‘Midnight Rider’ and the Fatal Flaws of Hollywood Safety

Midnight Rider Doctortown Trestle Sarah Jones
Mike McCall for Variety

Not since the tragic deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the making of  “The Twilight Zone: The Movie” 32 years ago has the world’s production community been so shaken and outraged by an on-set fatality as the one two weeks ago that claimed the life of a 27-year-old camera assistant.

The death of Sarah Jones, who was crushed by a train while filming on an active railroad track for the independent film “Midnight Rider,” has galvanized the industry and raised blistering questions and concerns about an apparent paucity of safety precautions in place to protect the lives of those who work on movies and television shoots around the globe.

Catastrophic On-Set Accidents: A History

Underscoring that unsettling notion, investigators in Georgia, where Jones was killed, have released a key detail: That railroad company CSX did not give the production permission to be on the tracks. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the accident as a homicide.

As attorneys and their clients gear up for the inevitable onslaught of litigation, authorities are combing through the details of exactly what happened on Feb. 20 in Doctortown, Ga., attempting to establish who ordered crew and cast members — including the film’s stars William Hurt and Wyatt Russell, who play rocker Gregg Allman and his older brother Duane — to go out on the trestle to shoot a dream sequence on a metal bed that was placed on the train tracks.

Sarah Jones: She Tried to Save the Gear

The incident that killed Jones occurred despite past efforts to institute stricter safety protocols in Hollywood following the “Twilight Zone” helicopter crash. While safety rules were bolstered, there has been a steady drumbeat of on-set deaths since then. Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows 10 such fatalities in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012, but the org doesn’t necessarily record all accidents. There are yet more deaths outside the U.S., including widely reported fatalities on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Expendables 2.”

Few even attract much attention anymore. But as the death of Jones spotlights, there are gaping holes in the industry’s current safety plans.
John Sheeren, a Texas-based d.p. and camera operator who himself survived a near-miss on a train trestle during a commercial shoot in the 1980s, says techs are furious. “You can probably ask any film production technician who’s been on the job 10 years, and they can probably give you half a dozen incidences where they should have been killed or injured, and just by the grace of God they weren’t,” he says.

But many crew members have been — and still are — afraid to speak up about safety concerns, for fear of not getting that next job.

Mark August, VP of the Society of Camera Operators, agrees that many young crew members don’t feel they can question things. “They look to leadership for safety,” August says. “There is the assumption that your boss is taking every precaution, and that when you are employed, you are safe. The reality is, if it isn’t safe, (you have to feel free to) speak up.”

Jones’ brother Eric says such concerns were on Sarah’s mind when he met with her two days before the accident.

“She had never worked on a low-budget film before, and she told me she was a little sketched-out by it,” Jones says. “But she got over that when she talked about meeting Gregg Allman and William Hurt.”

The groundswell of shock and anguish over Jones’ death is particularly understandable considering the lack of response and stonewalling from many of the major companies and organizations contacted by Variety to discuss on-set safety. Not one of Hollywood’s six major studios responded to requests for comment for this story. Variety’s calls to the nonprofit Contract Services Administration Trust Fund, which runs the motion picture and TV industry’s Safety Passport program, were not returned. And, through his publicist, the film’s director, Randall Miller, who was on set that fateful day and whose company is producing “Midnight Rider” (production on which has been suspended indefinitely), has declined multiple interview requests by this publication.

Among workers, the Jones tragedy has struck a profound chord, drawing intense reactions from those who might have otherwise remained silent in the past. Their common refrain has gone viral on Twitter and Facebook and can be seen on T-shirts, umbrellas and mock location signs on the streets of Atlanta, Los Angeles and other cities across the globe: “We Are All Sarah Jones.”

As a second assistant camera tech, Jones was the bottom-ranking member in her department, but Sheeren says even experienced pros identify with her plight. “Everybody started in the lowest position in their classification at one point or another, and everybody knows how powerless that position is,” he says.

August says he’s encouraged to see more social-media chatter about safety, including instances of crew members taking to the Internet to air their concerns, since the “Midnight Rider” accident. He reports a director on one of his shoots calling a meeting to announce that his production had permits, invite questions and urge anyone who felt unsafe to speak up.

“That’s something you’ve never heard coming from directors or producers,” August tells Variety.

Such changes are rippling through other current productions. In Georgia, where Jones was a familiar and well-liked set worker on the CW series “The Vampire Diaries,” the crews of that show and “The Originals” are holding daily safety meetings, a practice that had been abandoned on many sets.

Eric Henson, who works on the crew  of “Vampire Diaries,” says the “We Are All Sarah Jones” sentiment is one of the most important results of the tragedy.

“She happened to be one of my best friends, but it could have been anyone, or anyone else’s best friend,” Henson wrote in an email. “Everyone from a camera operator to an electrician to hair and makeup have been in situations like that.” He praises the “Vampire Diaries” set for its safety, but adds, “That being said, this has of course been a huge shock to all of us, as many of us were close to Sarah, and safety as well as ensuring safe working conditions in the future is a daily conversation topic now.”

Increasingly, reports are surfacing of crews standing up for themselves more readily.

D. J. Phillips, a camera operator on the set of a reality series shooting in New Orleans pulled his crew off a Mardi Gras float Feb. 28 when a scene turned dangerous. Some of the cast members were drinking and got into a brawl, according to Phillips, when a camera assistant on the float got wedged between the two men. Police intervened, he says.

“We are young people in this industry, and it is very hard in these situations, if no one else is looking out for me, to speak up,” says Phillips, who adds that  he has been extra cautious since learning of Jones’ death.

Ric Reitz, president of the Atlanta local at SAG-AFTRA, urged at Jones’ memorial that her loss not be forgotten: “I don’t want to see a situation of safety on a set that goes unheeded. That is our pledge to you.”

The actors’ union isn’t alone in making such a vow. A website called PledgeToSarah.org asks on-set pros at every level to promise that “from this day forward, a safe set will be my first and highest priority. I pledge to look out for the safety of those around me and in turn will expect others to do the same.”

Stephen Martin, who works on films as both an actor and as a crew member, and who created an “I Am Sarah” graphic that posted on the “Slates for Sarah” Facebook page, says what happened to the young camera assistant could have happened to any crew member. “We should not have to go to work worrying about if the right permit was pulled or if the conditions are unsafe,” he adds.

After the “Twilight Zone” accident, the first assistant director was made responsible for on-set safety. Under the Directors Guild of America’s basic agreement, those duties include: “Conduct a safety meeting on the set with cast and crew as required by the Company. Inspect the set daily for potential safety violations and report any such problems.” It’s common on sets for the first a.d. to joke, when giving safety instructions, “If something happens, I’m the one who’ll get sued.”

Variety reached out to the DGA for information on what disciplinary action, if any, the guild might mete out to a first a.d. who had failed to live up to that responsibility, but the org deflected attention away from itself and its members when it came to discussing the issue of safety, issuing a statement: “It is important to understand that while addressing safety concerns is a collaborative effort, involving competent and qualified safety personnel, DGA members and other crew members, those ultimately responsible for ensuring a safe set are the employers.”

Chris Clark, a 26-year-old Atlanta best boy-lighting technician who was a friend of Jones, argues that there is an inherent problem when it comes to the multiple duties assigned to assistant directors. He gave a speech before Local 479 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, posted on YouTube, calling for the industry to take action on improving on-set safety in the wake of the train accident. He believes that an on-set safety officer should be tasked with overseeing such measures.

“It’s a conflict of interest to have an a.d., who is in charge of scheduling and shooting (and) looking out for the director’s best interest” to be responsible for crew safety, Clark tells Variety. “That should not be their job.”

OSHA, which tracks accidents on sets within the U.S., reveals that there have been 73 “catastrophic accidents” — i.e., incidents that have resulted in serious injuries — from 2003 to 2012.

The last fatal on-set accident recorded by OSHA came in November 2011, when scissor-lift driver Mike Huber suffered a fatal head injury while striking the set for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” in New Orleans. However, there have also been fatalities outside the U.S. that OSHA does not track.
Harland Braun, who represented director

John Landis after the fatal “Twilight Zone” accident, observes that movie sets can be treacherous and unpredictable due to unforeseen circumstances and the fact that conditions vary from production to production. “It can be dangerous because of the unexpected and the lack of repetition,” Braun says.

