A candlelight vigil and a march along Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood was held Friday night to honor the memory of Sarah Elizabeth Jones, a camera assistant who died in a train accident on a railway trestle during a shoot in Georgia on Feb. 20.
In a remarkable sign of solidarity, some 500 individuals participated, including members of the International Cinematographers Guild, which organized the event, along with members of other Hollywood guilds and union executives such as Steve Dayan, the new president head of Teamsters Local 399, and friends of Jones who was an ICG member.
The vigil began at the Directors Guild of America with marchers stretching out over several blocks as they walked east to ICG headquarters carrying candles. In the back of the ICG, a dais was set up, backed by a banner with picture of Jones and her name.
Speakers included Steven Poster, president of the cinematographers guild, who led the crowd in a chant of “never again.” He asked for a moment of silence for two other crew members on the shoot who were recovering from serious injuries. At the time of the accident, the crew was shooting on a railroad trestle bridge when a train unexpectedly appeared.
Others on the dias at the Friday night ceremony included IATSE West Coast vice president Mike Miller, and Richard and Elizabeth Jones, Sarah’s parents, who had flown in from their home in Columbia, South Carolina.
“No one’s daughter, no one’s son, should ever have to die making a movie or TV show,” said Jones’ father, in a sentiment echoed by other speakers. “This is not the end of a social media phenomenon, but rather the beginning of a movement for safer film sets,” he added, with his wife standing next to him.
There has been a tremendous outpouring, as shoots from around the world emailed pictures of their slates with sentiments of support. There is a Facebook page, “Slates for Sarah.” Beyond the Hollywood trades, many mainstream publications and websites have followed the story because of the renewed issue of workplace safety during shoots. At the Academy Awards a week ago, Jones was included during an “In Memoriam” segment on film figures who passed away during the previous year.
Though sets and shoots can be dangerous for crew members working on them, few deaths have actually taken place, which is why Jones’ death shocked so many. The last guild death involved a young camera operating assistant, Brent Hershman, also a member of the ICG, who in 1997 fell asleep driving home after a 19-hour working day on a set. The issue of such extended work schedules, followed by a return to home and the necessity of a quick turnaround to the set early the next morning, has long been a sore point, and was the subject of a documentary, Who Needs Sleep?, by famed director of photography Haskell Wexler. Prior to that, during the 1982 filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie, a helicopter crashed, killing one of the leads and two kids in the film.
Jones death took place on a train trestle during the shoot of Midnight Rider, a biopic about rock guitarist Gregg Allman, who hailed from Georgia. In all, seven members of the crew were injured. The cause of the accident is being investigated by local officials, along with the federal National Transportation Safety Board and OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.