March 1, 2014

It's Time to Get Serious About Film Crew Safety in the Wake of the Sarah Jones Tragedy

Sarah Jones with CamerasPeople may refer to the "film community" when speaking about the industry, and while on the surface it might be easily dismissed as a vague term to describe working professionals, those involved in making TV or movies in any capacity, and on any budget level, are truly a tight-knit group of like-minded people who see fellow crew members as family. Back on February 20th, one of our own, Sarah Jones, tragically lost her life doing what she loved. The film community has come out in full force, not only honoring her on film slates, but introducing a petition to have her added to the 'In Memorium' tribute during Sunday's Academy Awards [See the update below in the Petition section]. While we can do everything we can to make sure she is remembered, are we doing everything we can to prevent more accidents on and off set?

February 20th, 2014

If you aren't familiar with the incident, crew members for the film Midnight Rider were set up on a railroad trestle near Jessup, Georgia when a train arrived unexpectedly, crossing the bridge. In addition to the loss of 27-year-old Union 2nd AC Sarah Jones, seven other crew members were injured, some seriously. More and more details have surfaced in the last week, which seem to indicate that the those in charge of production did not have the proper permits to be on the tracks when they asked the crew to set up there.

It also looks like no representatives were present from CSX, the railroad company who operates on the tracks, which would be another lapse in safety for the crew shooting the film.

Shooting for Midnight Rider has been suspended indefinitely, but support for Sarah and crew safety is only getting stronger.

#SlatesForSarah

After the accident, a Twitter account and many hashtags have emerged (including #SlatesForSarah, #RIPSarahJones, #SafetyFirst, #SafetyForSarah, #ribbonforsarah, #sarahjonesisallofus), and a Facebook group and Instagram account were created to show the outpouring of support, with countless productions writing her name on their slates as a sign of solidarity -- from the smallest indies all the way to big Hollywood blockbusters.

Many, many more have come out in support of Sarah on their slates, and you can see more of them over on the Facebook page or Instagram account.

Academy Awards Petition for Sarah

[UPDATE]: While Sarah was not part of the 'In Memoriam' tribute, her image was shown during Sunday's broadcast, and she is also listed on the Oscar website.

Sarah Jones Academy Tribute

The Academy Awards honors those in the community who have past in the last year, and a petition was created in the hopes that the Academy will add Sarah to their 'In Memoriam' section during Sunday's event:

Sarah Elizabeth Jones was a West Columbia native who died last week while filming a movie in South Georgia. 

Only 27 years old, Sarah's promising life was cut short when she was struck by a train while working on a dangerous set. Crew members are the unsung heroes of film and television production who work long hours and sometimes very dangerous conditions for the love of filmmaking. Sarah Elizabeth Jones was one of us. 

We ask for Sarah Elizabeth Jones' love and passion for filmmaking be acknowledged on the grandest stage of all, The Academy Awards. 

UPDATE: This petition will be submitted for consideration by The Academy on Sunday. Signatures on this petition are going through electronically to the Oscars. Thank you for supporting one of our own. 

#SafetyForSarah #SlatesforSarah #RIPSarahJones

Here is an update on the situation from Variety:

Industry insiders expressed doubt that Jones would be included. The Academy is sticking with its policy of not commenting on who will or won’t be included on the televised “In Memoriam.” She will almost certainly be included in the more extensive list of deaths that runs on Oscars.com, but that is unlikely to mollify the nearly 57,000 people who have signed the online petition to have Jones included in the television segment.

And:

On social media, a push has been launched for stars attending the Oscars on Sunday to wear a small black ribbon. “We ask that the celebrities that we all work so tirelessly to make look great be our voice this Sunday,” says the “Wear a Ribbon to the Oscars for Sarah” Facebook page. “Wear a ribbon, and when you are asked why, tell them about Sarah.” The hashtag on Twitter for the push is #ribbonforsarah.

I encourage all No Film School readers and anyone else you may know to sign the petition and let the Academy know that we care for all of our crew members, and her preventable death deserves recognition on the stage in front of the entire world.

Haskell Wexler & Unions

Many have spoken out after Sarah's death, including well-respected members of the community like Haskell Wexler, ASC. He has long argued for better working conditions for crew members, and recently commented about the accident in Georgia:

“It’s a tragedy,” he told Variety. “She should not have died. It upsets me.”

Wexler, who won Oscars for “Bound for Glory” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” said that proper safety rules being in place could have prevented the accident.

“People can learn from this terrible injury,” he added.

Wexler also released an open letter Wednesday to “fellow workers” which said that he’s part of a group asking that Jones’ name be included in the Academy’s “In Memoriam” section this Sunday.

“Sarah and the three injured crew members were not victims of an ‘accident’ but of criminal negligence. Something that would not have happened if proper safety rules were in place,” the letter said.

