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The Death of Sarah Jones


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#1 Dave Chameides

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 05:01 PM

As many of you know a 2nd AC was killed on a set yesterday while shooting on a train track.  She was struck and killed and 7 others were injured. There are a lot of questions of course and will be for some time. I'm pasting a post i put on Facebook to share because as ops and people higher in the pecking order, I think it's incumbent on all of us to let our crew know that we will go to bat for them should they feel the need to speak up but not want to make waves. Our position carries responsibility with it and one of those responsibilities is to look out for those in our crew who we know would never complain and just want to hump all day making us look even better.

 

Sarah,

I didn’t know you but learned today that you were a “sister” of mine, a 2nd AC in Local 600, that you were working on a film set yesterday and that now you are no longer with us as a result. I am so sorry that your life was cut short for something as trivial as moviemaking and so sorry that no one spoke up to say “this isn’t safe” before a train came down the tracks you were shooting on killing you and injuring seven others. I don’t really know much about the situation or what actually happened, but I am sure that you were doing your job, performing your functions professionally, secure in the knowledge that since others were doing it, things must be safe. I don’t know if you were concerned, if there was a safety meeting, if you asked and someone said, “yeah it’ll be fine” or, if like so often happens, you were moving so fast to help your team get “the shot” that you didn’t take the time to consider what was being asked of you. I don’t know a lot of things.

But I do know this Sarah. No one had your back. If they did, you’d still be here today. The Director should have said no. The AD should have said no. The DP should have said no. Production should have said no. Your operator should have said no. I don’t know if any of these things happened, but I do know that you were out on those tracks and that means someone didn’t step up enough. You were doing what was asked of you and for that reason, you are gone.

And I am so sorry because a 2nd AC shouldn’t be the one to make the call that something is unsafe. A 2nd AC, or anyone for that matter, should not have been out on those tracks. A 2nd AC should not have died yesterday. No one should have.

I don’t know what will change as a result of your death but I do know this. From here on forward, I pledge as an A Camera/Steadicam operator, and one of the senior members of my department, that I will contact every member of my department before we start shooting any job to let them know that I have their backs. I am going to explain that I need them to speak up about unsafe conditions on set and that if they don’t feel comfortable speaking out because of their position, that I will gladly speak to production on behalf of all of us. I am going to tell my union brothers and sisters that we work way too fast, way too long, and way too hard and that I need them to watch my back just as much as I need to watch theirs. I need them to speak up on my behalf because I’m often after that elusive “shot” and can sometimes forget. I need them to protect me and I need to protect them. I am in a position where part of my job is to speak up and I need to take that responsibility seriously. Because no one should ever die on a movie set.

I’m sorry Sarah. We failed you. This won’t help you and I pray that you are resting in peace today, although that is of little comfort to those you were forced to leave behind. Perhaps at least something good can come from this and moving forward I pray that yours is the last death we read about on the set of any production. 

Signed – a brother


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#2 Alan Rencher

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 05:05 PM

Well said.
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#3 Martin Stacey

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 05:32 PM

Well said Dave. The power to say "No" is something that should be present at every level and it is up to the Senior in each department to give that power to his crew.


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#4 Alec Jarnagin SOC

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 06:18 PM

Beautifully written Dave. Thank you.
I posted this comment on Facebook regarding something else someone said but it occurs to me to share it here as well:

On the film that I just did, we had a lot of work in a rail yard. It was done smartly and safely. They had complete control of the yard and the trains did not move so much as one inch until every crew member was off the tracks (the 1st AD then asked every department head to verify that their entire departments were present (and safe) before the go ahead was given. We all had on orange safety vests too and the trains never moved more than a couple of MPH on top off all of this. That is the way it should be done. Sadly, this well never help Sarah.


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#5 PeterAbraham

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 07:49 PM

Articulated with care as always, Dave.

 

Crew has sadly always been regarded as expendable. With the advent of digital cinema systems that have removed the words " Camera Reloads " from the rhythm of production, things are done over and over- and with less regard for stopping and adjusting, checking in, being safe, looking things over. ( I am paraphrasing a painful and brilliant post written here years ago by our esteemed colleague, Chris Haarhoff ).

 

If we don't have a moment, a few moments, to check in all around and make sure we are ALL okay and good to go, then we will always be in peril just as this sister member of the Camera Department was.

 

As far as the choices we make as far as WHO we work for and WHO they are, it is a painful reality that Ms. Jones was employed by Meddin Studios based in Savannah..

 

Meddin Studios is now bankrupt.. I suspect any legal ramifications or even the decency of taking care of funeral arrangements will not be forthcoming from this company.


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#6 Jens Piotrowski SOC

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 07:57 PM

Very Sad...

 

http://savannahnow.c...ed#.Uwf0SIWbREI

 

apparently they did not have a permit to film on the train tracks, what a shame and inexcusable

 

http://www.thestate....iopic-film.html


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#7 Ramon Engle

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Posted 21 February 2014 - 09:54 PM

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

To be in the presence of Sarah Elizabeth Jones was a true Joy. She led with a smile, proved herself with her professionalism and could level you with her wit.

I'm crushed. Truly crushed by this selfish act that has taken one of the brightest spirits from us.

What leaves me so hollow is the senslesness of her death.

 

If no one goes to jail for her death another crime will have been committed.


