Why Director Randall Miller’s Statement on Sarah Jones’ Death Is Absolutely Grotesque

sarah3

Last February, camera assistant Sarah Jones was tragically hit by a train and killed while working on the set of director Randall Miller’s film Midnight Rider in Georgia. Despite the fact that Miller had expressly been denied permission to use the train trestle by the tracks’ owners, he went ahead with the shoot regardless.

Earlier this month, Miller accepted a plea deal on an involuntary manslaughter charge and was sentenced to 2 years in prison and 8 years probation. As part of the plea deal, charges against his wife, Jody Savin, a producer on the film, would be dropped.

On Friday, he released the following statement:

On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. Although I relied on my team, it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.

I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family; second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial; and, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.

The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this, but I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.

I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.

Reading the statement this past weekend, I found myself absolutely incensed over how grotesquely defensive and weirdly self-righteous it is. Throughout the piece, Miller points fingers at his entire crew, all while portraying himself as having simply been the victim of a lack of information.

Let me explain a bit why this hits so close to home.

sarah

When you work on a movie, there is intense pressure to provide everything the director asks for. You’re there for one purpose, to help realize the director’s vision, and if you can’t do it, you should get out of the way for the folks who can.

In other words, the worst thing you can say to a director is “no.”

For the most part, the shoots I’ve worked on in my career have been conducted safely and professionally. But I’ve certainly run into my share of directors like Randall Miller – guys who are willing to put their crew at unnecessary risk, say, by demanding a street be closed without police permission, or attempting to forgo a safety test for an abandoned location knowing there’s a good chance it’ll come back positive for asbestos and other hazards. I once nearly got in a fist fight trying to stop a crew member from literally cutting down a stop sign that the director felt was out of place in his shot.

The blowback you get from denying requests like these can be unbelievable. “Come on, can’t we get away with it?” “No one’s going to get hurt.” “It’ll just take five seconds.” “Well, why didn’t you anticipate the director would ask for this in prep?”

Thankfully, I’ve only had the privilege of working for the utmost professional of location managers, who have always had my back, and were always willing to commit the most egregious filmmaking faux pas imaginable: saying “no” – and sticking by it.

Midnight Rider’s location manager, Charley Baxter, worked hard to get Miller the train trestle he wanted to film on, and was apparently able to secure permission to enter the property surrounding the tracks, which belonged to a paper mill. However, a request to film on the actual tracks was denied by the owner, CSX. In true filmmaking “never say no” spirit, Baxter reached out to a different CSX representative – and was again turned down.

Baxter is on record as having forwarded the CSX email denials to Miller, Savin, 1st AD Hillary Schwartz, and executive producer Jay Sedrish. He later had private conversations with each about the situation.

Charley Baxter dared to say no to Miller – but it didn’t matter. Miller, who along with Savin had regularly bragged about skirting safety regulations in favor of guerilla filmmaking tactics in the past, went ahead and filmed on the bridge anyway. And on February 20, 2014, camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed as an unexpected train barreled through set.

Tellingly, Baxter was not on set that day. Nor was a set medic, which is simply unheard of.

I don’t know any of the crew members who worked on Midnight Rider, but I can imagine a likely chain of events. The paper mill says yes, the track owners say no. Permission is secured to be “near the tracks” i.e. seems like enough legal wiggle room to steal a few shots on the bridge, because we all know nothing is actually going to happen, right? Some attempt is made to figure out the train schedule – I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor PA was sent to literally sit by the tracks for a few days to try and figure out how frequently they came.

And then the day of the shoot arrives, when cast and crew are told that if a train happens to be spotted, they’ll have 60 seconds to get off the tracks.

At this point, I imagine a look was exchanged between crew members, a conversation that went unspoken: “Should we be doing this?” “It must be safe if the producers and director are saying it’s OK.” “I’m sure we’ll be fine. Who dies on a film set?”

To make matters worse, Midnight Rider was a low-budget endeavor and had a number of crew members who were up-and-comers. In other words, folks looking for the chance to prove themselves when the going got tough. Here was just such an opportunity.

sarah2

On first glance, it almost sounds like Miller is owning up to the crime in his statement. But let’s parse this thing a little more closely to see what he’s really trying to say:

Although I relied on my team [my crew was unreliable, and let me down], it is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.”

I pleaded guilty for three reasons: first, to protect my wife and family…” [above all else, the reason I pleaded guilty was to get the charges dropped against my wife]

Second, out of respect for the Jones family and to not put them through a difficult trial…” [I’m only pleading guilty because proclaiming my rightful innocence would cause too much grief for the Jones family]

And, third, to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place.” [Why is this third? Why isn’t this first? Why are there even any other bullet points to this?]

The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this…” [Literally, everyone on my crew is in some way responsible for the tragedy. Everyone except the producer, who happens to be my wife.]

But I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge.” [I am only guilty of being misinformed. Had I been better informed by my crew that filming on a train trestle that we had been expressly denied permission to enter is fucking dangerous, this tragedy could have been avoided.]

I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.” [My unblemished record is further proof of my innocence.]

I am heartbroken over this. I hope my actions have spared the Jones family more anguish…” [Please acknowledge my sacrifice in pleading guilty when I do not believe it to be the case]

…and that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry. [Had proper film safety measures been more securely in place, I would have never been allowed to do what I did.]

For Mr. Miller’s sake, I’ve provided an edited version of his statement below, which he is more than welcome to use should he have any interest in proving to the world he has a soul:

On Feb 20th, 2014, a great number of mistakes were made and the terrible accident occurred which took Sarah Jones’ life. It was a horrible tragedy that will haunt me forever. It is ultimately my responsibility and was my decision to shoot the scripted scene that caused this tragedy.

I pleaded guilty for one reason: to take responsibility for my failure in not knowing that every safety measure was in place. I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge. I have worked in the film industry as a director for 25 years and never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.

I am heartbroken over this. I hope that the on-set safety measures that were lacking before this terrible tragedy will now take precedence for all in the industry.

sarah5

When I first heard of the incident last year, I found myself having a very emotional reaction. In particular, it brought me back to an incident that happened very early on in my career.

I was working as a locations production assistant (lowest job there is) on a large movie being helmed by a very famous director.

We were filming on a rooftop I’d scouted and helped to secure. Contracts were signed, insurance was in place, building reps were on site, riggers had prepped the location, and we were all ready for the shoot.

Then something unexpected happened. The director arrived on the rooftop, looked around, got a funny expression on his face, and announced we were on the wrong roof.

This was an extraordinarily odd thing to say, as not only had we scouted this very rooftop with him personally, we had later tech scouted it with the entire crew. Nevertheless, the director looked around, pointed at a neighboring rooftop, announced that that was where he wanted to film, and started off.

This sent the crew into pandemonium, and soon, everyone was frantically trying to haul equipment off our rooftop and get into the neighboring building where we had absolutely no permission to be. Mind you, this wasn’t a small independent film – it was a $100 million dollar studio film with a crew numbering well over 100.

The director managed to get into the building and took the elevator to the roof. The camera crew arrived next, and loaded up the intensely small, incredibly ancient elevator with gear. A few guys managed to squeeze in with it, and they started up.

The elevator got stuck somewhere between the 17th and 18th floor.

There was nothing we could do. We obviously didn’t have a super on call as we did at the original, planned location. Hell, we didn’t even know who the management company was. I recall an off-hand suggestion being made by a producer that if we were able to get in touch with management, to make the filming deal before letting them know about the elevator situation, as they might otherwise charge us more.

The crew members remained trapped in that elevator for about half an hour before we finally managed to locate someone who could get them down. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew used the stairs, and the director was able to get his shot, which lasted all of 4 seconds in the final film.

What I’ll never forget is a crew member turning to me right at the start of the whole fiasco and asking “Should we be doing this?”

All I could do was shrug. Who was I, a lowly locations production assistant, to stand in the way of a famous, well-respected director and hold up his $100 million film?

