Young Hollywood hopeful Sarah Jones dreamed of a life working in film. The 27-year-old was honored briefly at this past Sunday’s Oscar Awards, but instead of getting to experience the joy of garnering the Academy’s attention at her young age, Sarah’s mention was part of the “In Memoriam” segment. The young camera-assistant built an unexpected legacy when she became the victim of a fatal accident this past February, while working on the film Midnight Rider. A handful of crew members were injured, and Jones lost her life when the train tracks they where shooting on (thought to be inactive at the time) were invaded by a train. While Jones’ death was accidental, it is a blatant sign of a serious ongoing problem; missing even the smallest detail can lead to injuries, and even deaths, on set.
A true testament to the hard work it takes to get attention from the Academy, it has been reported that a great deal of work was done in order to get Jones recognized in the award ceremony. In particular, the cast of The Vampire Diaries, one of the shows Jones had worked on, rallied to get signatures to the petition created about getting her life recognized during the Oscars. Though the work paid off, and Jones’ face was shown, some felt that her small tribute was handled poorly as she was not included in the montage, but instead was used as a bumper to send people to the Oscar’s website.
In addition to the heartfelt effort to honor Jones’ life during the Oscars, an entire movement named “Slates for Sarah” has rocked several film sets in the past few days; The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, Glee, and Parks and Recreation are among the largest sets to honor the young crew member, but this movement has also spread to smaller film sets across the country. Photos have flooded the internet with celebrities holding up slates as a sign of solidarity. While the sentiment is intended to honor Sarah’s memory, it is equally valuable in taking a stand against the reasons her (presumably) avoidable death occurred in the first place. Sarah Jones will never get to see what could have happened in her career, but if “Slates for Sarah” continues to grow, some progress may be made toward ending the ongoing problem that crew members face daily.
While thankfully, it is not common to hear of a death occurring on a film set, there are small film injuries that happen all the time. Though it is few and far between to hear of newsworthy injuries, the history of Hollywood is not without dangerous and even fatal negligence. Sarah Jones is just one of many who have been victimized by an industry that often values the motto “get it done now” over “get it right.” Unfortunately, for Jones, it was not the typical minor accident; the mistakes made with Midnight Rider’s shoot cost Jones her life, and that is a tragedy. What is even more tragic still is that unless there are changes made, Jones may not be the last to literally give her life to the film industry.
No one ever said that working in the film industry was easy. Even those who long to be movie-stars often hear of the long hours and the not-always-glamorous locations. But thankfully for those who pursue a life in front of the camera, there are typically great lengths taken to ensure safety and comfort. Unfortunately, it is often a very different story for those working behind the scenes. But why is anyone on set treated differently? Crew members typically work longer hours than actors, having to be the first people on set and the last ones to leave. This is obviously not going to change; it is, after all, the job of the crew to keep things running. However, in return, it certainly makes sense to honor the commitment made by the crew, to take an extra minute or two in order to ensure everyone’s safety, not just the A-list actors.
Sarah Jones’ death is devastating, and so is the fact that many believe it could have been prevented. But in the wake of Jones’ earnest contribution to the film industry, perhaps those with the power to create positive conditions for film crews will get their act together and act more prudently in situations that put everyone at risk. One problem crews face is the grueling hours; a crew member of Pleasantville passed away after falling asleep at the wheel following a 19-hour day on set, certainly a sign that there is a limit to how many hours employees should be worked. But only those who put in those grueling hours are aware of the changes that need to be made in order to avoid any other careers being cut short whether by burnout or accident. The problems that crew members face are ongoing and serious, so with any luck, Sarah Jones’ untimely passing will serve as a wakeup call that conditions need to be reevaluated. Currently, more than 65,000 have shown their support for Sarah Jones by becoming a fan of “Slates for Sarah” on Facebook, and with any luck, many more will show their support by making sure nothing like this ever happens again.
Opinion by Bonnie Sludikoff