This, and many other tragedies related to filmmaking are preventable, and while the death of Sarah Jones was not due to long hours, he has fought for 12 hours on and 12 hours off for crew, even making a film about it called Who Needs Sleep?. At an IATSE Union Convention over the summer, the Long Hours Resolution was passed:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the IATSE continue to communicate these
concerns to labor-management safety committees and make efforts to increase
awareness that long hours of work cause injuries, illnesses and
deterioration in job performance, as part of the IATSE Entertainment and
Exhibition Industries Training Trust and CSATF Safety Pass Programs, and
 
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that efforts be made to require all
signatory companies to recognize fatigue as a health and safety hazard in
their safety guidelines.

While this is a good sentiment, it doesn't go nearly far enough to prevent accidents from happening during shooting and after the day is over when the crew is heading home after a long day.

There are some elements in place, but it's time to crack down on unnecessarily long hours. This is a uniquely American problem that other countries don't seem to face, so if they can work reasonable hours, why can't we in the U.S.?

We need the unions to step up for real and finally institute proper working hours that treat crews as human beings -- which means not working insane overtime day after day and ensuring that when overtime does happen, proper turnaround times are observed (at least 12 hours).

Crew Safety Regardless of Budget

It's also time that we all take a step back and recognize what we're doing on our productions, and if we're doing it in the safest possible way. Much of the No Film School readership are working on low and no budget productions, but I think it's important to remember that the safety of your actors and your crew should be the priority regardless of budget. Plenty of sets have the correct safety measures in place and take care of their people, but too many of us are guilty of doing stupid things just to get a shot. We need to remember that these are just films. We all do this because we love it, but it's not worth losing a life over.

There may be certain risks involved in shooting news or documentaries in dangerous regions (and plenty of steps can still be taken to ensure safety even in those situations), but there is no reason to ever put people in danger when you are in control of your surroundings.

It may not be easy, but if a situation is becoming unsafe, we all need to speak up for each other. Whether you are in charge of production or a member of the crew, think about what you're doing the next time you shoot, and if it's being done in the safest manner possible. This goes not just for working conditions on set, but also working hours. Fatigue can very easily prove fatal if crew are constantly working 16, 17, or more hours each day for days on end. This is common practice in many places, but it's rare that crew are still productive in these later hours. If you're in charge of a union (or non-union) production, rethink this practice. It's going to make things safer for everyone in the long run.

It's time for everyone to make safety the priority. It's that important, and it's going to go a long way towards preventing future incidents.

Thoughts from Around the Web

You can feel free to disregard anything that's said here, but a few have written very powerful words about the tragedy and about crew safety. Read some of their posts here:

There are certainly many more from around the web, so feel free to add them in links below.

If you are going to share your thoughts or feelings in the comments, I ask that you please remain respectful to the situation and to others in the comments. Let's act like the community that we are.

Links:

Your Comment

27 Comments

It's usually easy to be safe during a production.

Unfortunately, most people don't think about it, or do something about it.

I have been on sets where safety was lacking, and each time, i stepped in and did something about it.

We need to educate people on sets, to be aware and to speak up. And appoint a safety supervisor, no matter education, just someone who is always thinking safety first.

March 1, 2014 at 6:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tim Dalvang

I know it's not purposeful and probably automated but you may want to think about removing the 'related links' on this article. The top one I can see is 'No Crew? No Problem' followed by 'Get a Crash Course'. A bit jarring considering the content of this article.

March 1, 2014 at 6:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ben

Gah. I read this when it was first announced on Reddit. Now that I see her it's kind of hit me how tragic this really is.

RIP

March 1, 2014 at 7:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tyler

When has anything ever been first announced on reddit? It's a link aggregate.

March 1, 2014 at 6:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Travis

Most things in web & pop culture either originate on reddit, or the awareness of them does.

March 3, 2014 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Larry

Alan Swain I am a Location Manager on films and television shows and also a member of IATSE. The tragic death of Sarah and injury of other crew members is a film crews worst nightmare. Film making is a dangerous business and it looks as though on that show someone dropped the ball on safety. The company should have received a permit to be on the Railroad Right of Way and CSX would have required a hefty fee and would have had trained railroad safety personnel on site. For those crews that are not aware csatf puts out safety bulletins about many safety issues as they relate to film making like this one. http://www.csatf.org/pdf/28RAILROADS.pdf They are available for anyone to use and you should be receiving these from the AD staff or production with your call sheets when applicable. Please take time and visit www.csatf.org and download and study these bulletins and make sure your crew is educated on these life saving educational tools. Safety For Sarah! I hope her tragic passing will be a call to awareness and her memory will save lives and reduce injuries while filming or recording entertainment content. Honer Sarah, Safety First!
http://csatf.org/pdf/28RAILROADS.pdf
csatf.org

March 1, 2014 at 7:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Alan Swain Loca...

To not know the train schedule is criminal negligence. That poor girl.

And I also agree a work day shouldn't be longer than 12 hours. I can also see that just because law, rules, and unions may set up guidelines for better working conditions it doesn't insure there will always be good working conditions. So, you have to be ready to take care of yourself and remember all the safeguards still might not protect you.

As for sleep I have used amino acids, enzymes, and herbs that work for making sleep deeper and more restful even when just getting 3 hours of sleep. I have used a supplement called Tranquility Complex from a company named Quantum Nutrition. It has simple ingredients, that's the reason I use it. It has worked for me. I'm not a doctor or anything. Just saying what has been a good stopgap for me.

March 1, 2014 at 7:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

It's sad that it took the tragic death of a crew member to bring widespread attention of safety concerns to this self loathing industry. This would be one of those internet phenoms where everyone posts on Facebook, Twitter and instagram, pics in honor of Sarah and when it all simmers down, it's back to fucking business as usual. I remember a post not too long ago on nfs about a doc on sleep deprivation and the dangers it could have on crews. I remember lots of fuck-heads on vimeo and the comment section of nfs seem to imply that long work days are for the tough and real film crew cats, with utter disregard for the safety of regular everyday commuters who share the road with these death-machines-waiting-to-happen, sleep deprived film crew. The same fuck heads that would not be able to connect my last sentence to this post. The same fuck heads I have seen with long work hour days and act like they did a service to humanity. REMEMBER FUCK HEADS, YOU ARE ALL FILMMAKERS, NOT HEROS, UN-STICK YOUR HEADS FROM YOUR ASS

March 1, 2014 at 9:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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t. cal

This is tragic and the fact that it could've been avoided is even more tragic. That's why usually you see a hundred names in the credits. Shame on the producers for not having a safety coordinator/consultant on set to make sure things didnt go wrong. We were all told growing up, stay off the railroad tracks. Such a sin for that girl and her family.

March 1, 2014 at 9:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Anthony Marino

Having worked in industrial safety for ten years I am shocked by the negligence involved here. This is what happens when product is valued more than people. I hope this tragic event will shake the film industry up and make them all get serious about safety for their cast and crew.

March 1, 2014 at 9:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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TJM05

This is sad this has happen. Someone did drop the ball.

March 1, 2014 at 10:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Michael Bishop

Never be too "professional" to ask safety questions about the set. "Do we have permission to shoot here?" "Are there live trains on the tracks?"

Yes, there are people responsible for general safety on set - but that doesn't give you a pass to put safety out of your own mind. I think there is a culture of doing whatever it takes when filming that is very dangerous. No amount of rules or regulations can prevent accidents like this if we don't take personal responsibility for our own safety. "Do I feel safe?" is a very important question to ask yourself - if you don't feel safe you need to do whatever it takes to ensure that you do feel safe before getting the shot.

Do not make the mistake of relying on a single person or special rules to keep you safe.

March 1, 2014 at 11:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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You know, it's really sad that it took something like this tragedy to spark the safety conversation on such a large scale. Especially when, not even 2 weeks before this occurred, the film media & blogs like this one largely ignored this - reddit.com/r/movies/comments/1xzxgu/youre_not_a_better_man_then_me_i_could_do_your/, presumably out of fear of those douchebags' frivolous lawsuits and intimidation tactics. Or even worse, thinking it wasn't something worth covering.

March 1, 2014 at 11:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Larry

March 1, 2014 at 11:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Larry

That's fuckin sad! Lots of fuck heads exist in our industry. Worked with a couple of them.

March 1, 2014 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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t. cal

Hollywood, in general, doesn't have the greatest morality when it comes to anything. Why are people surprised that personal immorality crosses over from the personal to the business arena.
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I mentioned these bits previously. But, just in case -

"Ousted The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont has slapped AMC with a bombshell lawsuit alleging that the cable channel breached his contract and deprived him of tens of millions of dollars in profits from the hit series by making a sweetheart deal licensing the show to itself." - December, 13, 2013, THR
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/fired-walking-dead-creator-fran...
.
"... a jury has sided with Don Johnson in his battle with "Nash Bridges" producer Rysher Entertainment, awarding the actor-producer $23.2 million in damages from his 50% interest in the hit CBS cop show." -
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/blogs/thr-esq/nash-bridges-verdict-don-...
.
Law360, New York (January 21, 2014, 6:50 PM ET) -- The creators of the hit 1990s sitcom "Home Improvement" sued The Walt Disney Co. in California state court Friday, accusing the company's television production arm of depriving them of their fair share of profits from the licensing and distribution of the series through improper accounting.
http://www.law360.com/articles/502779/home-improvement-creators-sue-disn...
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Swimming with sharks can be a dangerous proposition.

March 1, 2014 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Who would set their crew, on the wrong track?...Who does that? #slateforsarah

March 1, 2014 at 1:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Poor girl. RIP

That twitter thing seems pretty crass. Maybe I'm too old to see the sentiment ahead of the self-promotion.

March 1, 2014 at 1:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Fresno Bob

Bout time No Film School post something about this instead yet another knock-off camera gyro...

March 1, 2014 at 1:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Lee

One of the main issues with safety is it's extremely expensive and most indie/low budget filmmakers and production companies can't afford to work with unions or obtain pricey permits or get permission to film in places that are pertinent in the story. Liability insurance must be in place of at least $5,000,000 plus a hefty fee just to film a few hours in a certain location such as train tracks so maybe we should work together and figure out ways to make everyone happy and not cost so much to shoot moves. Most of the time it's an easily avoidable scheduling problem or a simple inquiry but It's a tragedy to say the least and there at least should have been better communication and planning going into it to even know if a train would or would not arrive and if it did, how would they know or prevent anyone from being run over? The producers should have discussed that and came up with a solution to prevent it. I know i'm guilty of doing whatever it takes and sometimes that's all we care about...to us filmmaking is our life and not being able to do what we want on set pushes us to do careless things. I don't like how the post says, at the end of the day it's just a film, basically saying what she died for means nothing. I would work to finish the project to the best of my ability and do it in honor of her death and sacrifice. It's a shame and it could have been prevented but it wasn't and whoever was in charge of that production obviously isn't too educated or organized to be able to handle such a situation but let's not make her death seem as if it was for nothing as she was doing what she loved and if I were to go out tomorrow, I would want to be happy, doing what I loved as well.

March 1, 2014 at 3:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brad Watts

as much as working on RR tracks is obviously dangerous, its typically smaller everyday things that can get you. tall stands that aren't leveled carrying a large light, not having proper grounding, rigging even small lights w/o safeties.

of the several scary things i've seen, here are a few :

rigged 650 over actor using maffer to attach to fire escape. during tightening, maffer cracked completely in half. the day before it has been used to rig a 1K overhead. thankfully it broke during rigging and no harm. it was one of those black econo manfrotto ones. I tossed the other one I had and replaced it with the better more expensive spun casting ones. that was 20 years ago

in studio grid, I saw 1K fresnel pop its front open due to vibration from HVAC on roof. it hadn't of been closed properly after bulb change. barn doors came out. barn doors where safetied, no harm done.

watched producer mess around with some rental lights they brought into studio. didn't want to hire me as gaffer because they were cheap. while messing with light on grid, guy dropped barn doors out of light ( not safetied ) and put huge dent in to lid of bosendorfer piano underneath. expensive repair ! way cheaper for a couple days of my time.

had client let me go for last day of multi day shoot. they would handle teardown themselves. they toppled a hi boy stand with 5 way header on top. 1 2K, 4 1K's rigged on this. my rig was safe, it was piled with sand bags. they lifted stand leg to slide cable out from underneath. those where 5 new lights, destroyed. thankfully no one hurt. would of been way cheaper to of kept me on for tear down day...

its these sorts of things that will get you that the inexperienced don't take very seriously.

March 2, 2014 at 1:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thanks for finally posting something about this. I was afraid my heads up was falling on deaf ears but here it is. Thanks guys/gals.

March 2, 2014 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Harry Pray IV

Seems the plea to the Academy got through... to some degree, anyway.
You guys see the graphic appearing for about 2 seconds just after the In Memorium segment last night on the show?

March 3, 2014 at 9:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Yeah, nothing says "there ought to be a law" like when one person dies in a rare accident.

March 5, 2014 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pianohero

Sad yes. Sadder still is no outrage at her and the rest of the crew for not being responsible (therefore being Irresponsible) for THEMSELVES. What were they thinking? Yes, it was productions fault for not securing permits, but why is the industry idolizing folks who knew better and didn't say "train tracks? No permit? Are you kidding me? Let me know when it's rescheduled, cause there is no way I'm working on it." I admittedly don't know the details but at some point everyone has to take responsibility for themselves!

March 6, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Francois

It is sucks that people were injured and Sarah was killed. According to an article I read a ways back http://digital-photography-school.com/railroad-safety-photographers shooting on railroad tracks is illegal and I wonder if they had gone through the right channels to file on the tracks.

March 6, 2014 at 5:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Vince

A resource that production folks should be aware of is the Safety Guidelines issued by the Labor-Management Safety Committee for the Motion Picture and Television Industry. The guidelines are freely available in pdf form at http://www.csatf.org/bulletintro.shtml. They are very detailed and cover a range of subjects from common hazards like stunts to exotica such as venomous snakes, wild animals and, yes, trains (Bulletin No. 28).

March 11, 2014 at 2:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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