At the Cinematographers Guild memorial for Jones in Atlanta, below-the-line pros crowded in to tell Variety their own harrowing stories. Each could remember a close call, a safety measure overlooked, a corner cut. Among them was Clark, who pointed to the generators that major productions rely on, noting that their copper wiring is a draw for lightning strikes.

“We have lightning meters that light up when there is static electricity, and I have seen them light up like a Christmas tree,” Clark recalls. He says that when lightning gets within three to five miles, a set will shut down. But he thinks that’s cutting it too close.

Exactly whether corners were cut on “Midnight Rider” remains to be seen, but according to the Wayne County Sheriff’s office, which is conducting the investigation, authorities have so far found no evidence that there was a railroad company representative on site to ensure safety and control trains — a situation railroad experts describe as inconceivable for a properly permitted shoot on active tracks. The crew was told it would have 60 seconds to get off the track once it heard a train whistle, but ended up having only around 30 seconds, not enough time to clear themselves from the bridge — or the bed from the tracks.

Nilo Otero, a first a.d. on filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s action movies, among other projects, tells Variety: “Things start out with what I call the ‘J’ word.” ‘We’re just going to do this. We’re just going to get this little shot.’ Then things get more complicated, and the next thing you know you’re in a full-blown shot and you don’t have your proper circumstances in place.”

Lori Balton, a former location manager as well as scout, says she’s experienced the pressures that can lead to a decision to “steal a shot,” and adds that she’d rather producers call her overly cautious. “We’re responsible for following the filming permit that grants the crew access to a location,” she explains. “That’s our job.”

Meanwhile, the survivors of the “Midnight Rider” accident, many of whom have chosen to stay out of the public eye, are living with memories akin to those of combat soldiers. Some will require PTSD treatment, and one union official, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak, doubts that some of his members will soon be able to return to the get-it-faster pressure of a film or TV shoot.

William Paul Clark, a first assistant director whose credits include “Django Unchained” and “Rambo,” says one reason Jones’ death hit such a nerve is that her job description does not come with the inherent dangers of, say, a stuntman or an f/x specialist. “This is a second assistant camera person,” Clark says. “This is not a person who’s being paid for her expertise in dangerous situations. She’s in charge of the slate and communicating with the script supervisor and getting information to the editor. That this happened to a technical crew member, as opposed to someone who is trained for such things,” he adds, “is a tremendous tragedy.”

Henson says some assistant directors have come to him with a suggestion of how to memorialize Jones on film sets forever: calling the first shot of the day “the Jonesy,” just as set slanguage for the final shot of the day is the “martini shot” and the next-to-last one is called the “Abby” (after a famed assistant director).

The reason for using the naming convention for the days first shot? “To remind us to take a look around and make sure we’re working safely with the right precautions in place before the day really gets going,” Henson says.

Jones’ father, Richard, who spoke at her memorial, would no doubt support such a suggestion.

“I ask you to see to it our daughter’s life is not lost in vain,” he said, “that you see to it that this does not happen to someone else’s daughter or son.”

Dave McNary and Alexandra Cheney contributed to this report.

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  1. Hey, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, awesome blog!

  2. DoCo says:

    Hollywood, Georgia, New York, it really doesn’t matter. I just heard David Cohen on NPR speaking about this article. I work in the industry. For those that think that working in one of the established film towns on bigger budget projects will better insure their safety are kidding themselves. Every production report states that a safety meeting was held at call time. Really?
    Yes, before practical effects or stunts there will be a safety meeting, they are, however largely pro forma. While it would be easy to blame the producers and UPM’s on the set, I think the problem is above their pay grade. I can’t say how many 3 AM phone calls to “the network” or “the studio” I have overheard bits of to explain a schedule snafu or production glitch that takes a project off schedule. The occurrence of these calls used to be at worst daily. Now it seems that they are being tracked hourly. Yes, I wish that all line producers and UPM’s had the wherewithall to smell a dangerous situation early and restore a safe environment, but they are just as free lance as we are and suffer from the same exposure to getting their next job.
    It remains the responsibility of the key people on set to communicate and approach production as one and say “Stop”. I have never had an experience when this approach has been punished, nor ignored. I am sure it has happened, but really, who cares. You do not want to work for anyone who would ignore a well reasoned safety concern. One voice, however, can get lost in the pace of production.
    So far as the tragic events here, I can tell you that there were many chances for this accident to be avoided. Unfortunately they all point to anyone who took one step onto the bridge knowing that there wasn’t a iron clad lock down of traffic. It goes beyond work or income.

