Nearly 1,000 people gathered on Sunset Boulevard on Friday for a candlelight vigil to honor Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed on Feb. 20 in a train accident on the set of “Midnight Rider.”
Jones’ death has triggered a campaign to improve on-set safety, and led to the inclusion of a portrait of Jones on the Academy Awards on Sunday and vows from some union officials to press the issue.
The candlelight vigil went from the Directors Guild of America to the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, a few blocks away.
“No one’s daughter, no one’s son, should ever have to die making a movie or TV show,” said Jones’ father, Richard, told the crowd at a gathering in the parking lot of the Cinematographers Guild afterward. Jones’ mother, Elizabeth, stood by his side. He pointed to several in the crowd and said, “You are Sarah Jones,” reflecting the way so many crew members have identified with his daughter and the risks they may face in their work.
Noting the outpouring of reaction to her death, he said, “This is not the end of a social media phenomenon, but rather the beginning of a movement for safer film sets.”
In addition to Jones’ parents, also present for the vigil were friend Amanda Etheridge, a fellow assistant camerawoman, and director of photography Robert LaBonge, who worked with Jones on “Army Wives.” Mike Miller, director of movie and TV production for IATSE, also spoke, along with guild president Steven Poster.
“What happened on that train trestle in Georgia horrifies us all,” Miller told the crowd. “It should never happen again.”
Those who marched represented a cross section of the industry, particularly the various locals representing below the line professionals in the business.
As marchers walked, one woman sang out, in honor of Jones, “This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine.”
“Such a tragic accident. This should not have happened,” said Sharon Day, field rep for Costume Designers Guild Local 892 as she walked and held a banner along with other members.
At the event, friends described Jones’ outgoing personality and zest for life.
“She was just fun,” Etheridge said. “Everything about her was just fun.”
She told of how Jones would read books in breaks in the set of “The Vampire Diaries,” and was an avid traveller to places like Belize.
A message of the vigil was that crew members should feel safe to speak up when they believe some scene or situation is creating a dangerous situation.
Among those participating was Frederic Goodich, a cinematographer, who said of the issue of safety, “If we can generate a feeling about it, a passion about it, the crews themselves will become more gutsy” about speaking up. He was referring to the fear of crews to speak up, not wanting to create waves or jeopardize future employment.
He said that the accident raises the question of whether the increasing number of productions being shot on location, sometimes with pressure in budgets, are following safety protocols.
Her parents also released a statement before the event: “We are so overwhelmed with the vast outpouring of love and compassion from not only those who knew our
Sarah Elizabeth Jones, but from those of you who have never even met her. In her own way, Sarah touched each of you and her passing has left a void in many hearts.”
“From her unnecessary death, a cry for change has circled the globe.”
“We are hopeful that this tragedy is just the beginning to making film sets a safer place to work and that Sarah’s death will not be in vain.”
Meanwhile, the investigation is continuing into the train accident in and around Jesup, Ga. Wayne County Sheriff’s detective Joe Gardner said on Friday that he was unsure when it would be completed, but he said that it could be a month or more. He declined to comment on further details.
Gardner has been interviewing crew members and other witnesses to the accident. A crew had set up a shot for “Midnight Rider” on a train trestle, when a CSX train came unexpectedly. Crew members scrambled to get out of the way and remove a bed that had been placed in the way of the tracks, but Jones was struck by the train and seven others were injured.
A spokeswoman for ProSight Specialty Insurance confirmed that the company insured the production, but she said that she could not comment further because it was an open claim.