Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall

A prominent producer has asserted the Feb. 20 death of Sarah Jones on the “Midnight Rider” production in Georgia would probably not have occurred had the movie been shot in California.

“If it had been shot here, there would not have been the same kind of risks that were taken,” said Richard Wright of Lakeshore Entertainment during a discussion Thursday at the California Film Commission’s annual breakfast at the W Hotel. About 300 entertainment industry execs and employees attended.

Wright, Lakeshore’s head of production, was discussing the Los Angeles shoot of Lakeshore’s Elizabeth Banks comedy “Walk of Shame.” Ralph Meyer, who served as location manger on “Walk of Shame,” told the audience that producers and assistant directors in California are usually highly attentive to safety concerns.

Meyer also noted it’s never a surprise, however, when there’s pressure to cut corners on safety. “Sometimes people are going to want to stretch what’s possible,” he said.

Production on “Midnight Rider” was halted after second camera assistant Jones was killed in the Feb. 20 train accident on a railway bridge in Georgia. She died and seven others were injured when a train unexpectedly came down the tracks as the crew was at the bridge shooting a dream sequence.

William Hurt, who was at the shoot, pulled out Wednesday from his starring role as Gregg Allman in “Midnight Rider.”

“Walk of Shame,” which has a $15 million budget, received a California film production tax credit covering 20% of production costs. Without it, Wright said, the film would not have been shot in California with Georgia, Lousiana, Massachusetts or North Carolina being the likely locations.

The breakfast included a strong endorsement by a key California official of a bill to expand the state’s film-TV tax credit program, starting in 2016. The current program allocates $100 million in credits annually and is smaller than those in rival states such as Georgia, Louisiana and New York.

“The direct economic contributions that the industry makes to the state are very substantial,” said Kish Rajan, director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “There is no greater marketing engine for that California brand than the film and TV industry.”

Rajan also told the audience the Gov. Jerry Brown “understands how important you are.”

Brown has not indicated whether he would support an expansion of the tax credit program — which he would have to approve for the bill to take effect after it passes the state legislature. Rajan noted that there are “political difficulties” in that arena.

Rajan also pointed out that the state’s economy has been on the upswing since Brown took office in 2011. “California’s best days are ahead of it,” he added.

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