jump. His bike landed nearly on top of him and there was no medic on set. No call sheet with nearest hospital & No address to the “location” on call sheet (just directions such as “drive to end of culdesac, go to house on left and enter through side gate) So there’s me jumping over a fence to find a mailbox on the street to get an address for the ambulance when this all goes down. He punctured his lung, broke ribs, had a severe concussion and tore the skin right off his arm – and it could have been way worse. As a wardrobe stylist I am guilty of not always speaking up when I know I should. I did recently when a client wanted the crew to drive 2.5 hrs to get to location, then be on set for 10 hrs, and then drive home another 2.5. I spoke up and said it’s not safe and we need to either spend the night before the shoot near the location, or the night after we get done shooting – when this was nicely pointed out, the client readily agreed. I had the makeup artist thank me saying she was afraid to ask for that. I am sorry this tragic situation and Sarah losing her life is reminding me to SPEAK UP when I know something isn’t as it should be and is jeopardizing our safety. Thank you for this excellent post Zach, it’s extremely well written and I will be sharing it via social media with all my friends, especially those who have no idea what really goes on on a set and how dangerous it can be if things are not done correctly. Thank you for speaking out.

  • […] of grief and kind words for Sarah Jones both within the entertainment community, particularly those that work behind the scenes, and the rest of the country in general. One of the more noteworthy gestures is a petition to […]

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