Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant on the set of Midnight Rider, was tragically killed while working on-set. While filming a scene on a live train trestle, the 20 person crew was confronted with a rapidly approaching locomotive. The majority of the crew was able to make it to safety. Sadly, Sarah Jones lost her life. Details of the exact events and how Jones passed are yet to be confirmed.
The death of Sarah Jones is elevating the awareness of crew safety and safety related issues in filmmaking. The unexpected loss of any young person is shockingly tragic, and unfortunately the death of Sarah Jones appears to have been avoidable. Midnight Rider is a low-budget independent film about 1970's rock icon Gregg Allman. Current details indicate the Midnight Rider crew was filming on the tracks without permission and without the standard safety precautions afforded to most feature films. Investigations into the Jones' death are ongoing and include the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, as well as various Georgia law enforcement agencies who are treating the investigation as a negligent homicide.
The issue at hand as it applies to filmmakers, whether professional or amateur, is the issue of safety. Permission to shoot on a location is not just a matter of ownership and intellectual property. It's a matter of safety and liability. According to current reports, CSX, the railway company overseeing the tracks and trestle where Midnight Rider was being shot, had previously denied permissions to the producers of Midnight Rider to shoot on location. It is standard practice in the film industry to gain permission from the railroad companies to shoot film on live tracks. With permission granted, the railroad company will shut down and re-route train traffic to keep tracks clear, providing safety. It is also a standard practice that railroad companies will have representatives on set for the purpose of safety.
Safety goes far beyond location permissions. A live film set is a dangerous environment. There are numerous dangers, from equipment in motion to cable littered floors to suspended light fixtures. Any producer, at any level, needs to take the proper precautions and measures to ensure a safe set for all cast and crew. Careful preparation and planning do more than ease the workload, it allows the crew to enjoy what they do.
Filmmaking is hard work and people who venture into the craft do so because of a passion for the medium and it's unique narrative perspective. Those who stay with it and pursue it as a career find satisfaction in the work and joy in the collective camaraderie of those on set. Most of all, those individuals who make films and video do so because they enjoy it, because it's fun. There are often jokes and asides of prideful tales about "doing what it takes" to get the shot. In the heart of our passion, the midst of our fun, and in our dedication to our work we can easily forget the risks involved.
Sarah Jones is described as a cheerful, hard working, and committed crew member. Her death is a tragedy. It's a reminder that while we get the chance to do what we love, that amidst the fun, there is a responsibility we have to those around us. That we need to "do what it takes" to do things right by making safety a constant priority.
A Pledge for Sarah and "Slates for Sarah" have appeared on sets and online as a way to bring exposure to the tragedy and call for change regarding safety issues. Photo Credit: Sarah Jones' Facebook Page
Chris "Ace" Gates is a four time Emmy Award-winning writer and video producer.