It chills me to think that had that same young locations PA been on set that day in Georgia and been asked the same question, he would have ultimately trusted his director, Randall Miller, and gone right up on that train trestle with Sarah Jones.

When I look at pictures of Sarah Jones, I see myself.

sarah4

“Should we be doing this?”

The single saving grace about this horrific incident is the fact that we now have something to say when a simple “no” won’t suffice for people like Randall Miller, who disrespect their crew by treating filmmaking as an exercise in swashbuckling derring-do.

We’ll simply say “Sarah Jones.”

* * * * *

I know that quite a few folks in film production read this blog. If you’d like to share any personal stories of directors/producers forcing their crews to take unnecessary risks, I’d be more than happy to highlight them here. Feel free to remain anonymous.

Finally, be sure to check out Slates for Sarah, Pledge to Sarah, and Safety for Sarah, industry-wide efforts to keep Sarah’s memory alive and create a safer working environment. I also recommend this 20/20 piece on the tragedy, which goes into much further detail.

-SCOUT

148 comments

  1. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Wow. Powerful stuff. Thank you.

  3. This is an extraordinary post. I applaud you for taking a stand and saying what needed to be said.

  4. Brilliant post. Thank you.

  5. Well said, and one hundred percent truth. There’s a universal issue of workplace ethics here extending far beyond the film industry. In every workplace there are people who need their jobs and aren’t in a position to tell the boss no; people who are looking to build a career in their field and can’t risk getting a reputation as a malcontent; and still other people who are simply inexperienced and assume instructions must be okay because they’re coming from someone with much greater experience. All those people are dependent on the boss being careful and responsible. Since too often that isn’t the case, the rules in workplaces have to be made strict and well enforced.

  6. I worry that even the edited version that you suggest isn’t quite enough for him to take ownership of his actions.

    “a great number of mistakes were made”

    rather than

    “I made a great number of mistakes”

    It’s always telling when people who are talking about their own culpability talk in passive voice. I remember reading once that this is something parole board members are told to look for when they are listening to convict’s statements of remorse, because placing the action in passive voice indicates that the responsible party doesn’t actually see the thing they did as belonging to them. They see themselves as as an innocent bystander when they say things like:

    “I’m sorry this happened”

    rather than

    “I’m sorry I did this.”

  7. I agree with you completely, but I suspect that his statement was, at least partially, written by his lawyers. He is trying to share blame for the civil suit. I don’t think it will work in that, as the director, he was in overall charge. That is, “the buck stops here” and he should have just come out and said that.

    • This is 100% written by an attorney and meant to protect him from civil lititigation. I would not crucify him simply for this statement alone.

      • It’s nobody’s moral duty to protect himself from civil litigation. In fact, given the suffering he’s caused, if there is a penny left to his name it may well be his moral duty to put it towards making amends.

    • Ultimately a director commands the most authority, sometimes quite undeserved, however on a working film set the 1st AD is in charge and the producer, in overall control, should pull rank over both. That Miller is pleading instead of his wife is insulting to the intelligence of those not in the industry. Although on admission in this case he is equally to blame.

      As I work on bigger jobs with tighter schedules the health and safety of crew are often compromised. Everyone on set has a job to do and I will be reluctant to work again,with 1st ADs in particular, who show no respect or professionalism on set.

  8. As a locomotive engineer and a photographer, this story is upsetting on a different level. Of course they shouldn’t have been out there because they didn’t have permission. But they were out there. And some people knew that they should not have been on the bridge. How in the world does someone not say, “hey, let’s send someone 3 miles down the tracks in both directions with a cell phone. When you see a train coming, call us.” At three miles out, the crew would have three minutes to clear the bridge (where they shouldn’t have been in the first place). And that’s a 3-minute warning at 60mph. Most Freight trains don’t travel at that speed so they would have had even more time. But to not ensure their safety at all? Makes me sick.

    • That is actually normal protocol on a film set, which is handled by the 1st AD. The PA’s are given walkies as opposed to cell phones, which provides seamless communication. It’s beyond me why this wasn’t done. Even with all of the errors in judgement and communication leading up to this day, this simple action, which is usually normal protocol, would have avoided all of it.

      • Walkie signals rarely stretch over a mile. So, cell phones would have been the only choice. That being said, it was my first question, too: “Why didn’t they station PAs far enough out to provide early warnings?”

        • You are completely wrong. Many easily go over a mile, more like 15 miles.

          • Ha, to be clear, not set walkies. One of my favorite things to do after work is drive away and reach the point where I stop getting a signal, usually about half a mile or so.

        • I don’t understand why everyone is stuck on, “Why didn’t they station PAs far enough out to provide early warnings?”

          It doesn’t matter, why?, because they were illegally trespassing on railroad property.

          They should not have been there in the first place. Key words are, “illegally” “trespassing”.

    • Hence the point of the article. On a film set, it’s absolutely the directors responsibility. The threat of losing your job is constant and it carries over into future jobs. Thus is why it’s so terrible. OF COURSE THEO SHOULD HAVE SENT SOMEONE DOWN THE TRACKS but on a film set you don’t always have people to spare. Thus was a low budget film. That means everyone had a very specific job, no extra people. It’s an unspoken rule to do what you’re told or else. This article is about the director trying to deflect responsibility. That’s what’s upsetting to all of us in the film industry.

  9. Thanks Nick. You are right on point. He has not taken one iota of responsibility and I’m certain that still causes a lot of pain for Sarah’s family.

  10. 100% Agree! Thank you for writing what I believe most of us were feeling!!!!

  11. “…….never had a significant accident of any kind on any one of my sets.”

    I would have rephrased this way: “never had any loss of life or limb on any one of my sets… at least not that I can remember…….”

  12. Dear Nick, Thank you so much for writing this and for providing links.

    I am a stage manager and safety is always a concern. In theatre, it’s about sets, stairs, corners, pits and walkways, not trains, but we also have to deal with moving floors, turntables, flys, etc.

    I am so glad that Sarah Jones has not been forgotten and that changes are coming, albeit at the highest cost.

    Thank you again.

  13. I completely agree with you. His statement came across as “what a great guy I am for taking the fall.” I’m glad you wrote that.

    It reminds me of those apology tweets when a celebrity or politician says something offensive: “I apologize if I offended you…” not “I said something offensive and for that I apologize.” but YOU had a problem, so I’ll acknowledge it to make it all go away.

  14. Arthur Dougherty

    i don’t disagree with the sentiment driving this piece at all but I feel like it fails to understand the fact that everyone here is about to face a wrongful death lawsuit. Miller has to make some statement to apper human, but he can’t admit to anything, at all, because it would come back to bite him in the inevitable civil suits to come. It doesn’t make the statement better, but I see why it would sound like this.

  15. Not put Sarah’s family through a trial. Yea right. I’m sure they appreciate you made a deal to weasel your way out. That must really help them sleep at night after all that sillyness of you killing their daughter due to your arrogance and ignorance. What a wonderful human being you are.

    If that was my family, we’d be back at court pressing for a longer sentence and for his wife to be punished.

  16. Very well said, Nick. I know it can take an ego from hell to become a feature director, but to put any one of his crew at risk is unfathomable. Miller should lose his DGA card and any and all crew should refuse to work with him ever again.

  17. Greg Trumpfheller

    Nick, I remember seeing a news documentary on this situation (20/20, dateline or one of those shows) and even then, the producer was arrogant and self-righteous. Thank you for posting this story, and I can only hope that this will be the last death that we will have to hear about due to egotistical director.

  18. All of us in the business know that Randall Miller is 100% responsible for what happened that day. The UPM, AD and Producers lied to the crew and allowed it to occur simply because they didn’t have the balls to say no to him. They should all be in jail.

