February 20th, 2014 a horrific accident happened on the set of the feature film “Midnight Rider” and a young camera assistant, Sarah Jones, was killed.
The same accident injured many other crew members, some very seriously.
If you are reading my blog and are trying to get into film, or are fairly new to the film and television industry, you may not yet have an understanding of all of the things that can and do happen in our workplaces. We sometimes work in dangerous places, with dangerous set pieces. We sometimes work in hazardous environments. We lift heavy things and the ground is rarely even underfoot. We work until we’re bone tired… then we drive home.
My first reaction upon hearing about the accident that killed Sarah was one of anger… ‘Who are the producers, the pm’s, and the people in charge and why are they pushing people to do what they shouldn’t be doing?’
But today I read a post on Facebook through Monster Remotes that declared; shame on all of us for not knowing the facts of the situation, yet heartily stringing up those who we feel should be at fault. This crew member is correct. I made a random condemnation because of things I have dealt with on sets in my past. I put blame where blame maybe should not be put. We are, after all, a society that still relies on the burden of proof.
All we really know for fact right now is that a 26 year old woman is lost to her family, friends and community, several of her colleagues are injured and an entire film community is in shock. What we know right now is that these people deserve and should receive our deepest love and strength.
I usually try to write about all the wonderful things that are part of our industry. For the most part, those of us in the film community have strangely magical lives. Most folks outside the industry seem willing to listen for hours to all of the funny, crazy, celebrity, glamorous stories that we have.
But the reality of our world is that costumers work 16 to 18 hour days. That can be 5 or 6 days a week, for months at a time… in hazardous, sometimes dangerous conditions. We often drive to and from work an hour or longer each way. We eat when we can and rarely for pleasure. We crawl in to our beds for… if we are lucky… 5 hours of sleep a night. We hold our loved ones when we can for as long as we can and that’s never enough.
What Sarah’s death and the accident on her set illuminates so tragically well is that we as crew members need to learn how to take responsibility for ourselves, take care of each other… and that starts with effectively voicing our concerns.
This is hard. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in this industry, you never stop that voice in your head from saying, “If I don’t do what they want then I won’t get another job.”
Over my career I have heard:
Do this or I will find some one else who will!
Do it or your fired!
Do it or… (You get it!)
We have producers that are under pressure, Directors that are under pressure, 1st AD’s, Designers… the list just keeps on going and we crew that aren’t heads of departments are on the bottom. All that pressure just ends up falling straight onto our heads!
We need to have some trust and faith in the persons that are working above us… but we also need to know that all of these people are working under a tremendous amount of pressure, and pressure doesn’t always bring out the best. And with all that they are dealing with, your personal circumstance may not be on the top of their awareness list.
For this reason, we need to be able to speak up when our safety is in question… and without repercussions.
We… that’s you and I… each need to be responsible and in charge of our situation at all times. If you are doing something that you don’t feel is right or if you think that someone is not seeing the dangers that are around, then, you have a right to go and talk to someone. The head of your department on set is a great place to start. You can also talk to the 1st AD or the Production Manager, even the On Set Producer.
TALK. Don’t scream across the crew, don’t walk over angry, and don’t get yourself all worked-up and then sound off at someone.
Go over and point out what may not be obvious to everyone else, and ask questions, calmly, positively. Find the info that you need to ensure your safety.
Don’t be afraid to say that you think something needs to be done about a safety issue. If you are on a union show, each studio has an anonymous hot line for safety issues. If you are on a non-union show you are covered by the state or city labor safety guided lines. There is always some one to call if you can’t resolve a situation within your work team.
If some one really does fire you for asking about a serious problem, then my question for you is… do you really want to work there is the first place?
The reality is: if you are working with someone who cares so little for you and the crew around you… is the credit worth your life?
We can’t bring back Sarah nor can we stop the hurt that is being felt by so many at her loss. But we can learn from her and so many who have gone before her and start to stand up for ourselves.
I am attaching many of the articles that I have read over the last few days. Please read, share, tweet, pin and re-post to everyone.
Take care of yourselves… take care of each other.
Safety info for Vancouver film workers: