For Sarah: Sept. 22, 1986–Feb. 20, 2014

01_Sarah and slate


There is a magic bubble of invulnerability that can seem to enclose a movie crew filming out on the streets, more so than on the artifice of a stage set. For just a few moments, as the cameras turn over, there exists a kind of parallel reality that lives inside that bubble. It burst on February 20 above a 100 year old, single-track railroad trestle over the Altamaha River near Doctortown, Georgia. The fallout injured half a dozen crew members of a feature film on its first day of shooting; it also killed the 27-year-old camera assistant, Sarah Jones.

No more details are needed here; we already know them. The ongoing revelations about this totally preventable incident have swept social media and trade press on an international scale—a cry of support to Sarah’s memory, but also a cri de coeur, a recognition by frontline filmmakers around the world, of our shared vulnerability— this, ironically, at a time when cutting edge digital artists are creating ever more spectacular visual effects and stunts, not in the streets, but in darkened rooms on computer work stations far removed from the hazards of physical production.

The struggle to create a cinematic illusion of reality, side by side with the all too real world, with the chaos of people living their lives indifferent or even hostile to the presence of the film crew, can create a sensory experience that is schizophrenic. Controlling that illusory reality out to the very edges of the frame constitutes a brief triumph of movie artifice. During the course of a day’s production, filmmakers move in an out of that artifice/reality bubble dozens of times. The sheer volume of the filmmaking equipment employed, the often very vocal demarcation of the shooting space by a harried assistant director or PA, easily creates a sense of magical, even mandarin-like power. “WTF, get that guy out of there. Doesn’t he know we’re trying to make a movie,” blares out of a bullhorn as some hapless gent stumbles out of a bar or a soccer mom exits a Starbucks juggling her soy latte.

Such “empowerment,” even for the few minutes that the camera is running, can make that bubble seem to be a “thin invisible shield” against the world—that is until the laws of nature intervene. This is what happened on the set of Midnight Rider when an oncoming train struck a bed and mattress that had been placed on the track. Sarah was knocked onto the path of the train, ending her young life.

02_SARAH W- CAMERA11.04.51 AM

Like tens of thousands of above and below the line filmmakers from around the world, I have been caught up in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions: anger, yes, but mostly sadness at the stupidity that could have allowed this to happen. We all have  a deep recognition that each of us could have met Sarah’s fate.

Everything about the filmmaking process is temporary, ad hoc. Build it, shoot it, knock it down, move on. Breakneck schedules are the rule rather than the exception in filmmaking today, and no more so than in the world of “Tier” productions, where the crew is expected to provide the same level of filmmaking skill as in the past, but at a fraction of the time and budget. There is a fallacy too often embraced by some producers and studios that new lighter weight cameras and lights mean that we can all work faster, a corollary being that line producers and UPMs who actually know better, are often pressured to find shortcuts, putting crews into problematic, unsecured environments and mandating unreasonable work hours of 14-16 hour days.

As filmmaking moves ever outward and away from Hollywood and close union scrutiny, it is too easy for places that boast lucrative rebate incentives, to look askew at close monitoring of workplace safety —some of these places being known as “right to work” enclaves, coded speech for “anti-union.” The decades long struggle for safety protocols that is well defined in veteran filmmaking centers is still being worked out in cities that have benefitted from greater production due to state incentives.

Federal agencies and local police are investigating what happened on that trestle. OSHA and the NTSB will determine who is responsible. Changes will result industrywide; of that we can be certain.
Crew tribute
A different kind of crew photo: For Sarah

Regardless what these investigations and the judicial system determine (and there is plenty of blame to pass around) one thing  stays in sharp focus for me as a cinematographer. In every shot of a movie, the cinematographer and director decide where to place the camera. The camera assistants, camera operator and dolly grip secure that mark and the crew moves up to it. The magic bubble I spoke of begins to form, a perimeter of expected control.  For the director of photography, there is more at stake than just getting a great shot; there is the very real ethical responsibility for the safety of the crew enclosed in this magic bubble.

A Facebook page, “Slates for Sarah,” was swamped with photos from around the world: production camera slates with tributes to Sarah Jones. The Vampire Diaries on which she had worked for several seasons ended its Feb. 27 episode with this legend,

“In Loving Memory of Sarah Jones, 1986 – 2014.”

Here are just a few of the hundreds of slate tribute photos. 04_SLATE




08_sarah-jones-slates-parenthood In gratitude for the outpouring of tributes, Sarah’s family posted their own photo. 09_SARAH'S FAMILY

A petition to include Sarah in the March 2 Oscar telecast “In Memoriam” segment garnered over 60,000 signatures before the awards show aired. As a standing Governor of the Academy in the Cinematographers Branch, I was moved to send a personal note to President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson advocating for Sarah’s inclusion; mine was only one of the thousand of voices that reached out to the Academy. Inclusion in the “In Memoriam” is much sought after by friends and families of the men and women with distinguished careers who have died the past year. Yes, Sarah Jones was not a well-known celebrity with a long career—but the outpouring of support for who she is and for what her death represents, finally overshadows any 5-second TV tribute. The Academy listened, giving lie to the notion of it being only an enclave of the elite. After Bette Midler’s moving anthem “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a wide shot of the audience served as background for a banner photo of Sarah, a stand alone moment. This simple acknowledgement resonates as a clear message to the entire film and television industry: “We are all Sarah Jones.”



NB: There has been another tribute to Sarah Jones, this one from her cinematography peers: a candlelight walk and vigil on Friday evening March 7, from the entry steps of the Directors Guild of America, to the International Cinematographers Guild offices several blocks away. As thousands of movie loving commuters drove past the procession along Sunset Blvd, “Never forget, never again,” was the silent, internal refrain above the traffic, from the hundreds walking in honor of one of our own.

(also a video tribute from the recent SOC awards at the HR website:)


  1. Pete Kuttner

    At an AFL-CIO Workers Memorial Day ceremony two weeks ago, it was still cold, windy and wet in Chicago. ICG Local 600 members stood outside a United Auto Workers union hall, near the Torrance Ave Ford plant on on the southeast side of the city, to honor the memory of our sister Sarah Jones and all others who had died in job-related deaths.We were warmly greeted by UAW Local 551 auto workers and moved by one’s story of losing his father to an accident on the floor of a Detroit auto plant.

    A plaque nearby commemorated Workers Memorial Day. Inscribed in the marble slab was the slogan “An Injury to One is an Injury to All’ attributed to COATSU – The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a major player in the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa. (Some would argue that the words went back over 100 years to the beginnings of the union movement in the US and the International Workers of the World.)

    As I stood in the rain, I thought about how similar, really, my work on a film set is to the UAW’s work on the plant floor where they assemble the Taurus and Explorer models. In 1975, when I was accepted as a member of the union, it was called the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees & Motion Picture Machine Operators. Some time between then and now we became Motion Picture Technicians. [This name change is particularly ironic today given our struggle with the AMPTP for for the right of Camera Assistants to be paid as Technicians.] Basically we all, auto and film workers alike, operate machines which produce a product to be sold in the marketplace by our employers. We all are paid less for our work than what our work is worth to our employers. And we all depend upon our respective unions to protect our rights and our safety in the workplace.

    When the ceremony was over, we moved inside the UAW hall. As we shared food and drinks while waiting for their monthly meeting to start, we learned that safety was a major issue of concern in the plant. A procedure demanded by the union was being ignored by the company. It had to do with cutting power to a particular machine before maintenance could be done. Because of the amount of time it took to shut down and restart, the company ordered the workers to skip the procedure to insure the department would make its day’s work. (Sound familar?) Some workers had already been injured by accidental re-startings of the machine. How fitting the meeting followed a ceremony which remembered workers killed or injured on the job. We film workers, with young Sarah on our minds, were in total solidarity with the auto workers and, when we thought about it, all workers everywhere.

    Thanks, John, for the opportunity to respond to the consistently interesting and provcative ideas presented in your Bailiwick blog.

  2. Jim Behnke

    I didn’t know Sarah. I do know some but not all of the colleagues who’ve shared their views here, including John B whom I thank for his thoughtful posting.

    Our sense of “Cinematic Immunity” is hard to ignore. As noted, we routinely shoo folks out of our frame or “lockup” as if it’s manifestly obvious to the world that they need to yield to our film-makers’ imperative.

    Another part of “Cinematic Immunity” is becoming inured to doing wild-ass things. We often have stunt folks, cops, helicopters and all manner of technology that help us do seemingly dangerous things, but everyone goes home safe. The line between what’s safe and what’s not becomes easier to cross, or at least harder to see clearly.

    Long before “The Twilight Zone” or Cal OSHA SB 198 drew attention I learned from old-school ADs [& others] that one of production’s most important duties is to ensure safety & welfare of crew & cast. I’m sorry to say the producers & their team for this disaster are at serious risk of becoming “examples” in the legal sense. The FX guy on “Twilight Zone” & a few others took a minor hit if I recall properly, the director/prod’n staff/et al walked away unscathed.

    How many more of these will it take to get all my production colleagues to take the safety of crew/cast seriously? I hope this one’s enough to do it, sorry it hadn’t penetrated already, before this avoidable tragedy leapt into our view-finders.

    Thanks again all for keeping this in the foreground.

  3. Mitchell Block


    Thank you.
    It’s spot on.

    The tragedy is not just in the unnecessary death of Sarah, it is also the memory of her unnecessary loss in the minds of the supervisors and managers on this show, the ones who should have known better about the dangers of working on or near a working railroad track.

    We are in a business where people are afraid of speaking out, of losing their job, of being back listed or considered a “troublemaker.” There are no set police or safety police. Just the need to get the shot, the scene, to be on budget, to avoid extra costs. Little at the struggle 600 has had in getting sleep time for camera crews. Despite the heavy work of Haskell not much has changed.

    As you note, “Breakneck schedules are the rule rather than the exception in filmmaking today, and no more so than in the world of “Tier” productions, where the crew is expected to provide the same level of filmmaking skill as in the past, but at a fraction of the time and budget.”

    So when will things really change? What can be done to think about the workers health and safety?

    How many more Sara’s?

  4. Susan Malerstein-Watkins

    Thank you, John for your eloquent and spot on article.

    I want to echo two thoughts: first, Robert Brinkman’s bank-to-rights comment that the rules/laws are already on the books. Here, here. It is the lack of abiding to the safety practices that is unconscionable, irresponsible, and sadly, in this case, heartbreaking.

    Second, re: Joanie Blum’s comments – how many times have we Script Supervisors, (Joanie and myself) – also in the line of fire, particularly prior to the days of video assist – spoken up and been immediately shot down as wusses, wimps, and complainers because we were aware of precarious or even dangerous setups?

    I have endured teasing, bullying, & taunts from a few directors & crew when on rare occasions I have removed myself from dangerous insert car shoots, and FX explosions where I have deemed myself unsafe. THAT MENTATLITY MUST CHANGE! We must all take responsibility for attentive, safe, and professional decisions when working on a set; whether on location or in the studio. And ridiculing those of us who speak up is part of the problem – not part of the solution.

  5. Alan Disler

    Thank you, John.

    As you know, one of the first films ever made was a train pulling into a station. The first dramatic film was “The Great Train Robbery.” Every western ever made had a train scene of some kind. WE KNOW HOW TO DO THIS.

    Only willful disregard of simple safety precautions explains this disaster. This was no “accident.”

    JOHN’S REPLY: Alan, an eureka moment! Thank you for that, No, I had not made the connection with the Lumieres and Porter— but of course. It is said that at that first public Paris screening on Dec. 26, 1895 that people ran from the theater screaming as the train roared into the station at La Ciotat.

  6. Alicia Lewis

    An assistant director friend of mine told me that her line producer denied them a medic for a camera test day on a union pilot in Los Angeles at a studio that does not have a medical office on site. This happened last week. When that AD pointed out that the crew on the train trestle also had no medic, the producer barked “That was different!” at her and walked away. Luckily, the AD and the production coordinator went ahead and put a medic on the callsheet and the UPM approved it.

    Please stand with your ADs. I can’t begin to tell you how often we are shouted down for standing up for what is right before you ever get to set. Ask questions, not just of them, but of your bosses and producers. Stand together so this never happens again and so that nobody puts a dollar sign ahead of a person’s life.

  7. Tiffany Laufer

    Thank you John for this reflection and for writing to the Academy.

    I hope as Authur Albert has suggested, that as cinematographers we will vow to look after our crew with eagle eyes and above all protect them. Cinematographers often have more experience than others on a set and to think the DP on Midnight Rider didn’t have enough confidence or strength to voice a concern or walk away is very sad. As my professor Bill Dill ASC taught us – as Cinematographers we are the eyes and ears of the film, looking through the viewfinder you are the last one to see the film. If we have the creative confidence we must be able to stand up and defend that creativity by speaking for our safety and protect the family around us that we have asked to come with us on that journey. Also friends of Sarah have set up a site called “The Pledge”, sign it and support it.

    Again, thank you John.

  8. Arthur Albert

    Thank you very much for this post. As a cinematographer, and a DGA member I was offended by the DGA’s official response to Sarah’s death, essentially an attempt to get directors off the hook: “Employers are ultimately responsible for safety on the set”. But no one else I’ve read has pointed out the cinematographer’s responsibility to protect their crew.
    I understand how difficult it can be for someone getting their “big break” or just happy to be working to stand up to a director or producer, but if not us, then who? I can tell you from experience that seeing someone killed on a set is something you never, ever want to go through, and that we owe it to our crews to take a stand when a shot puts them in serious danger. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.


    With all this response and feedback to this very tragic accident, along with the emotional and powerful outpouring of rage in our global film community, I pray that this will make us stronger, respected, appreciated – as a very precise and creatively sophisticated field of occupation… We all work in this field of filmmaking because of passion and the release of creative energy and dreams… I think I can safely say that for everyone… If we chose our occupation due to money – we would work on Wall Street… We are a very passionate breed of artists – all collaborating to a singular goal… Sarah represents this ‘HEART’ and ‘PULSE’ and now should transcend this message to the world on it’s wings… Crescenzo Notarile, ASC

  10. Robert Brinkmann

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute, John. The part I don’t understand is when the talk changes to changing safety procedures, or, as you put it, “changes will result”. These procedures are already on the books. There should have been a permit to shoot on the tracks, the railway’s representatives should have been on the set, there should have been spotters with radios a mile out each way, a safety meeting should have been held, any work on the tracks should have been supervised and approved by the railway’s representatives and coordinated with the AD, and under no circumstances should obstacles have been placed on an active track. The problem seems to be that these rules were ignored rather than that they didn’t exist. As a cinematographer, I sometimes would like to push my luck to get a better shot (though I certainly would not even ask to go this far) and am used to being rebuffed by the AD. I’m not able to set up a shot in a curb lane, unless we have traffic cops on the set, or step off a stopped insert car, unless I get permission to do so. I understand and follow these restrictions as any member of the crew does. As an industry, we require safety training, have safety procedures and take lots of precautions. Except for long hours, which are a different issue that apparently had no bearing on this tragedy, I usually feel safe on a set. We all know what the safety precautions should have been on the set of Midnight Rider and I, for one, am more perplexed as to how the rules could have been so blatantly ignored rather than seeing this as a systemic problem. There were a number of supervisors who, apparently, went along with a terrible and probably illegal plan (“When you hear the whistle, you have one minute to clear the tracks,” if actually spoken on the set should have set off alarm bells with anyone.”) I don’t understand how this tragic death is indicative of a lack of safety in the industry – sadly it seems Sarah was let down by the people whose job it was to look out for her.

  11. Angelo DiGiacomo

    “Cinematic Immunity” is an attitude that prevails on every set that I have ever been on. Since it seems to work almost every time, we assume that it is a reality. Sarah’s death shows us how physics, not wishful thinking, should be the rule of the day. RIP Sarah, hopefully we will not forget again. Peace

  12. Lolli Kimpton

    Thank you John – unbelievable that this
    could have happened – hopefully this can be a lesson
    to producers listening to us not just the budget.Also for the production heads to have safety first and foremost above
    everything. One argument in have had for
    20 years is that no one can function on top
    form after working 16 hours and then driving home !

  13. Ed Gutentag

    We have yet to meet so I can thank you virtually first for your blog posting here.
    I too like many others was deeply shocked and saddened by this event as a filmmaker and former camera assistant that had the same enthusiasm at 27, to be able to get paid to do the job of working on a film!, wow!
    I am sure that you heard that Sarah was concerned about the cases and or bags left up there on the trestle and had to be told to just ditch them and run.
    This is also very close to me because I came very close to be badly injured on a movie. I was sparred a by a very safety conscious dolly grip who told me not to go up on a crane when I was an AC with Don Peterman because we were just lining up a shot and were not going to roll, only to find out after I removed my front box that Ray Dellamotte took my seat and then the crane broke with both Ray and Don almost hitting us on the way down from 20′.
    I missed the plane that crashed on that one.
    I had survivor guilt for a while.

    I find myself not angry with the others involved in this tragic event but saddened for them because this could have easily been prevented. They how have to go through their lives with the gnawing feeling ( if they are honest with themselves) that any one of them could have put a stop to this and said “NO”.

    Unfortunately someone had to die to create a wakeup call to let people know that anyone can say NO.
    And anyone can make sure that this does not happen again.
    Thanks for your post, I think its important to keep the conversation going, we owe a debt to Sarah’s family that can never be repaid, and that debt is that this shall never happen again.
    Ed Gutentag

  14. Steven Poster Asc

    Thank you again for this post. And thank you all for your concern. We must never loose sight of who Sarah was. What can we do? I would like to see the same safety training that we are required to have taken in California be available and mandatory across the country. And I’d like to see every craft and every discipline have to participate.
    Another thing I would like to see is more dedicated out-reach to students. I think the younger we can teach filmmakers about their responsibility to learn that we are in a very dangerous industry and that there are industry and government guidelines for almost every dangerous situation we may get into, the better.
    John, you and I came in during the last days of the studio system. We were trained by the generations before us, not only to do our jobs, but to understand and respect that we are all responsible to each other on the set. It was a grand tradition of a passage into the coveted world of “Show Business.” And especially as a fledgling Director of Photography I learned, sometimes with very hard lesson, how important it is for ME to protect my crews and have enough respect for their Life and Limb. All young DP’s must learn this or we will end up killing more innocents.
    We have to now find ways to pass that tradition along, just as we were given it as the pups we were when we came into the working world of entertainment.
    We are all Sarah.
    Steven Poster ASC
    National President
    International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600 I.A.T.S.E.

    1. John DeFazio

      Unfortunately, i do not believe that Safety Training could have prevented this. There are other issues that are going on here.
      there are no safety protocols in place for stupidity and criminal negligence. I am sure that the crew that went on that trestle KNEW that it was not safe (as revealed by crew interview) but they decided to anyway. Any additional safety training probably would not have changed their minds under whatever circumstances were going on that day.
      More paper work, required union safety classes, red tape, etc could not have prevented this.
      -John DeFazio

      JOHN”S REPLY: John, your observations dovetail with much of what Robert Brinkmann also says; please read his insightful comment as he does not land on the crew. Yes, the safety guidelines and protocols exist and are defined in bulletins from OSHA and in union mandated classes. But the fact is– that what is discussed in these classes is very different than the real life peer pressure that is exerted on especially younger crews who are fearful to express their concerns— or who are easily intimidated by unscrupulous above the line. You insist that “the crew that went on that trestle KNEW that it was not safe.” I do wish it were that clear. We have all been in situations early in our careers where we had little support from our leaders and dept. heads and it has been tough to protest as a minority of one. I feel you are being much too harsh in blaming the crew for going out on the tracks. One of the key elements of all safety classes I have taken is the instructor’s insistence that we must speak out when we believe something is foolish or dangerous. Perhaps, getting that part of the message out is as important as the protocols themselves. And you, as a cinematographer, should not be blaming the crew– but be trying to understand the difficult situation they were thrown into on that morning.

  15. Joanie Blum

    Thank you for your writing here, John – I echo Clyde Bryan’s and David McGiffert’s views that this, indeed, was no accident, still filled with anger about this unnecessary tragedy.

    After decades of being sneered at and laughed at for asking those “ninny” questions – where are the cops, where are the helicopter personnel, where is the fire chief, where is the EMT wagon, where are the get-away spots for the grips and the camera puppies – I’m left here wondering who was asking all of those “ninny” questions on Sarah’s set.

    Rural Georgia, Castaic Lake, Columbus Circle, Pike’s Market, the shooting crew is vulnerable whenever we leave those sheltered gates of the studios. Everyone must be asking these questions whenever you feel in danger – in the end, we are our brothers’ & sisters’ keepers.

  16. David McGiffert

    Hi John, your thoughts speak for all of us in the film community, especially those of us ‘below the line’ where the actual work and the risk of making a film resides.
    Even with the best safety protocol’s in place here is always the possibility of an accident – but this was no accident. Sarah Jones’ negligent homicide is a huge wake-up call for all of us involved in film making, but most especially it is a grimly stark reminder to the people whose responsibility it is to make sure that a secure and correct framework is set up around a production that makes the safety of the working crew the most important part of the days work.

  17. Linda B

    Thanks John. I’ve read a few things here and there about Georgia crews and found it be to very disappointing that people were implying that it was non-union or local crews that led to the tragedy. Plus, I got wind of the cover of The Hollywood Reporter about to come out, and it seems very politically convenient considering the challenges of runaway production. The rumored title is very misleading. I hope the article is more articulate and accurate than what they’ve been printing to date.

  18. Bob Brown

    Such a well spoken commentary about Sarah’s life and the state of safety in our industry. I hope your blog and the many other posts and news stories about this incident help to pave a safer future for our industry. Thank you John.

  19. Christel Cornilsen

    Thank You John, we need more letters and statements like this from esteemed people like yourself. Let’s keep this momentum going UNTIL something signficant happens like anew Safety protocol that applies to all sets – union/non-union, hi/low budget.

  20. Clyde E. Bryan

    We are all Sarah Jones!

    I refuse to call this tragedy an “accident.” It is eloquently stated in your blog that we often live in a production bubble. We trust that those in authority above us have done their due diligence and we must learn from this tragedy that we collectively and individually have the power to say no and the right to ask questions. No one should have to lose a life to make entertainment.

    Thank you for reaching out to the Academy and getting Sarah noticed by them. Now it is our burden to carry this wellspring of feeling that Sarah’s death has begun to fruition for more safety and responsibility on movie sets.

    Never Forget. Never Again.

  21. Earl Williman

    Thank you John, as a retired Gaffer of 46+years we have seen it all and we have all experienced danger while doing what we love. I n this case there is no rime of reason for the loss of Sara Jones or the other crew members that were injured that day. Oh so young and full of life, a beautiful soul and a very promising future ahead for her. All ended in a split second for the sake of the almighty $ and a total lack of responsibility and safety of the entire cast and crew. Crew members are NOT EXPENDABLE!!!!!!!! I can only hope those responsible for this criminal act will receive the max. penalty for their greed and disregard and lack of respect for the lives of who they employ. For all of those who love what we do let us NEVER FORGET Sara Jones as she will be with us every time we set foot on any set any where………….

  22. Linda Burns, PGA

    As a Georgia native working in a right to work state, from no budget indies to union blockbuster studio films, safety has always been forefront, and I find it sad that everyone seems to point to my state as the problem, instead of the LA Production company and LA union keys with years of experience who should have taken care of our local AC.

    JOHN’S REPLY: Linda, many thanks for your observation. Of course, no state or region is responsible for compromising our safety, and you will note I did not even mention Georgia. Atlanta, in fact, has been a major film production center for many years. It all comes down to individuals— as you point out. I have not heard anyone suggest there is a climate of irresponsibility, so I’m sorry you may feel that “everyone” seems to point to your state. All the cinematographers I’ve spoken with speak highly of Georgia crews. I will be returning next month to photograph yet another film in the Atlanta area.

    1. Ed Gutentag

      I second that Linda, No one blames Georgia, this could have happened anywhere. People can find trouble no matter where they go. Its like blaming the gun for killing someone.

    2. Thom Shepard

      I agree with the comments of both John and Linda.

      Both aspects addressed are a substantial problem and are undercutting safety.

      We have become a very divided film industry where too many of us have been pitted against each other competing for projects and for jobs. The system encourages IA locals to sign up new inexperienced workers in incentive states while experienced workers sit idle elsewhere and take their experience and passion for safety to other endevours.

      And yet my most dangerous film experiences have been on second units where LA or NY keys are flown in without prep-days or knowing their crews. There is no denying the problem of the lack of a Safety Passport for many states outside of CA.

      The only one who wins at this game of pitting us against each other are the producers who simply want to trim budgets and ignore safety. Producers most of us agree do not understand how to break down a script on budget nor understand the art of cinematography described by John Bailey above.

      Of course many of us have the good fortune of working with some of the industries best Producers and UPM’s, here in Georgia, and elsewhere. They tend to shine on big and low budget films equally. But too many of us know what it is like to start with a project, because of our respect for an Actor, Director or Cinematographer involved, only to find out that our expectations for crew respect and safety are not being met.

      So it is not enough to be as remarkably united as we are now, union, non-union, big budget and small even the PA’s and extras who rarely have a group to speak on their behalf.

      We must be smart, we must be self critical, we must look at the whole system and how we got here and not just thow bandaid’s on the sores.

      We must be creative as we now craft scripts, and plan as we can break down a film, and dream as we paint with light and envision where we will be in ten years and how filmmaking should be. And not just in LA, NY and Georgia, but in Columbia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Japan, England, South Africa, Dubai, Indonesia, New Zealand and Panama.

      Then we start taking the small calculated steps towards what we all know filmmaking can be, while crews take the big step of standing together and drawing a line. But if we are not up for solving this problem worldwide, if we are not up to changing the pattern of producers going where the latest deal is offered, where safety is ignored to save a buck, then we will never solve it in our hometown.

      That is the lesson of Slates for Sarah.

      We are all in this together. Worldwide.

      Corny as it may sound in this moment.

      All for one and one for all.

      And thank you John Bailey for your kind words in tribute to Sarah

      JOHN’S REPLY: Thank you, Thom, for your insightful comments in the shadow of Sarah’s death. The “Slates for Sarah” initiative has done so much to create a sense of community around the world. I do think, however, we must be wary of casting producers as being complicit in compromising safety. Yes, there are some bottom feeders out there–just as there are some bottom feeding below the line crew who exhibit little crew solidarity. Most producers I have spoken with are as angry as we are about what happened on that railroad trestle, and stupefied that so many well-defined guidelines may have been ignored. The entire industry will be having an examination of conscience. Sarah will live on in how we move forward with stronger voices.

  23. Larry Gianneschi III

    Your essay hits right to the heart of today’s production climate. Everyone should take note of your words and use them as a guide going forward so that we never have to face this type of tradegy again. Well said.

  24. Stephen Lighthill

    Many thanks for this eloquent commentary on something so horrific and monumentally stupid and, of course, preventable.
    As I understand it, none of the normal precautions were taken:
    no safety meeting, no call sheets with cautionary comments, no spotters down track from the bridge, and most astounding, no communication link with the CSX dispatchers. IF this is true, this was no failure by filmmakers who did their best and followed normal procedures, but a failure by filmmakers who ignored all that has been built over the years to reduce risk to on set filmmakers.


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