Sarah Jones will merely be another name, if she gets mentioned at all, at the 86th Academy Awards. Simply put, that is a travesty. I did not know Sarah Jones and I unfortunately never will. The twenty-seven-year-old second camera assistant was tragically killed while working on location for the upcoming Greg Allman biopic Midnight Rider. Sarah’s death is yet another avoidable accident caused by a neglectful bottom-line mentality. Sarah Jones’ death deserves the spotlight that will be taken by Paul Walker and Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the 86th Academy Awards to inform the public of the horrendous conditions rampant throughout the industry.
On Feb. 20, the crew was set up on a trestle to get a shot for Midnight Rider when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge. Sarah Jones was struck and killed instantly while seven other crew members were taken to a nearby hospital to treat their injuries. Early reports have suggested that the film did not have the proper authority for the set up and there are no formal laws requiring productions to place any kind of spotter for shots of this kind. However, there is currently a petition to create a new rule forcing productions to hire a spotter in addition to a representative from the train company to be present at all times. Dubbed “Sarah’s Law,” the petition is a small step forward for enforcing safety on set. There has also been a movement on sets across the globe to honor Sarah called “Slates For Sarah” with productions like Night At The Museum 3, How I Met Your Mother and Supernatural taking part. Productions have been labeling the film slate in memory of the young woman.
Most major film and television sets are run with the mentality that crew and cast safety is the number one concern and of the utmost importance, but on the ever-expanding independent side of things, cutting corners is just a part of getting the film finished. Ridiculously long work days and an absolute lack of any safety concern plagues nearly every set. Days on set begin at twelve hours and very rarely wrap on time. Crew will work a long fourteen to eighteen hour days then usually are given a turnaround of hopefully six hours, sometimes even less. Crews will be asked to do these daily turnarounds on very little to no sleep for weeks on end throughout the production. Crew will often be asked to work through their lunch and dinner in order to get everything planned for the typically overstuffed day accomplished.
I have many friends who make their living on “below-the-line” set work and know firsthand the limits to which these people are pushed. The conditions under which these crew members are worked would be consider illegal in every other industry. The conditions only exist as the ones in charge know that most of these people do it out of the pure love of the art form and has next-to-nothing to do with the paycheck.
I can say with confidence that Sarah Jones could have far too easily been any one of the number of people I know trying to make a career in the industry. There would not have been a moment of hesitation amongst them to set up on that train bridge as they would have been completely confident that the higher-ups in charge had only their safety in mind. Shining a spotlight on Sarah Jones’ death over the late Paul Walker at the Academy awards would only help people understand that these conditions should not be tolerated and need to be changed immediately. The truth is that outside the industry many simply do not care that Sarah Jones died, that her death was simply a tragic accident and nothing more.
I am not the first to speak of this tragic event. Many have done so and far better than I ever could, but this just cannot go away. Sarah Jones should be working today. There should have been a spotter and the proper authority present on set as there always should be. Safety should never be a budgetary issue. Accidents like this are completely avoidable. I have no intention of taking away any of the impact of Paul Walker’s or Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death as they are just as tragic in their own ways, but Sarah’s has the potential to change things. There may always be bottom-line producers but with Sarah’s Law in place, a tragedy like this may stay avoidable in the future. Sarah Jones’ name deserves to be as known as Paul Walker’s after the Academy awards, if only to prevent a tragedy like this from ever occurring again.
Opinion By Benjamin Murray