A Savannah-based film crew services company working on Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider” has denied any wrong doing in the train crash that killed a 27-year-old camera assistant and injured seven others, insisting “no corners were cut.”
In an email to Variety, Nick Gant, creative director and principal of Meddin Studios, said: “This is not guerrilla filmmaking or a group of indie film makers trying to grab a shot. It was weeks of communications and scouting multiple places. You had to have access to get onto the site. We have 20- to 30-year veterans in all the departments, crew is extremely qualified, cast trailers were transporter, location was almost 90 minutes away.”
Meddin Studios is a crew services company based in Savannah and has been working the makers of the movie, but they are not the production company behind it. The production company is Unclaimed Freight Prods. and the distributor is Open Road Films.
Thursday’s deadly collision took place at a railroad trestle that crosses the Altamaha River in the rural county about 60 miles southwest of Savannah. Wayne County sheriff’s detectives were working Saturday to piece together how and why the train crash happened.
The tracks, owned by CSX Railroad, cross private land owned by forest-products company Rayonier, which has a nearby paper mill. Joe Gardner, the lead detective on the case, said the crew had Rayonier’s permission to film on its property next to the train tracks.
“CSX has told me they were aware they were out there, but they did not have permission to be on the train tracks,” Gardner told reporters on Friday. Meddin Studios, however, claimed the train company is not being honest with local officials.
“CSX will say what they want because they can retract their statement in six months and it will have no press around it,” Gant said. In addition to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department in Jesup, Ga., near where the accident occurred, officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are conducting an investigation, according to a spokesman for the agency in Atlanta.The victim, a second camera assistant, was later identified as Sarah Jones of Atlanta.
“We are spending too much time trying to place blame on a horrific accident,” Gant added. “Sarah’s actions probably saved other peoples lives. The crew, our families and our community are very tight. We are able to hand select who we are going to spend long days and weeks together. Sarah and every crew member were friends, family and professionals at what they did. “We need to celebrate their accomplishments, their lives and support their families as we move forward,” he said.
An eyewitness told Variety the Open Road Films drama was in its first day of shooting Thursday afternoon and the crew was filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge. Director Randall Miller and the crew had been warned to expect two trains on the local bridge, one in each direction, and waited until after those two trains had passed to set up their shot, which involved placing a bed on the tracks.
The railroad had also told the production that if any additional trains came, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before the train would reach the bridge. A third train did arrive unexpectedly, blowing its whistle while the crew was on the bridge and the bed was on the track. Crew members ran toward their base camp, which was on land at one end of the bridge, using a plank walkway on the side of the trestle bridge. However in doing so they ran toward the bed. That proved disastrous.
Miller, who also directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock,” and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks. The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed.
Debris also hit and injured several other people, including one who was seriously injured and airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center. A rep for Open Road has declined to comment on how Thursday’s fatal incident could affect the pic’s future. Starring William Hurt, Bradley Whitford, Eliza Dushku, Zoey Deutch and Tyson Ritter, “Midnight Rider” is set to be released by Open Road in the U.S. Allman is also an executive producer on the film.