  3. CJ says:

    Seems that this article is a misnomer. It happened in GEORGIA not in Hollywood. Rest in Peace, Sarah — everybody has had to start at the bottom and take chances. But if it had been a more experienced California-based production team that is normally required to take safety classes, that is higher paid (because they are more experienced), this might not have happened. California needs to step up the fight to keep production in the state and to keep the pros involved in professional shooting. Runaway productions are cheap and dangerous.

    • DS says:

      I agree with CJ – Most of these accidents mentioned in the article take place outside of HOLLYWOOD! I have heard of horrible accidents on sets in New Mexico because the local crew hired had no idea what they were doing – but they were hired because they would work for peanuts! Runaway production is giving Hollywood a bad rap. We really need to keep production in CA!

      • David McGiffert says:

        It is convenient to blame an out-of-state crew who “had no idea what they were doing” but in this case
        your assumption is not quite right. The people who made the fatal decision to move onto those train tracks, were LA based.
        Also, runaway production is something that has been going on since the mid-80’s and has no particular correlation to on-set accidents. Accidents happen on film sets everywhere, the decision to do the kinds of things these Producers and the Director put into play were completely preventable.

    • Smooth says:

      The last time I checked, John Landis shot The Twilight Zone in Los Angeles Mr. Professional. Now move along, sheesh!

    • David McGiffert says:

      CJ did you miss the fact that the Director, the Producer and others were LA based? And, no,
      everyone, even starting at the bottom, does not have to take chances with someone else’s life.

      • David McGiffert says:

        CJ, Not sure why you can’t acknowledge that the people who were in charge on Midnight Rider and who made the decision to go on those tracks and that trestle were LA based people. And it was not just a mattress, it was a full medal frame bed, placed on a live railroad track. Other than that we are saying the same thing, there was an incredible lapse in any kind of safety.

      • CJ says:

        @David 7:31pm – Did you miss the fact that this was shot in GEORGIA and that the title of the article is “The Fatal Flaws of HOLLYWOOD Safety?”, that the young woman killed was based out of Savannah, not Los Angeles, and that this film was being shot, on the cheap, on a mattress on the train tracks, without permission, without safety, without lookouts, NOT EVEN interns nor PAs, in a subsidy-giving, right-to-work state in order to get around paying the rates of fully-trained, experienced, union pros from California? Short cuts were taken, and a heavy price was paid… in GEORGIA not Hollywood. Again, a misnomer, something “known to be wrong” and yet it continues…

      • Robbie Goldstein says:

        Sedrish UPM has worked in LA. He has been around. a long time UPM. I worked with him as a location manager on Courage
        Under Fire.. We had a big car crash with a moving train in Texas. He was fired way before we got to that. All the people who we have been talked about for having responsibility in some fashion.. Have all the experience to know you don’t do what is being claimef

  4. Randy Nolen says:

    IATSE Local 600 Camera Operator. I worked on a Major Feature Film “Red Planet” in Austrailia as as a Steadicam Operator. We were in the middle of the Continent in the Outback because the Location terrain looked just like Mars. We were setting up for a scene out in the open with nothing but Sky above us when a Dark Thunder Cloud rolled in right above the set, Then the Lightning Strikes started, striking within visual distance of the Crew! I had never actually seen Lightning Strikes hit the ground and kicking up dust and leaving holes in the ground. People’s hair was standing on end from the electricity in the air. So there I am wearing the Steadicam made of Metal and Electronics and the Director said well let’s rehearse while we wait for the Lightning to pass. In Australia on every Set they have a position with the title of “Saftey Officer”, in our case a Seasoned Stunt Man, who has the authority to shut down the Production if it’s an unsafe situation. By Law the Saftey Officer has authority over the Director, Ist AD, or any Producer. After the Director wanted to rehearse this Saftey Officer stated loudly “No Way
    ! Everybody on the Crew get into the 40 footers and take shelter till the Storm passes!” Needless to say I was greatly relieved by his decision because as a Proffessional Camera Operator I was going to rehearse as the Director wanted.I may owe my life to this Saftey Officer’s Authority. Maybe our Industry needs to add a new mandatory position on the set, “Saftey Officer!” I know the Producers are going to love that one but Saftey Classes with no one on the set to stop an unsafe situation who has the authority and is not afraid of losing his job because he stops Production is something the IATSE, & DGA should think about so we don’t lose another “Sarah Jones”!

  5. IATSE 873 member says:

    No mention of the death of Greensman Dave Ritchie who was crushed to death dismantling the set of “Jumper” in Toronto January 2007. This avoidable death seems to have vanished due to his position and the fact the shooting crew was not present.

  6. Allmanbrosfan says:

    I stopped reading when I got to the 4th paragraph reference to “Gregg Allman and his younger brother Duane.”

  7. Nilo Otero says:

    Since I am quoted in this article and others as an Assistant Director greatly concerned with the enforcement of sensible safety rules on movie sets, it pains me to see a set-death misattributed to a set that I was in fact in charge of. There was no fatal accident on the set of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. There was a tragic fatality at the special effects facility working on the film during the testing of a gag that would work on the film, but that event took place 40 miles from the shooting set. A thorough investigation by UK authorities decided that no one was at fault and that it was a freak occurrence having nothing to do with effects gag itself, but rather in essence a freak low-speed car accident stemming from the attempt to record the effects gag on video (ironically this was being done for safety purposes).

  8. Frank N. Weiner says:

    The event is a tragedy, but this is such a news-less, sensationalistic piece, no wonder no one wanted to participate. And you make it sound like on-set fatalities are rampant when the numbers don’t point to that. Also this was an independent film, not a studio-backed film, so I don’t get the connection to the studios or why they are called to task. Maybe it’s just poorly written or edited, but it really has no point other than to capitalize on a tragedy.

    • David McGiffert says:

      It would not be news-less or sensational if you worked on a film set and actually understood what you were talking about from direct experience, which is clearly not the case here. It doesn’t matter whether the production is independent or studio-backed. The same criteria are present; a general unwillingness to put an meaningful and enforceable emphasis on set safety.
      To think this article has no point other than to capitalize on a tragedy only enforces the vapidness of your assertions.

      • David McGiffert says:

        Frank, when you say “… And I believe there are many layers of emphasis on safety throughout the industry, from the lame to stringent,…” Thanks for highlighting a big part of the problem; the “lame” part has to change. That is why it is important to keep the discussion going.
        A sigificant aspect of why the story is seemingly lacking in depth up to now, and one that anyone who is following it in detail understands, is that the specifics are being withheld as part of the ongoing negligent homicide investigation.

      • Frank N. Weiner says:

        You’re conflating the tragedy with the story. Just because they used the death to justify a story with no real depth, insight or reporting, doesn’t mean it should be written or that you should claim anyone vapid. And I believe there are many layers of emphasis on safety throughout the industry, from the lame to stringent, so blanketing your claims is ill-informed and ignorant.

  9. SFSolstice says:

    Great piece, except it failed to recap, or proved an informational link to, the actual events of the accident that resulted in this in-depth review. ? I missed the original story and I am now committed to google in an attempt to find the initial information of this tragic incident. BRB http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-film-accident-georgia-20140224,0,183695.story#axzz2vsl3pXEs

  10. The spread of Hollywood to any state that offers a tax incentive has indeed increased the dangers on set. The locals they hire to work on these run away productions, are more often than not, untrained and inexperienced! It is yet another glaring example of employers putting profits before safety! It’s all business as usual until some poor star struck kid gets killed on set!

    • Bill says:

      Complete and total nonsense. Safety is not a state-specific function.

      Rather film makers and sets who think they can get away with shortcuts and “guerrilla” production are the root cause of the issue.

      This particular death never should have happened for so many reasons from not having permission from the railroad to not even having someone posted a few miles down the tracks to warn of oncoming trains.

      Trains aren’t like other vehicles – they can only come from two directions on a known path.

      That’s true in California, any other state or the rest of the world, for that matter.

    • Ridiculous. There is nothing inherently safer about Hollywood sets than shooting in any other local. I’ve seen plenty of onset accidents, where someone has to cut corners to keep a maniacal director’s precious shot.

      Of course Hollywood has been making it safe to DRIVE work to other states, thanks to the ineptitude of the City Council and CA legislature

    • What an asinine post you made there john j. Referring to Sarah as a ‘poor star struck kid is disrespectful to her memory. Runaway productions, what runaway productions? Last time I checked film and television production are up in the US with well trained and talented technicians crewing them. Next time you post something take a deep breath, you won’t come off so abrasive and obnoxious.

    • David McGiffert says:

      John, what you say is slightly misleading. The core group, the Director and the AD and I believe the DOP were from LA. The crew they hired in S. Caroline was experienced as well. It did not have as much to do with inexperience as it had to do with people making a decision to shoot without permission in a highly dangerous setting. The Producers, the Director, the UPM and the1st AD should never have allowed that to happen.

      • David McGiffert says:

        Steve,
        The state was not complicit in what investigators are calling a negligent homicide. The State had no knowledge of a Producers decision and a Directors decision to steal a shot in an unsecured location, where permission had explicitly been denied, without any advance warning to anyone, with no permits, no safety meeting, no mention of safety on the call sheet and no medic on the set.

        By the way, giving rebates is smart business. It has accounted for a major production shift to many other states and most noticably, Canada. It is something California totally missed the boat on.

      • Steve Rodgers says:

        I think what John is trying to say is that The Hollywood locals are required by contract services to attend many different safety classes. I’m not sure if that is required outside of California. This is not to say that crews in other states aren’t experienced I’m just saying there is a higher regard for safety here it seems.
        Also, if Georgia gave this company rebate money aren’t they also complicit in what happened to Sarah? I mean, doesn’t the state have had some interest or say in these productions?

  11. David McGiffert says:

    I completely agree with Chris Clark who was quoted above when he says it is a conflict of interest for a First AD to be in charge of on-set safety and also be the person in charge of carrying out what the Director wants to accomplish. It is starkly apparent that if an AD is found to be at fault for an accident, he or she is not covered by the kind of massive insurance that indemnifies a Director, yet an AD has been given the responsibility for having to decide on the safety of an aspect of the film that the Director wants for his story.
    It is obvious that Producers, Directors, Production Companies and Studios do not want a standardized safety policy in place. They do not want to have their productions open to discussion and safety meetings. People vary wildly on what constitutes a dangerous situation.
    In light of the inaction regarding safety by these above-the-line entities, Sarah Jones’ death has made it clear that it is the crew that has been forced to assume responsibility for each other and it is why this “upheaval” as you characterize it, must be carried forward.

    Remembering Sarah

  12. Jay says:

    Let the investigators do their job. He who has the deepest pockets, who stands to lose the most, will weasel their way out of prosecution and more likely the one to blame. The fish stinks from the head down.

    • Robbie Goldstein says:

      The one who has the most to lose to me looks like the insurance company. But, and this is only a question, can the insurance company claim they are not responsible for criminal negligence.
      And therefore not obligated to to pay

  13. E.V. says:

    Seriously, how much friggin longer can you guys spin this story other than “we are so upset and outraged”? Have the producers or director come forward to make a statement or something.

  14. Robbie Goldstein says:

    I find it so hard to believe that variety cannot provide the movie industry more information on what happened. It just appears there’s a constant regurgitation of the of the same story. There are a number of individuals in the production office that have no responsibility for what happened.
    Certainly they are aware of the circumstances leading up to the day, the crew got in the van to go to the trestle. No matter how it looks that on the day there was enough negligence to go around. it was actually the prior days meetings, discussions, presentation of pictures showing the location possibly even video that lead to this death and injuries to crew members probably not involved in the prior days meetings. I would bet the location manager brought back pictures of a possible location for the dream sequence. I would bet He without permission got on the track to cover the location from every angle. THIS IS WHAT LOCATION MANAGER DO. BUT THEY DO NOT RISK THE LIVES OF HIS/HER CREW. People now responsible were in that room dissecting the pictures and posing questions to the location manager. The one question 1 answer was that do we have permission and the location manager sad not as of yet but I will ask. Someone else heard that conversation. The LM asked CSX the answer was No. The director loved the location. The people intimately involved as the directors team wanted to please him. Through a period of days they kept pushing the LM to get permission. It never came and there the plan was hatched to steal a shot. Undoubtedly there was a scout of the trestle some days prior to the day of shooting. Still they had no permission. The negligence was rolling down hill. And there are people who know, knew, and even told others they has no permission. A movie production office is a gossipy fishbowl. This was not done in a vacuum. Alot of people knew. They are not responsible, but they feel if only I had done more. What amazes me the people behind the push to steal a shot are very minor minor players in the industry. They saved money bumping up the DP and Ist Ad. They had experience. But the power brokers in this production used the myth all for one 1for all to get the shot. And sucked in the least experienced and used beneath the surface reasoning, If you do this for me I will hire you on my next show.