  19. Miller should have had his sentence doubled for this statement. Disgusting.

  20. Good post, and as locations manager, you nailed everything.

    The line that angers me the most is this onel

    “The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this…”

    Notice he leaves out the producer – who happens to be his wife. The DP? What the hell would they have to do with the decision. The location manager? he informed Miller directly – and refused to come to set. What more was he to do? The production designer? Again, not in decision-making position.

    I’ve taken on the issue of the AD in my own blog – I can’t forgive her, but would love to know what pressure she and the UPM were put under. As an AD, I have been threaten with being replaced if I didn’t allow something unsafe (they backed down on that threat each time) and shared a story of standing with my legs astride the front wheel of a motorcycle and my hands on the handle-bar to not let an actor do a stunt the stunt coordinator said he was unqualified to do.

    As much as I might hold the AD and UPM responsible TO SOME EXTENT – the simple fact is that it was Miller who knew – directly – that they had no permission and it was he who that drove the decision and no one else.

    The paragraph where he feels the need to share blame – and to flat out lie in suggesting that he did not ‘ask enough questions’ – is the worst. He ASKED the questions. HE knew the answer – that permission was denied – HE decided to shoot it – it was no one else’s decision, although it WAS their place to say “no.”

    • I’ll tell you where the DP is culpable. When William Hurt asked “How much time will we have to get off the bridge when we hear the train?”…and they said, “60 seconds”, the DP (a very powerful person on set) should have said, “Not my crew. No way.” Boom.

      • Agree. The cinematographer is the shop steward on American sets, and he/she needs to be the advocate for the ENTIRE crew in any situation as minor as refilling toilet paper in the honey wagons and as major as safety. This must have been a very green cameraman for him to be so thoughtless.

    • Thank you for pointing this out – I’ve updated the post.

  21. Very thoughtful and informative post.

    Thank you.

    And rest in peace, Ms. Jones.

  22. I find this article very one sided. I to am in this business, and if i were on that crew i would felt awful and responsible for this senseless accident . everyone on that crew carries some of the blame including Sarah herself. Sounds cold but its the truth. I feel for her family and friends as this is very sad,and for sure could have been adverted. are the charges fair i think so , would i ever work for this guy ? NO . lets move on with positive attitude and make the changes nessary to help prevent this from ever happening again. RIP SARAH

    • The director sets the tone.
      Yes everyone is responsible but the director is the CEO of the set. If only we could apply this logic to our government and CEOs of companies that have caused incredibly environmental and economic pain.

  23. Thank you for writing this, it puts a lot of the filmmaking ego that can run rampant on a production into perspective. I can’t speak to what is in Miller’s heart and soul, although the “parsing” of accountability that he engages in I don’t think strengthened his position at all or has won him any fans . It reminds me of what happened on The Twilight Zone movie back in the 80’s that caused the death of three people. Sadly in that instance accountability was swept under the rug.

    There can be an ego that develops with certain Directors, Producers, and with film production in general. It is best to avoid massaging that ego. The film business is one which sometimes thrives on positions and abuse, this can be a dangerous thing, and when fed can create situations like the one that occurred. Sadly in this instance it cost someone their life…no film is worth that.

  24. The director seems to not think he’s responsible for his crew and the death on his set – but he is.

    Just as any boss – any CEO, any president of any nation is responsible.

    “The bucks stops here.” – Harry S. Truman wrote that one I think.

    If you have a leadership position, you are responsible.

    Now if only we could get Cheney and George W. Bush to face a trial for their war crimes and negligence. Oh well, I guess you have to start somewhere

  25. This is a great blog and so important!

    I hope this leads to a shift in spoiled-acting directors (and bosses) who won’t to “no” for an answer. This happens all the time on set – things I’ve personally witnessed and stories I’ve heard, where bosses & directors & producers forgo safety for the sake of the shot. When I’ve managed sets, I always tell my crew safety first, I don’t care what the director (or the head of your department says), come talk to me and I’ll go head to head with the director if necessary… Anyway, I REALLY HOPE this tragic loss and this beautiful woman & person’s life wasn’t loss with no shift in the film and working industry.

    Thanks for the article, Nick.

  26. i see him as a murderer .PERIOD . This was no accident . Accidents happen when people don’t know any better . He did .and karma is a bitch .

    • zane warren levitt

      He absolutely is a murderer and a pompous one at that…..he deserves to rot in hell for his actions. Its not like he is some kid running and gunning. We as film makers have all done some stupid things, I myself have worked with trains on a few occasions and they are dangerous business. Nick your analysis is spot on. 2 years for this is not enough. The more Miller says the more I despise him.

  27. zane warren levitt

    Miller deserves much more than 2 years in a jail in a small county…he deserves to the maximum sentence and only wish he did his time in a real prison not a county jail (as i understand it) His wife should also do time. why they let him plea out of it is beyond me. And the concept of saving the family …he implies he could have won the case, what a monster he is.

  28. Agree with the great article and all the insightful comments before me. A scummier sleazebag has never existed. AND his wife–shame they chose to re-produce. What if it was one of their kids?? How come no one gives a shit when it’s not their loved ones? How come people are always sorry–AFTER they are caught?? It’s a selfish, greedy business. Oh and to the obvious point of why not have PA’s down each side of the track several miles with cellphones–are you kidding?? That might have cost them $250 bucks! Glad Sarah’s life was worth so little you disgusting shitbags.

  29. The minute you walk onto a set – on stage or on a practical location – where there is no medic, stop off-loading your gear from your trucks, stop distributing wardrobe to your cast and extras, stop curling hair in the makeup trailer, stop everything and sit down.

    The minute you walk onto a practical location with train tracks where there is no medic, no representative from the train company operating on those tracks, and no EMT wagon, stop what you are doing and sit down.

    The location manager and medic were not on THE* set (*when did THAT word get eliminated??) – incredulous.

    i have worked on tiny-budget non-union films and huge-budget pictures with hundreds of cast and crew members – lots of equipment, aircraft, cars, pyrotechnics, the works. Not even on the Corman movies of old, were people as entitlement-addicted and as careless as these production people and director. And, as this blogger noted, being serviced by a mostly-new-to-the-business crew who are always more eager to please than any of us grizzled veterans, this director & his minions arrogantly placed their whims ahead of people’s lives.

    The DGA should expell all of them. The least they can do.

    • And I would add that they (the producer and director) chose Georgia specifically because they could get away with a young, and non-union, crew. Of all the arguments for having a union, safety and protection from wrongful termination are the most important. This non-union crew was not only eager to please, but they also had no protections and could very easily lose their jobs and be replaced very easily if they said no.

      I’ve come to head so many times with people in authority who don’t seem to think it’s a problem to put people in harms way. It takes a lot of courage to tell those people no. Early in my career I don’t think I would have known how.

      The other side of this are the good productions. My father has been the person on set who was the representative for the location – with full power to tell the director no. Responsible directors make sure they are working with respect and within the law.

      This man and his wife make me sick. 2 years for him and 0 for her is not enough for what they have done.

      • Jeanette, this was a union show. That’s what makes it all the more sad & disgusting. And I know some of the crew people who were on it and they had plenty enough experience to know this wasn’t right. BUT PEOPLE ARE TOO CHICKEN SHIT TO SPEAK UP! But you know what? There’s always another job.
        Another fact for you…although most unions do provide protection from being fired on a whim, the IATSE does NOT. A production can fire you because you remind the director of his first ex-wife or because some actress decides she doesn’t like you or because you stand up for yourself. We have ZERO protection from losing our jobs/having any kind of due process. Zero.
        Another reason (and truly the only reason they come to Georgia) is because there is a 30% film tax credit. BUT it is accurate to say that the crew people here are far less experienced, trained and knowledgeable about what their rights, rules and protections are–people used to come up in the business very differently…they were trained by the best in LA & NY. Being in the IA used to mean something, now you pay your initiation fee and you’re in. It’s sad, damn sad.
        Lastly Jeanette, I am glad you have had the courage to say no–most people don’t. Power to the (little) people!

        • You bring up a good point about the tax incentive. There should be wording in every state tax incentive that the tax credit is voided if it is demonstrated that the production willfully violated safety or legal protocol in regards to locations. SAG also needs to add wording into their contracts– the $$ and SAG are the only entities guaranteed to get the attention of people who won’t take no for an answer.

    • They chose to do this on the first day, a camera test not even a shoot day, when people don’t know who’s who or who’s doing what, when everyone is trying to make the best impression and not be labelled a troublemaker from day one. It can take a few days for the crew to realise that those in charge were untrustworthy slimeballs who needed to be questioned and told where to stick it. Expecting crew to carry heavy equipment onto a unsecured track and that they’d be able to clear it in 60seconds, disgusting!

  30. I’ve been in the biz for over 30 years. In that time I have worked for some of the most brilliant directors. And a few not so brilliant. Non of which would take such an insane chance, just to get a shot. I didn’t know Sarah, but she must have been a wonderful , talented, caring individual, and that is what really sad about this story. Bless you Sarah.

  31. Ugh. You’re right. There should be no list of reasons except for the last one. Very weird and inadequate apology.

    What a lovely young woman. She literally glows in her pictures. I’m sorry for her poor family.

  32. Hi Nick. Well written and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve expressed. As a scout who has done extensive work with trains, it goes without saying that working near tracks calls for an unbelievably heightened sense of awareness.

    That being said, I was surprised to get to the end and see that you’re asking people to donate money to you. You’re making a strong statement about a serious tragedy and using it to raise money to make your own movie? Classy.

    • Dave –

      In the age of the internet, I simply can’t believe you’re not versed enough in website aesthetics to recognize that’s a rote footer that automatically gets attached to the bottom of all 600+ posts on the site, along with the bit about adding me on Twitter/Facebook. Before you ask, that also goes for the donations request in the sidebar as well. I have absolutely no idea how to shut either off for a single post.

      But the idea that I’d sit down and write this long thing all for the sake of some kind of weird tragedy cash-grab? Come on, man.

  33. When I was a volunteer PA on a music video for a well known company and for a well known band, I was asked to go sweep the floor of debis in a long broken down brick chimney of sorts used to make bricks in case they decided to film in or around it. The grip took me to the side after sweeping for a few minutes to caution me and say that on low budget sets, I should really consider what is being asked of me if it seems unsafe. I’m allowed to say no. I thought about it briefly and decided to just quickly finish up…I did finish but we never filmed there. I later found out it was deemed too “unsafe”. Guess it was safe enough for a PA to be in there?

  34. This is a great post. I agree, the statement where he blames everyone else but says, yeah, he’ll also take the blame -ecccch. I agree also that it was written by attorneys.

    Back in 1987 when I was directing my first film, Paris is Burning, we were shooting inside an apartment (Dorian Corey’s) at 150th and St. Nicholas, which was a high crime enough neighborhood that, mid-interview, gunfire erupted on the street. “Gunfight at the OK Corral!” said Dorian, right into the camera, not missing a beat, then laughing.

    We kept our set spare: just me, the DP and the sound woman. The rest of the crew was outside in our low-budget cargo van. When the gunfire started, they dropped to the floor of the van.

    No one was hurt, but the sound woman (who later became a director) quit that night, feeling I’d led them into an area without having a clue of what I was doing, or how people might be hurt.

    Nothing like that happened again on the shoot. That night, I was shaken, and defensive, and mad she quit. I was 24 and making my first film. I thought the intention to make a great film would protect us.

    My excuse was my age, and my zeal to make a good film that was hard to get support for. But I was very lucky no one was hurt, and, now, I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea of risking a life to make a movie. Even nonfiction films where people are documenting real horrors. I have seen too many people I know come away seriously ill or traumatized because a director (yup, frequently a director who doesn’t show up on that particular set on that particular day) minimizes the risks and won’t take responsibility for the injuries.

    I know as a director, particularly as an independent one, I’ve asked people to work for less than they deserved. I’ve asked crews to work hard, and I’ve asked both documentary “subjects” and actors to stretch themselves. But the idea that anyone would do anything to deprive parents of a child, or a child of parents, or a partner of a partner, or friend of a friend. Shudder. My uncle Alan J. Pakula was an amazing director, who made hard-hitting films like Klute, Sophie’s Choice, and The Parallax View. I PA’ed on 2 of his films, and let me tell you, he never would have let anything sketchy happen. EVER. You work with pros because they won’t let stupid stuff happen. Sarah’s story makes me so sad still– and furious.

    Hey, also want to say: this is a swell blog, saw it for the first time recently when someone posted the piece on the lovely house that terrible people ruined. Keep it going and make that movie!

    • I spent 28 years in production 22 or so of them as a producer and I firmly believe that safety is the producer’s responsibility. The producer is the person of authority who communicates to each department and sets the parameters for the job starting with budget and schedule. There are few first-time producers but there are many first-time directors who need guidance from their producer.

  35. Yes, directors, actors and producers are treated like heroes, although they do very little of the actual work involved in the project. They make exponentially more money in order to call the shots. Yet without the vision, the project would not exist. This man is a monster created by society, and we are all to blame. Every entertainment gossip, talk and awards show lauds this narcissistic behaviour. We are all guilty.

  36. More than a few comments suggest that he responded or had to respond in the way to protect himself against the civil trial. But if he was guilty, why should he be protected in the civil trial? He should have to pay up unless he also forgot to ask questions about insurance which help cover those payouts and didn’t get any…?

  37. so you’re gonna get mad not at what he actually said, but by what you extrapolated from it. K.

  38. Scout,

    I would like to share 3 dangerous situations I have been worked through. The first was actually with 1st AD Hillary Schwarts (at that time a 2ndAD). We had a schedual change late one night that forced us to shoot on a stage that construction had been spraying A toxic resin in all day then walked away and shut the doors. When the crew arrived on this stage the fumes were overwhelming. I, and many others asked to see the MSDS for what we were ingesting and I destinctly remember the 1ST replying “what’s an MSDS?” We as a crew working at an off lot facility tried to contact the network safety officer for help,,,,but middle of the night….no one would answer the phone to help us. 2nd working on a low budget feature with a reckless director like Miller our crew was pushed to work on a 3 story roof top in the dark. No lights, no safety lines, and no harnesses (despite coming to set a few days earlier and asking for everyone’s sizes) the shot actually took place on a billboard that overhung the roof an additional 12 feet. I was able to get a hold of my local and a BA jammed it down there and pulled every one of our local members of the roof and instructed all IATSE members to do the same. (They did not and continued to work because “happy to be working, RIGHT?”) and finally I was there in Santa Clarita when a stunt woman was almost killed durring a take in which she was not on camera, had not been to the safety meeting for, had not been properly rehearsed, and of course was being directed by the Exec producer who just wanted 2nd unit off the clock. She lived but not until coming out of the coma 1 week later and years of rehab. What do all of these have in common? FUCKING GREED!! ” we ain’t spending time or money on that” is the common MO. NO LONGER WILL WE AS CREW LIVE BY THE TOUNGE IN CHEAK JOKE “Safety first….if we can afford it.”

  39. The second the word “IF” as in “IF a train comes…” is the second that everything should have stopped. There isn’t room for IF on a train track. You either own them or you don’t.

    The crew had every right to believe that the “adults” in charge had done their due diligence and secured that location legally.

    But upon hearing that word… IF… absolutely everyone from the top down should have stopped. Period.

  40. Couple of things…

    1) Thank you for writing this.

    2) I understand that you are raising money for your own project, but it felt extremely inappropriate at the end of this specific article. Maybe it’s a default of the blogging software and you have it tagged to the end of all of your posts, but I would remove it if that’s a possibility. Just my opinion of course.

    3) I would also include http://pledgetosarah.org in your links in this article. The other two sites are fantastic in terms of raising awareness and telling Sarah’s story. It is the only site that is proactively trying to create change within the industry with both its Pledge and the free App they created on their own time and dime.

    • Hi Calvin – You are correct, it’s the automatic footer that gets added to all the posts. Did you not see the note I added to the bottom of the post though? I hoped that would clear it up.

  41. great piece.

    Miller is a cunt, and his career in film, and his wife’s, are well and truly over. That is all that needs to be said.

    • I doubt that he and his wife think their careers are over. They are currently slated to make a movie in Colorado about Caribou Ranch, and I haven’t seen anything about that being scrapped.

  42. Lets hope the prison inmates take it upon themselves to use this director’s bitch arse for a few years fun. maybe he might have some regrets! rip sarah!

  43. Although you have some fair points, your post includes a lot of guess work. “I imagine” it was like this or like that, seems a bit like a lynch mob on here without really knowing ALL the facts.

    Just my opinion.

  44. It’s like reading a throwback to how construction sites used to operate before the health and safety enforcement regime got serious and started putting out large fines and people in jail.

  45. Disgusting to see a personal ad for money.

  46. I worked 24 years in the industry. as a grip, I have been to injured to work . They still do what ever it takes to get the shot, no matter how many people are hurt ,people are expendable.Its like a cop saying sorry for shooting that young man dead.Its sad that so many others died in the industry or get badly hurt get thrown aside, No one ever hear about them, and they get forgotten. Sometimes you see there name at the end of the movie or tv show, but not every time. It reminds me of the guy that died of a heart attack on set. the production through a blanket over him and when on with shooting until the ambulance got there and they had to stop.Its an unregulated industry, and they have more money than God so they can keep paying our politicians off so they can keep using people as expendable for the shot!

  47. One cop one producer or director when so many need to make amends and go to jail , and stop the killings.

  48. as a producer, I’ve always been blessed with my directors, that when I’ve said no, we have to stop or we can’t do it, they’ve respected my call. I have no clue of the circumstances of what really happened on this shoot, but Randall’s producer without doubt should never have allowed any crew on the tracks, it was her duty to ensure it didn’t happen… Is the fact she was his wife the reason it did?! But whatever or however it happened … Poor everyone :((((

    • Agree with this. Producer has the ultimate responsibility and sets the tone.

      • I have never worked in film properly for health issues, but my college degree was in film production and this was the attitude always presented to us, too – at the end of the day, the producer is the one in control of the money. No money, no director, no cameras, no film. Of course there is a lot of pressure to save money and come in at or under budget, but producers surely have a responsibility to remember that all those entries on the spreadsheet represent actual people who may be put at risk if safety measures are cut to save money – they aren’t just numbers in a column on the screen.

        I mean, in this particular case I think there is ample blame to go around, I am not saying only the producer should be held accountable. But she shouldn’t be let off, either. Producers have power and she could have used it to make changes to how things were being done and she didn’t.

  49. A truly tragic story and an interesting insight into the world of film-making, but disappointing that, at the last, the author turned this into a piece about him/her, rather than keeping it about Sarah Jones.

  50. zane warren levitt

    wow! you are really something.

  51. Consumer Advocate

    Jail? We primitive and barbaric humans still display a profound lack of empathy and detachment from the director’s point of view. This was an accident, nothing more. You are going to send a good man to prison?For what? What does that achieve? Salem witch trial…

    • It was not an accident! It was a tragic event that happened because someone stupid and filled with the infallibility of hubris begged for it to happen by tempting the odds. An accident is something that happens that is basically no one’s fault or everyone’s fault.

  52. Unsafe situations on set? That’s par for the course. Anyone who is surprised by this fact is either new or oblivious. Sarah Jones (RIP) is the latest tragedy. It will continue to happen. Anywhere, anytime. I have over 20 years of production experience, big and small. I see it all the time. Let’s not kid ourselves, or try to kid others.

    • Soooooo what’s your point, the status quo should continue? That whole complacent attitude of “whatcanyado?” is part of what caused Sarah Jones’ death in the first place. It’s your choice to play that bullshit film game: work for slave wages for us rich folk because you might RICH AND FAMOUS one day! Ain’t that somethin’!

  53. While I agree that the tone of his statement comes across as a bit glib – we can’t always control how others interpret our tone -like say perhaps by adding a donation link when trying to get an important point across about a tragedy.

    But having also worked on many sets there is some truth to his statement this wasn’t the failure of one man but of entire crew. And if people thought there was a potential for an accident they should have spoken up. This doesn’t take away form his responsibility as the director, but there is more than enough “blame” to go around. They all knew the risk they were taking and whether actively or passively they all took it. And it ended heartbreakingly awful.

    • Some DID SPEAK UP. The locations manager notified all of the decision makers and spoke with them individually. The implication that the director was flying blind is ludicrous. If you’re too stupid to understand when you can’t get the location because the tracks are live and yet you decide to film not only on the tracks but on a narrow railroad trestle? The only justice would have been

    • Nice try, Kitty. Donation link automatically appears on all 600 posts of this site (there’s no “adding” it involved). But lest there be any distraction from the issue at the heart of this, I immediately posted an explanation, then spent three hours today recoding the site to remove it.

      It’s very interesting to me that you think a first-time PA is as responsible for production safety as a producer, and hope to never share a set with you.

  54. As a producer of music videos and commercials for twenty-three years I always took pride in putting safety before everything else. However your post caused me to ask myself if that was always really true.

    And I suddenly remembered producing a Lionel Ritchie video for director David K. We had a native American on a horse and he suddenly decided that he wanted that shot in the middle of the intersection of Alvarado and Sunset-heavily trafficked almost all the time. Without even thinking about it we sent the 2nd AD to do the shot while the 1st stayed at the main location to prep another shot. I remember the 2nd having been proud of pulling off the shot with no police, no traffic closures, no stunt drivers etc etc etc. Worse, I never thought twice about that until now.

    It was only some years later when an experienced stunt pilot crashed on another job I was producing (thankfully surviving with only a bruise) that I realized I never wanted to have the thought that someone might be injured-or worse-on one of my sets that I began to take safety personally, not just parroting something because I thought it sounded right.

    Thanks for your post and I could not agree with you more.

    • What I forgot to mention or did not emphasize was that I went along with what the director wanted without a thought for safety and proper procedure. I believe that the producer sets the tone for safety. I did not raise any objections to that shot as I should have.

  55. Great article, well done.

  56. Let me tell everyone what this is call it’s call work place BULLY and I plan on exposing it. And hoping that their will be no more Sarah Jones

    https://youtu.be/nJZNmyBPmzE
    https://youtu.be/-1B20wdIhPI

  57. He forgot to blame the train. He will have sometime to think about it. Is the rest of the industry taking note? He isn’t not the only one out there and we all know it. Time to say no.

  58. At the lower end of the market, which I’ve been involved, where some people can afford a camera and some equipment. And there’s plenty of actors and crew looking to advertise themselves, often working for nothing. It seems anyone can call themselves a director, who have a bit money. They could be clueless about acting or health and safety.

  59. I hope you’re right that from now on when a director wants to do something unsafe a crewmember can simply say the name “Sarah Jones” and they’ll stop. However, when I started in advertising 25 years ago, if issues of safety came up I used to hear crews say a different name: “Jon Landis.” It was not long after the helicopter accident on Landis’s “Twighlight Zone: The Movie” set killed Vic Morrow and two child actors. When did crews stop saying his name? Let’s hope they don’t stop saying Sarah’s.

  60. Rita Taddeucci Raffanti

    THANK YOU, NICK CARR, for speaking out about this terrible tragedy, and MANY THANKS also, to all the other professionals who also spoke out about their own experiences….HEARTFELT KUDOS to all !!

  61. Read this yesterday morning, and it filled my thoughts a lot yesterday and continues to this morning as well. I know nothing of the industry really, so it really opened my eyes. Thanks for sharing this.

  62. Great read Scout.

    btw, if you want to get rid of the donation message at the bottom of the post, throw the following in your css file : )

    .postid-10291 .entry p:nth-last-child(-n+3) {
    display: none;
    }

  63. 20 years experience

    Your article is right on point. Having 20+ years of experience, everyone jumps thru hoops to satisfy the director’s EVERY want & need. According to the director, it doesn’t matter whether you have already worked 15 hours that day, it doesn’t matter if it is a dangerous location, it doesn’t matter if the location has multiple rattlesnakes, it doesn’t matter if you are sick, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. This is NOT BRAIN SURGERY people. We are not SAVING lives. This is a movie or a tv show that likely will be forgotten very quickly after it has aired or been played in the theaters. It is utterly ridiculous and irresponsible to put anyone in any kind of danger to get 4 seconds of a shot on the screen. I witnessed a teamster that was run over by another teamster because they had worked them so long that day. He was tired and not as aware as he should have been- and did not realize the teamster was behind his truck. All of the hours demanded on shoots cause much mind fogginess, carelessness, and sloppiness- only to get a shot in a thousand different ways that in the end only the director will remember. No one can function well on 4 or 5 hours of sleep. On another note, I applaud those producers and directors that care about the crew and their health and welfare. They are out there. As crew members we need to stick up for ourselves and if we question if anything is ok or safe- then it is NOT and we need to walk off the set. I know that sounds scary, but no one and I mean no one will look out for you and your safety except for yourself. Believe me – you will get another job if you walk off the set. We are all Sarah Jones and tend to think producers and directors have our best interest in mind, but that may not be the case. RIP Sarah Jones and others that have been killed or hurt on sets.

    • If you hate it so much maybe you need a new line of work. Oh, that’s right, you aren’t qualified for anything but make believe.

      • Looks like the only thing you are qualified for, Jenny, is weak insults on the internet. Too bad your qualifications are just sub par for that, at best.

      • Yes!! This is exactly how I feel. I don’t have 20+ years experience, but we’re not saving lives. Great post.

        Shut up Jenny. You clearly have no idea how any of this works.

  64. Thanks for this. Horrifically sad. No question, the director AND THE PRODUCER are at the helm and they should FIRST AND FOREMOST have the safety of the people busting their ass for them in mind. Shooting on a railway trestle without permission? Trains use the railway? NO WE CAN’T DO THAT PERIOD. They should have gone to trial and nailed them both but at least he’ll pay.

  65. Except this was the fault of MANY people, not just the director. And yes, you may not like it, but Sarah is also to blame.

    If you are blindly following your boss because you want that paycheck then you are a fool.

    • So because she is a so called “fool” for following her boss, she deserved to die ? Please don’t tell that to the police and firefighters.

    • Jenny,
      If the boss does not tell you all of the facts and you get killed, will you be to blame? If you walked into work, thinking the building was up to code, the safety measures had been followed, etc, and it collapsed around you, would you be a fool for following your boss into the building to go to work?

  66. The BBC have a handbook laying out the various rules, regulations and best practices of the Corporation. In it there is a note for producers. “You can delegate duties – but not responsibilities” According to Miller you can.

  67. Thank you for this post. The pressure to “be a team player” on set, particularly when you’re not even close to being the one calling the shots, when you are just starting your career, is very intense. It is awful that Sarah (very well-respected by people whose work I respect) had to die, and this notpology is just insulting to her memory.

  68. This “outrage culture” has got to stop! You can spin anything if you break it down line by line. The statement was adequate, not perfect, but no need for this.

    • I disagree with the “outrage culture” comment. The outrage is appropriate because the pressure exerted on everyone below the director can be huge. If no one is there to put their foot down (in my opinion that is ultimately the producer’s job-in this case his wife) and put safety before everything else, then the stage is set for the little compromises to begin which then turn bigger and can jeopardize life and limb as was the terrible and sad case. And for what? A shot for a scene in a film/commercial/music video???

  69. jL Louie Partida

    Gracias-

    Powerful Post & Comments – there should be a new rule set in stone – If crew members feel his life or life of fellow crew members are in danger and he speaks out – he/she would not be fired and above the line are to halt filming for the sake of this concern.. In other words hear crew members out as to why they spoke up..
    May Sarah RIP and her family hearts regain comfort from those that love them.. Im still heartbroken over this story
    Continue the Slates for Sarah..
    (((Abrazos))))

  70. I find this thread very interesting and important. Sarah’s death is certainly a great tragedy. I agree with many of the points of the writer. I work as a Director and First AD in Sweden and am somewhat surprised to understand that so many of you have the experiences of that everyone in the crew does exactly what the director asks no matter what. Personally safety is my highest priority on a set. I’ve never worked with filmmaking in the US so I’m curious about a few things.
    First of all is there no union representative on set?
    Where I work, each production has a responsibility to have a crew member who represent the union. Specifically for the reason to say “no” to poor/dangerous working conditions. As a First AD, I have the responsibility to take the directors interest to heart, as well as the producers and compare it to what we CAN DO in accordance with rules and regulations. Saying “no” to the director is a huge part of my job. There will always be guerrilla filmmakers and music videos ect that don’t have this kind of representation on set, but a professional feature film? No way. (Note that a US indie film usually has an equivalent budget of a swedish studio picture).
    I am assuming that the US, being the film capital of the world, have big regulations of what can and can’t be done on a set? I am not moving fault from the director nor producer who both clearly did wrong. My question is however how they are allowed to do wrong? In the bigger picture of things is there a lack of union representatives on films or is it that they too look the other way to please a director?

  71. werner herzog in burden of dreams

  72. I totally agree with the expression ‘ In other words, the worst thing you can say to a director is “no.” ‘
    But I can’t believe my eyes reading this stroy is about in USA. I’ve though the system in the industry of USA, so called ‘Hollywood’ wold be the ideal one.
    What a tragedy it was!!

  73. This blog post reflects exactly my thoughts upon reading this “statement”. I’ve been in this industry for over 30 years and have been in all jobs, from Sarah’s to Randall’s to most of the others. This situation hit very close to home for me, and is an enormous tragedy I could’ve been involved in when I was up and coming. But this sorry excuse for a human being is the most vile, despicable kind of deflector there is. Take f*ing responsibility for putting your crew in harm’s way, and make it unequivocal, you a*hole. Anything less is spitting on that poor girl’s grave. That “statement” made my blood boil. Thanks for an insightful and spot-on post that said exactly what I was thinking.

  74. Your quote says it all.

    The single saving grace about this horrific incident is the fact that we now have something to say when a simple “no” won’t suffice for people like Randall Miller, who disrespect their crew by treating filmmaking as an exercise in swashbuckling derring-do. We’ll simply say “Sarah Jones.”

  75. Patrick McCormick

    As a safety professional, I can assure every person reading this article that the culture of safety is changing. It is being driven by industry. It is being driven by workers. But one of the biggest factors that lead this change is the legal liabilities being pushed in the courts, both civil and criminal, and in the insurance sector that provides the policies (and the premiums) that production companies must adhere to and pay.

    It is sad that we human beings become so absorbed in our personal agendas that we forget what is most important – the human lives and stories that work on our sets, and that make our visions into a two-hour piece of entertainment.

    Before the culture of safety over production becomes our way of life, I fear that others will suffer and individuals will see their dreams of fame disappear like smoke in the litigation of criminal negligence. Due diligence means that we have done more than the accepted industry standard of care to ensure we have fulfilled our responsibilities in law.

    If ignored, the price will be heavy – both on the set, and in the courts. For all those in the industry – please remember, we are all responsible to do what is right, and to ensure we as individuals and our co-workers go home safely at the end of the day. Sometimes we have to stand up and say no, even in the face of condemnation. Our actions can save a life, or many. If we don’t, we might find ourselves explaining our inaction in front of a judge.

  76. Late last spring, just a few months after Sarah’s death, I was working on this little short film with a semi-professional crew which included my ex-boyfriend, and the only reason he’s alive today is because Sarah Jones isn’t. He was the sound mixer, and we were about to film a scene where the actors were doing dialog inside a pickup truck as the truck was driving, which meant my ex and the other necessary crew members had to sit in the bed of the truck. Riding in a truck bed is dangerous enough as it is, but he had chosen to sit up on the edge of the bed rather than in it. At first I wasn’t going to say anything to him because he’s always right and I’m always wrong, but then I thought of Sarah and said to myself, “This is not safe.” So I told him to move, and mere moments before the truck got going, he sat down IN the bed, and just like that, a situation that absolutely could have killed him (or at the very least could have given him a concussion or permanent brain damage) was avoided. He’s a jackass and he’s self-centered as the day is long, but he’s alive and that’s what matters.

    So no matter where I go or what I do in this industry, I will think of Sarah every single day and remember that safety comes before everything. It comes before ego, time, money, equipment, EVERYTHING. All of that is replaceable. Our lives are not. When this tragedy first happened, I didn’t really know what to think and it’s unfortunate that it took my ex almost dying before I could truly understand the scope of the accident, but it’s our responsibility to make sure that this NEVER happens again. I am so, so sorry Sarah. Wherever you are, I hope you know that you did not die in vain.

  77. Richie Moore DP/Camera Operator

    Thank you for this post. I now feel like I have closure, thank you for the most important beat of all: when we have any doubt and are afraid to say “no” we say “SARAH JONES” full stop.

    This incident is a long overdue wake up call and a call to arms for us, the hard working dedicated crew who are far too often at the mercy of the the meglo-maniacs that unfortunately litter our industry… Our fearless leaders have something to fear and they should. Respect. Rest in Peace Sarah, the camera department battles on.

    Cheers-
    Richie Moore

  78. What a powerful and thoughtful piece stating everything that needs to be said on the issue of safety on a film set. However…

    Just want to point out one other safety issue that is often overlooked. On many location shoots in my neighborhood in Queens, I have seen movie/TV crews frequently parking their trailers, SUV’s, generator trucks etc. in front of fire hydrants. This practice obviously puts local people and property in danger if there is a fire and the FDNY need to access a hydrant quickly. I pointed this out to a policeman near a set once and he could not have cared less. I mentioned it to a production crew member and was verbally abused. It would be nice if production people cared as much about the safety of local residents as they do about their own.

  79. Sarah Jones’ death is truly tragic and even more so, because it could have been easily avoided by taking more safety measures. I don’t like Miller’s statement either. HOWEVER. It is completely DELUSIONAL to think that the directors should be given the responsibility to ensure safety on set.

    In theory – yes, in practice – they are usually someone who has been fighting to get this film done for years, who sometimes has a mortgage to their name to have this film done, who is deprived of sleep and feels their life depends on this project, or someone who is simply obsessed with their vision. This is the reality. I mean do you really want to rely on that person to make an informed decision on your safety when they are driven by intense adrenaline, tiredness and stress? Most of the great films that have brought us to work in this industry were done precisely by those crazy guys who pushed as far as it was physically possible. Yes, it’s wrong, yes, it puts people in danger. Yes, putting people in danger should NEVER be allowed to happen!

    This is why you must have someone there who will say ‘no’. Someone sober, with clear mind who doesn’t care about this project so much and who hasn’t lost the perspective and who doesn’t want to stretch reality that one inch more. Someone with the power to stand up to the director and who will be supported by the law. It can be the 1st AD, it can be a health and safety inspector, but it has to be someone who will know they are there primarily to ensure the well-being of everyone and not to finally make their masterpiece.

    Film sets are very specific environment, they generate very intense energy and excitement. I have seen so many times when it wasn’t the director, but the actors or cinematographer who wanted to give more, try harder come a little bit closer to the abyss. Anyone who has worked in this industry surely realises easy comparisons to companies or office work are not in place and will not solve the serious problems that need to be addressed to reduce the risk of future tragedies like this one.

  80. Poor Sarah I was a background actor on pride of lions and was injured when a bullet casing ejected from an ak47 another background actor was instructed by the director to fire to close to my face I was hit in the mouth and the casing punctured my lower lip and a wardrobe malfunction caused me to smash my knee on a rock there was no on set medic and I was told to leave the set and even though the production transportation brought me 30 kilometers from town in to the woods I was told to walk back to town I was scheduled to work for another month but the next day I was told I would not be needed anylonger I know this doesn’t compare to what happened to sarah but it’s another example of the way we aime to please or lose and we pay the cost

  81. The comments by the director remind me of a student production. Mr. Miller certainly didn’t act like an adult when he failed to ensure the safety of the crew and when he brushed aside the law. Sadly, his lack of professional conduct led to the death of a young woman.

    I liken the role of the director to that of a ship’s captain, responsible for all that happens to the ship, crew, etc. without excuses. Mr. Miller reminds me of the captain of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship which sank off the coast of Italy. You know, the captain who accidentally fell into a life boat as passengers scrambled to leave the sinking ship.

    I hope Mr. Miller never again sets foot on a set. That goes for his wife as well.

  82. I am a seasoned AD. To keep working, I took on some very small projects on which I was shamed and humiliated by a director and/or producer on two occasions. The first when I refused to let the crew go into an large enclosed area that smelled of gas near a hotel kitchen until the gas company could give us the all clear. The fact that we were working with five children didn’t seem to be a problem for the director!
    The second occurrence was a little more subtle but equally as important to me. After a 14 hour shooting day, an actress asked if we could shoot her out to finish her work which had been scheduled for another day already. I told the director and actress that this wouldn’t be fair to the crew. I would rather commit this kind of political suicide than have the crew get sick or get into an accident for unsafe conditions.
    I am pretty sure that the studios will try harder than ever to protect crews, if only for the liability alone. I predict that, unfortunately, these tragedies will continue to happen because so many more people are making movies at a beginning and low-budget level. This means that so many are working with almost mythological understandings of how to behave or practice the craft of the medium. Folks come at it with a delusion that wildcatting to make a movie is the best way to suffer as an artist (and save money, which you don’t have) and the psychopathy that strong, ego-driven personas are to be respected, feared, and followed at all costs, for the sake of the art.
    I call for all film schools, at least, to undertake rigorous safety components in the course work so that all crew, from PA up, will know that they could and should call for a safety meeting with the 1st AD and others, or walk away from unsafe situations. If states have “right-to-work” laws or the production is small, they are likely to not be union much less, have a shop steward to protect their safety. Training might be the only way to empower our creative craft individuals.
    Thank you for the post, the good dialogue, and thanks for listening.

    Cheers! R

  83. Despite the fact that Miller seems like a jerk, it really is extending things too far to say he is solely responsible. I think a lot of the anger expressed here and in the comments should be directed at the culture, not at individuals, of film sets. On set, just because everyone is making decisions based on what the director wants (which does place a ton of pressure on directors btw), almost always the actual responsibility of managing everyone on set is split between the producer(s), the AD’s and the line producer(s). Determining the time, location, and safety of a film shoot is simply not something a director almost ever does; s/he is always relying on other people to figure that out. Does that mean he is without responsibility? No, he was one of SEVERAL PEOPLE (as far as we know) that had the power to stop that shoot, and that should have said no due to safety but did not.

    The issue of Sarah’s death is much like the issue of sleep deprivation on sets and the many deaths that that has led to.

  84. thanks for that post,
    Sometimes you don’t know how to answer to the director, because you’re afraid to be the only One, that’s right

  85. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint – one I completely agree with. Randall Miller and his wife are disgusting.

    Like you, I was horrified by what happened to Sarah. I was also inspired to write about it. You can see my blog post (published by the good people at Stage32.com last year) by clicking here. https://www.stage32.com/blog/Tragedy-on-the-Set-Remembering-Sarah-Jones

  86. I spent 10 years in the film industry as a stage hand in NY. From age 20 to 30. I changed careers to stay alive and/or not be so physically incapacitated in my elder years. It’s a brutal industry to work in, long hours, extreme conditions and no one cares about you, they only care about getting their “shot” on film. If you speak up or complain, you get labeled and blackballed and find it harder to get work. My father had a massive, fatal heart attack on a commercial shoot, in his 40s. The reaction by production, call the union, get another guy in here. I was asked by a director to hang out of windows 30 stories high in Times Square to clean the outside of them, with no harness, no scaffold, no scissor lift. When I refused, my job was threatened. A coked up grip then went out and did it anyway. Not very smart. Oh yea, they all did drugs back then, probably still do. Another accepted hazard of the job. I’ve seen actors do stunts they shouldn’t be doing, like get punched and fall over a table in a restaurant. I told the stunt coordinator and property master to replace the china and silverware on the tables so no one gets hurt, use rubber fakes, they say don’t worry. After the shot, the camera department asked for “end sticks” (example, Scene 47, take 3, clap the thingamajig), so the director asks actors to hold positions. One guy was complaining of pain. They said don’t move yet. Turns out a knife from the table stuck on the guys butt cheek, had to be taken to hospital. The responsibility is on everyone. This was preventable, as was the tragedy with Sarah. But people are afraid to speak up, and afraid to lose their jobs and be labeled. I constantly spoke up, and knew my future in the business wouldn’t be long because of it. I have no regrets about leaving, it’s a brutal business. RIP, Sarah, you deserved better.

    • Kudos to you Dave! Glad you were smarter than the rest of us. It is hard to leave when you say to yourself, “What else am I gonna do & make this kind of money?” (Especially with no college education…and especially-er when you get older). It is an ever increasing shitty business, thanks to Corporate America grabbing hold of it in the last 7 years. It used to be great…now they are just sucking the joy out of filmmaking. **sigh**

  87. As a commercials director for nigh on 25 years, I have to say that you have raised quite a few points which have occurred to me throughout this debacle. There is only one word to describe the events surrounding Sarah’s death – ‘unprofessional’ – and I cannot, for the life of me know how half the other stories recounted on here don’t correspond to the same description. In my view if you, as a director need to bully, cajole, twist the rules and take un-assessed risks to get a shot – you are not worthy of the name – director. I don’t care if John Cassavetes made half his films on the fly and I don’t give a shit what cowboy tactics people have got away with in the past. As a director and as a producer your first duty of care is to your crew and cast – to ensure the communication train, the pre-viz and prep are of such a professional calibre that someone’s child is not put in the same situation as Sarah Jones most certainly was. Randall Miller’s statement defines mealie mouthed and someone should head butt him.

  88. I AM a SetMedic. My experience is too often the same circumstances as the Midnight Rider tragedy. The difference with a medic there? Not much. I shouldn’t have to tell crew members this is dangerous. It’s obvious. But I do tell them, and they ignore me. I’m the Jiminy Cricket yelling at them, that they can ignore. After all, I’m just there to hand out bandaids. So, I step a safe distance away, wait for the injuries to happen, and bandage up the damage as needed afterwards. Why was the Midnight Rider crew ok with working without a medic? If it’s “unheard of” why didn’t anyone file a grievance? Or complain? Or just say, “Hell no! I’m not playing chicken with a locomotive, are you nuts??”

  89. I am a professional location manager. My first job as LM my producer demanded I close a piece of road illegally. One that we had scouted and tech scouted and agreed no access to the highway was needed aside from a private easement.
    Liar!!
    I walked off set with my crew, yellow signs, security company and contracts for the remaining locations for the shoot. This was a large studio MOW.
    Point is, not the last time. And not the last time I’ve said ‘No’. To be clear, grips and camera are just as bad, often worse, than producers on breaking laws.
    I’ll leave the biz one day and it will be because of this. No respect given for the locations craft.

  90. Meh – more lies and propaganda.

  91. Regardless of his pompous statement, he’s going to jail which sets a very important precedent in our industry. Anybody working in the field knows some of the famous horror stories of on-set deaths, and this is the first time that accountability has really been highlighted. I really could care less about his (or his lawyers’) statement. He is going to jail and being barred from working in the industry again, and that is what I care about. This sends the message that NOTHING on a set is worth risking the safety of any single crew member. Crew members do this work because they love it with their heart and soul, and done are they days of this passion being exploited at the expense of their safety.

  92. Good stand, Scout! We’ve all been through this before, but nonetheless, here is my 2 cents worth:

    I’ve been ADing for a long time now, and was Production Manager many years before that. One thing every one of us can do is stand up for our beliefs and our responsibilities, even if that means – as you so rightly illustrate – taking the risk of saying out loud what some don’t want to hear, taking the risk of ending up with the reputation as a pain-in-the-ass AD (or whatever function you may perform), maybe even just as a pussy! (so fucking what?) and taking the risk of NOT getting hired next time around. Yeah, shit, that’s a bummer.

    I’ve got that reputation (to a certain extent) and it probably has cost me a job here and there, but I can sleep at night, and guess what?… so can quite a few others! And that makes me happy and allows me to look at myself in the mirror with no shame.

    It may not be the easy way to go, especially when you’re young and you have a lot to prove, but it’s the right way to go anyway.

  93. OLYMPIASEPIRIOTE

    Oh my.

    I’ve only just checked into your site for the first time in over a week. I’m an engineer (civil, not rail) who has had to have track training for several different entities over the years. After reading your first paragraph, my brain kept repeating “Any track, any time, any direction.” We get told this by Canada National, Via Rail, CSX, MTA-Metro North, MTA-LIRR, Amtrak, NYCTA, Union Pacific, and BNSF. I’m sure that if I were to work on or near rail in any other place in the world, I’d hear that, too.

    Safety in any workplace is paramount. Art doesn’t get a pass.

  94. Thank you for this post.
    As a fellow locations manager, I know this attidude from up top. The best piece of advice my mentor told me was “sometimes you have to tell them , No, that’s not possible”. I believe that directors or producers feel they have so much money in the film that everything should be possible.

  95. Nick – I applaud your stand and courage. More people need to speak up.

  96. If you know the defining characteristics of a true Sociopath, none of the “director’s” actions are any surprise at all. Typical sociopathic stuff, and it finally caught up to him, as it usually does with almost all sociopaths. A shame someone had to die before this guy was removed to his current place, a position from which he can no longer conscript other humans into his sociopathic world.

  97. I remember being a young PA and watching my brash, experienced Director get arrested for filming without permits in a public park after he mouthed off to the Park Ranger. I was “acting” as a stand-in for a close-up needed in Post. Years later, after I became a Producer, I realized just how wrong that Director had been by putting the entire, albeit small, crew in danger. Responsibility should be placed above need onva film set. Necessity will always be the Mother of Responsible Invention.

  98. Sarah Jones was a very good assistant director and your post is really great.

  99. It saddens me to see the “shot over safety” scenario. I am both a producer and director, and safety is always first. Period! Even if I have to give up a shot. There’s a dozen different ways to shoot a scene and make it great without sacrificing safety. Not all tech recces always reveal everything known about a location, especially when pressed for time, which is usually always. If on the shoot day the location isn’t exactly as envisioned, that’s an opportunity to think on your feet and get creative, quickly, without having to put anyone’s safety on the line.

    Any film production that would instill fear in crew for speaking out about safety is not the industry I am a part of. I applaud those who take a stand – it’s difficult and courageous to say “No”. I’d love to see the phrase, “Sarah Jones” become the catch phrase to quickly remind those who would cross boundaries, not to.

  100. Thank you for writing this article. I stumbled on it after watching a 20/20 program about the Sarah Jones tragedy. Unfortunately, narcissistic bosses exist in every industry. Essentially they are bullies.

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