Last week Sarah Jones, an Atlanta-based second assistant camera operator, was killed on location in Wayne County, Georgia while filming on the Gregg Allman biopic, Midnight Rider. According to sources, Sarah, 27, died after being struck by a train during the filming of a dream sequence where a bed had been placed on a railroad bridge over the Altamaha River. The scene was to include two trains, when a third appeared unexpectedly, giving the crew little time to escape. In addition to her death, a number of additional crew were injured by flying debris.
There has been an outpouring of grief and kind words for Sarah Jones both within the entertainment community, particularly those that work behind the scenes, and the rest of the country in general. One of the more noteworthy gestures is a petition to include Sarah in the Academy Awards’ ‘In Memoriam’ segment, honoring those that have passed in the year since the previous airing. While the segment generally features famous names, it also has a history of leaving off some major passings, like Andy Griffith, Farrah Fawcett, and Larry Hagman, to name a few. It, perhaps, is a longshot, but as of this writing the petition has collected plenty of press, as well as almost 30,000 signatures.
Midnight Rider, based on My Cross to Bear, Gregg Allman’s 2012 memoir and co-written with music journalist Alan Light, features the story of Gregg in his heyday, when the Allman Brothers Band was at its peak, his struggles with addiction, and the untimely death of his brother Duane and bassist Berry Oakley. Allman is serving as executive director of the film, which continued production soon after Sarah’s death.
One of the major issues that has been brought to light in this tragedy is the attention paid to crew safety by film higher ups. When executive producer for the movie, Jay Sedrish, was questioned about whether permission was given to film the dangerous scene, he answered, “It’s complicated.”
Details of the accident and those involved, however, suggest permission had not been granted. Savannah, Georgia television station WSAV noted that an e-mail from CSX, the railroad operator during the incident, had explicitly denied permission to film. Said the report, “According to the CSX employee, the production company had previously been denied permission to film on the trestle, and there was electronic correspondence to verify that fact.”
Art Miller, who has worked on films like Schindler’s List and The Fugitive as a coordinator between filmmakers and train operators said, “ If there had been any sort of railroad permission given, you would have seen railroad personnel on site. There would have been at least an assistant division superintendent, bridge and building supervisors, safety railings. Given the federal regulations and federal statutes and railroad company rules, there is no way that that train could have gotten in on top of that film crew.” He went on to say, “It’s unfortunate that safety rules are, in many instances, written in blood. And this is an instance where I think we’re going to see a wholesale revision in safety rules in the film business.”
President of the International Cinematographer’s Guild, Steven Poster, whose union represented Sarah Jones, hopes Miller is correct in this assertion, saying,”I hope so, I hope so. That would be the best thing. You know, nothing good is going to come out of losing Sarah.”