On February 20, Sarah Jones, a camera assistant for the indie biopic Midnight Rider, was killed by a train while shooting on set in Doctortown, Georgia. The accident, which is being treated by Georgia law enforcement as a negligent homicide, is the biggest safety scandal in the film industry in the last decade.
While the details are murky -- information about permits and safety precautions is under investigation -- some information about less-than-stringent safety measures is emerging. The film crew, which was shooting a dream sequence on a bridge over a river, was expecting two trains to cross the bridge. When a third, unexpected train arrived, the crew had less than a minute to vacate the tracks.
The accident injured five other crewmembers, including one who was airlifted to the nearest hospital. Jones’ death has rocked the film world -- she was recognized at the Academy Awards with a photo tribute, and many attendees wore black memorial ribbons. What is the standard safety protocol of state film shoots? How can the industry address safety issues to prevent accidents on set?
Scott C. Johnson, writer and former Newsweek correspondent. His piece on the death of Sarah Jones was recently published in the Hollywood Reporter.
Joe Wallenstein, Director of Physical Production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, which deals with all aspects of a film production, including insurance and safety issues. Wallenstein is also the author of “Practical Moviemaking: A Handbook for the Real World” (McFarland, 2011).