Sarah Jones' Story: Camera Assistant Killed On The Job Is Honored At The Oscars
Jones' death during production prompted an outpouring of grief throughout the film and TV industry around the world. Though Jones was at the beginning of her career, which included credits on the TV shows Vampire Diaries and Army Wives, a petition to have her death included in the awards show was successful. It's also sparked a discussion about safety issues that crew members face on the job.
Jones was on the set of a biopic of Gregg Allman calledMidnight Rider in Georgia on February 20 when she was fatally hit by a freight train. Production has been suspended, and investigators are trying to piece together exactly how Jones was killed and seven others injured.
Investigators say crew was not given permission to film on a train trestle that crosses the Altamaha River, just south of Savannah. The production had received permission from the private property owners of the land but not the train tracks that cross the river, according to Variety. However, it's not clear whether leaders of the production team knew that they didn't have permission to film. Union reps told detectives that there wasn't any representative from the rail company during filming, which film experts consider an unbelievably dangerous oversight. Variety writes:
"Rules for shooting on or near railroad tracks call for railroad personnel to be present and for stringent safety measures beyond that. On a bridge, those protections would include fall protection and safety harnesses. Rules are even more stringent when a production wants to put an obstruction on the tracks. 'Midnight Rider' was filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle and had put a hospital bed on the tracks when a train arrived too quickly for the crew to clear the tracks and escape the bridge."
Jones died while she was trying to get out of the way of a train. A piece of the bed being used in the sequence knocked her over and into the path of the train. Her coworkers were injured by flying debris.
William Paul Clark, an assistant director who worked on "Django Unchained" and "Rambo" told Variety that he found stories of what happened during production incredible, "I can’t imagine telling people, ‘OK we’re going onto the tracks, and if you hear a whistle, you have a minute.’ That’s preposterous. Accidents happen, but stupidity? You say, ‘That’s not acceptable. Can we find another bridge? Can we find an inactive track that we can pull the weeds out of?’ There are solutions if you just think about them."
Production had just begun on the film that starred William Hurt as Allman in his older days and Tyson Ritter in his younger days. The executive producer for the project Nick Gant reportedly made some callous remarks about Jones' death on Facebook—saying that young women die of all sorts of things, like bikini waxes—that he quickly deleted, according to Page Six. The studio released a statement, saying, "All of us on the production team are devastated by the tragic accident that happened today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our crew member."
The petition to honor Jones at the Academy Awards drew nearly 62,000 signatures. The creators of the petition wrote:
Only 27 years old, Sarah's promising life was cut short when she was struck by a train while working on a dangerous set. Crew members are the unsung heroes of film and television production who work long hours and sometimes very dangerous conditions for the love of filmmaking. Sarah Elizabeth Jones was one of us. We ask for Sarah Elizabeth Jones' love and passion for filmmaking be acknowledged on the grandest stage of all, The Academy Awards.
That explains why an audience member yelled out about Jones being left out—it appears only TV viewers saw the note:
Some of the Academy Award winners also wore black ribbons in remembrance of Jones. She was remembered at a memorial service yesterday, and the Facebook group Slates for Sarah has been posting pictures of cast and crew members from around the world memorializing Sarah with their slates. Here are just a handful of the people who have memorialized Jones' work, including big names like Dustin Hoffman and Jean Claude Van Damme: