Appearing at a court hearing on Monday, “Midnight Rider” director Randall Miller said that other members of the crew were tasked with obtaining written permits to shoot on CSX train tracks on Feb. 20, when an oncoming freight train unexpectedly came on the rural Georgia location and struck and killed second camera assistant Sarah Jones and injured six crew members.
“I did not do permits, so I didn’t see the permits,” Miller said under questioning from David Long-Daniels, the lawyer for singer Gregg Allman, at a hearing in Chatham County Courthouse in Savannah.
Allman is suing to reclaim rights from the movie, which depicts his life story. Allman contends that Miller and his Unclaimed Freight Prods. no longer have the rights because principal photography wasn’t started on time and because the production failed to pay him a full $150,000. The hearing was over Allman’s motion for a restraining order to halt the movie until the issue over rights is resolved.
A county prosecutor is reviewing the results of an investigation to determine if criminal charges will be filed. A major question in the tragedy is whether producers had permission to shoot on the CSX tracks. According to Wayne County sheriff’s deputies, CSX claims that they did not. At the hearing, Miller said that the crew had permission from Rayonier, which has a paper plant nearby and owns the land surrounding the tracks.
According to the Savannah Morning News, when Long-Daniels on Monday pressed Miller whether they had written permission from CSX, the director answered, “That’s not my job.”
But Miller pushed back at the suggestion that they were reckless in the shooting.
“I almost got run over by a train myself. I did,” he said at the hearing. “I was the last one on the train track.”
Miller said that he did not know that the location was on a live train trestle. “We were told there were two trains from Rayonier coming through, and no more trains that day,” he said, according to the Savannah Morning News. The paper also reported that Miller said that crew members were placed as lookouts along the tracks for any trains, but he did not know how far away.
Miller testified that Allman was informed that they would be shooting on the trestle, including a dream sequence with a hospital bed across the tracks. The dream sequence is part of Allman’s memoir, but in the screenplay, written by Miller and wife Jody Savin.
Allman has argued that, given the tragedy, the production is injuring his reputation. But Miller’s lawyers say that principal photography did start on time, and that the full payment was not made for tax reasons.