    • David McGiffert says:

      Robbie your anguish and frustration is understandable – you mirror the industry below-the-line as a whole. It is coming to light that the main players in this tragedy, the Director, his wife a Producer, the DOP, the 1st AD all worked with the Director on his last film. This is the film that, when it was released on DVD, had behind the scene clips of the Director and others bragging about stealing shots and putting a little kid in a potentially dangerous situation in order to get a shot.
      Anyone who as worked in film long enough to experience a couple of these kinds of situations knows the deadly potential that always lurks just a blink of an eye away. Most of the time things go ok, but that is not the point.
      I was a 1st AD for over thirty years and on set safety was a constant juggling act that AD’s had to be willing to put their job on the line for. That in itself is ridiculous and it seems that it is still true. Hopefully this kind of inexcusable self-centered and, in Sarah’s case, deadly situation will not be allowed to happen again. A film crew and for that matter, an AD, should not have to be faced with a choice that puts anyone in a potentially catastrophic setting.

      • David McGiffert says:

        Robbie, I can’t figure out how to make replies apply to the correct post so I hope you see this.

        I like the idea of a safety officer but like everything else having to do with this subject, it would take
        a concerted effort from the film business as a whole to carry it off. It is hard to imagine Producers and Directors being willing to have someone on their set with the authority to shut down a day of shooting if they thought something was unsafe. However, just because it is difficult to imagine does not mean we should not try to make something happen. We simply cannot have another situation like what happened on Midnight Rider, happen again.No film is worth someone’s life.

        It is not proven but everything we have learned seems to imply that the higher-up’s on that production were involved in a series of highly irresponsible actions that lead to this preventable and catastrophic event. While a safety officer might have helped, what was really needed was for everyone on that crew to clearly understand that if they had misgivings about what was happening, they were allowed, or better yet, encouraged, to say something.

      • Robbie Goldstein says:

        David we shared an office on the Batman with the penguin.. Danny Devito I was a location manager working with production to figure out the Backlot. 2 months of the easiest work I ever did. Your reputation preceeded you as one of the Great ADs before you even started. I have a question though. Someone mentioned how Australia works with a safety officer. What is your feeling about having that here in what jurisdictions it could mandated. I am conflicted about it. Best Robbie

      • David McGiffert says:

        I ment to also say: I disagree completely with the DGA’s recent statement in answer to the question of who is responsible for on-set safety. It is incomplete in that, while it may ultimately be the employer who is responsible, it is the on-set person, usually the 1st AD, in conjunction with the Key Gripm the Stunt Coordinator and others, who must make the decision in the moment. That statement by the DGA is misleading and incomplete and that is unfortunate because they could have helped clarify this discussion of safety that is begging for clarity.

    • Andy says:

      The reason Variety can’t provide more information is because this is a criminal investigation. Witnesses, people in the know are only talking to investigators. Those of use who have spent our lives in this business know with 99.9 percent certainty what happened (no permission to be on the tracks and they decided to “steal” the shot). Most likely any one of three members of the DGA: director, UPM/line producer and AD will be brought up on negligent homicide charges (or whatever is most applicable in Georgia). Btw, the DGA statement in the story about employers being ultimately responsible…that’s pretty crass. The buck stops with the line producer/UPM, right?

      • Jane says:

        The most relevant provision of the Georgia criminal code is labelled “involuntary manslaughter,” which applies where the defendant, in the process of committing a non-felony criminal offense, causes the death of another person. Here, the non-felony criminal offense would be trespass.

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