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#8 AndreasKielb

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 03:28 AM

There is a detailed report about how this disastrous situation came up: http://variety.com/2...cks-1201115835/

 

Seems like different people from production, heads of department but also from the railroad company tragically underestimated the danger that there might be an unexpected train.


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#9 Robert Starling SOC

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 12:21 PM

<<< "Update: Nick Gant, creative director and principal of Meddin Studios in Savannah, which is working with the production, said via email:

“This is not gorilla film making 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 20-30 year veterans in all the departments, crew is extremely qualified, cast trailers were transporter, location was almost 90 minutes away… No corners were cut.” >>>

 

Obviously some corner was cut else Ms. Jones would still be alive.

 

Robert


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#10 Ramon Engle

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 01:13 PM

Robert were did you find this quote?


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#11 William Demeritt

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 01:15 PM

Veterans in all the departments and CENTURIES of experience is meaningless if you don't have permission to film on the tracks, and that includes experienced and authorized personnel to communicate with the train companies or whoever to determine train utilization of said tracks.

 

Weather is "unexpected". Illness on set is "unexpected". 

 

A TRAIN? Should not be "unexpected", and if that's a possibility, then escape/safety routes must be known. 

 

Who works in any building, any room, any situation without a properly marked "EXIT" sign?


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#12 William Demeritt

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 01:18 PM

Robert were did you find this quote?

 

At the bottom of this article: http://variety.com/2...cks-1201115835/

 

Also worth noting from the comments section of that same article: 

 

 

 

I have been in the film business most of my adult life.
In the mid 90′s I was the Chief Lighting Technician on a feature film shot in Nashville Tenn. We had a scene with a train crossing a bridge over a river at night. Oddly CSX was the railroad. From the time of planning through rigging the bridge with lights to the actual shooting of the scene CSX had a representative with us the entire time. At no time were any of the crew allowed on that bridge without permission from the CSX rep.
The shot went off perfectly and no one was ever in peril or injured during the shoot.
Needless to say this is a case of gross negligence by the production company and those in their employ to have even put any one member of the crew at risk.
I worked briefly this last fall with Sarah,
She was a wonderful vibrant young woman who is already missed and mourned by many of us here in Atlanta.

 

Sounds about right to me. CSX representative on site sounds like a mandatory. 


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#13 PeterAbraham

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 02:48 PM

Again, as I mentioned in my post #5, Meddin Studios has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection..

 

Nothing anyone connected to that place says in the press holds an ounce of water. They are in profound Circle The Wagons And Deflect Deny Defend Mode.

 

In about 1989 I was on a low budget feature in Santa Ana, California. The Amtrak station there was made famous as the scene of the closing of "Rain Man". The tracks, as they passed through the station, were " on grade ". That is to say the metal rails were surrounded for several hundreds yards of running track by hard rubber surface, then the sidewalk. One could walk across the tracks from one platform to another without stepping up or down. The hard rubber surface came right up to within a few inches of the rail- just enough gap for the wheels to fit in.

 

I've no death wish, but I did see an opportunity for a nifty shot involving my standing in the middle of the two rails, with a passenger train coming around the curved track to the station. I'd walk off of the mark, arc around and meet an actor as they descended down the steps to the platform level.

 

We owned the station, the tracks in their entirety for the week. The VERY first person I asked about it was the Amtrak Safety Officer. As far as I was concerned, the stunt coordinator was nothing compared to him on that set. He agreed it was fine to execute as long as he was directly involved and had his hand ON my vest in case I lost my mind and did not walk off the tracks on cue.

 

We did a half-dozen takes, the shot was fine and I felt entirely safe while doing it. My A.C. stood away from me, 90º off of my lens on the platform. He pulled focus. The 2nd A.C. held her hands apart where I could see them, and moved them together slowly. When her palms touched, I started walking. That idea was vetted by the Amtrak fellow and the stunt coordinator.

 

It took only a few moments to discuss, and while they were lighting the shot we walked and rehearsed it again and again with someone acting as the nose of the train as it was slowing to a crawl and stopping.

 

The more I read about this incident the more atrocious the entire situation appears.

 

Edited To Add: It is no old Hollywood Myth. The helicopter crash and related deaths during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie happened. Books have been written. The court records are public information. For people in any public discussion- be it here, Facebook, what have you- who are going down the self-righteous path of " Well, I'M a seasoned VETERAN and I KNOW better and how dare you question my experience?? ", might I suggest that those people silence themselves and take a few moments. Consider the collective centuries of large-scale feature film on-location production experience represented by the crew on Twilight Zone: The Movie. Hacks? Amateurs? Low-budget? No, no and no. And yet an adult and two children died in the accident- Vic Morrow and one of the children were decapitated.

 

Finger-pointing will not bring our late colleague back. Working that much harder to protect one another and insure safe working conditions no matter what the job or scene is all we can do.


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#14 Jens Piotrowski SOC

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 04:04 PM

How one can shoot a scene involving a bed on an active train track is beyond me and 1 minute of warning time does nothing if you are on a bridge with No way out.
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#15 PeterAbraham

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Posted 22 February 2014 - 05:56 PM

I am told by crew members in Atlanta who had worked with Ms. Jones that she was killed by flying debris. They all had +/- 1 minutes warning before the train passed through the area where they were doing their "tests".

 

They all stepped off, the debris was violently ejected from the tracks, killing Ms. Jones and injuring others.

 

Jens, I am in agreement with you 100%. With no escape route, one does not go out onto a train trestle.


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