By The Unknown Artist
A year ago, camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed and eight other crew members were injured while shooting the film Midnight Rider without a permit or appropriate safety measures… on live train tracks. According to subsequent investigations and reports, the production knowingly bypassed safety standards and legal OSHA requirements in order to save money. On March 10 of this year, director Randall Miller pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. Significant judicial punishment of Miller and executive producer Jay Sedrish set a precedent that I hope will resonate and produce a ripple effect throughout the production and post-production community.
Sarah Jones’ father, Richard Jones, made a statement, “…we cannot send a signal to the film industry that it is okay to disrespect life.” International Cinematographers Guild president Steven Poster added that the case should send an industry-wide message that, “No movie or TV show is worth a life.”
Making an example of this production pushes back against the trend of forcing lower-level crew members to work in poor conditions for the priority of budget. Often, corners are cut because of budget and time constraints that create unhealthy environments and working conditions. In post, we might not be forced to work on live train tracks, but the trend and the attitude is the same. Many feel that if they complain, they will just be replaced by someone else who won’t.
Empire editor Zack Arnold recently spoke on his podcast about how he has fought for little things to improve his health (and safety) at work, like a standing desk and healthy meals/snacks in the office (Fitness In Post, episode 30). When I work a really long, late shift, I make sure the company I work for pays for a cab to take me home.
I’d like to think that the decision in the Midnight Rider case to highlight accountability is important. Respecting life isn’t just about whether your crew is in immediate and imminent danger, it’s also about respecting their well being. It’s about respecting our lives, our stress levels, our mental health, our access to appropriate food and drink that will help keep us working the long hours needed to complete our projects. It’s about ensuring that once we step out the door of the edit suite, we will get home safely and not be sustaining long-term injuries and health problems from a bad chair, a cramped workstation or an A/C vent right above our heads.
Upon hearing the news of the court’s decision to hold the production accountable for the tragedy that occurred on the set of Midnight Rider, I felt a sense of hope. I hope that larger changes are made on-set, where the stakes are higher for workers. But I also hope that the effect will trickle over to post production, where smaller changes can be made as well. I hope that going forward and as a byproduct of the horror that happened to Sarah Jones, productions will consider the well being of the crew to be an important investment, and not the first place to cut corners to limit costs.
The Unknown Artist is a post-production professional by day and The Unknown Artist by night. Enjoy this semi-regular column, and send topic ideas and questions to theunknownartist@postPerspective.com.