“We are all Sarah Jones,” “Never Forget. Never Again,” and “Safety for Sarah” were the rallying cries tonight during the first of two tributes held this weekend by local unions for the 27 year-old assistant camerawoman killed on the set of Midnight Rider two weeks ago. The tribute began at 7 PM with candlelight walk and vigil that started at the DGA building and ended at the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 offices two blocks down Sunset Blvd.
The crowd of almost 1,000 members from across several unions participated in the memorial vigil held for Jones who was killed on a train track on the set in Georgia. Seven others were injured included two seriously — the 42 year-old hairstylist Joyce Gilliard and the make-up artist.
Related: ‘Midnight Rider’ Suspends Filming Following Train Death
A scholarship fund has been set up in Sarah Jones’ name and donations can be made to the BCHS Foundation in c/o Sarah Jones, 1300 State St., Cayce, SC 29034.
The evening’s tribute began with a video slide presentation of Sarah Jones set to the music of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (the Brother Iz version) as her grieving (and very courageous) parents, Elizabeth and Richard Jones from South Carolina, along with members of the Local 600 — including a very emotional Bruce Doering, National Executive Director of the International Cinematographers Guild — spoke, but none so impassioned as Mike Miller, VP of the IATSE.
“The words tonight are wholly inadequate; it’s going to be the actions that we take away from this that is going to make a difference. It makes me sad but also it makes me very angry: No one should ever die making a movie or a television show,” he said. “The loss of Sarah and the trauma and injuries that other members of the crew must now live with should never have happened. It’s not acceptable for crew — husbands, wives, sons or daughters — to be put in harms way on any shoot, no matter the budget, no matter the project, no matter the location. It should never happen. What happened on that train trestle in Georgia horrifies us all. It can never happen again. No one should die making movies or television. Period! No worker should ever be afraid of speaking up or speaking out, reaching out or refusing to participate if they feel they are in an unsafe situation.”
Robert LaBonge, who worked with Jones for three to four years on Army Wives and mentored her remembered Sarah’s sparkling eyes and joyful enthusiasm. Her friend Amanda Etheridge also spoke about her energy and beautiful spirit, and Sarah’s father, Richard (in deep pain and anguish), choked on emotion as he said as he looked out at the crowd of production people gathered, he felt he was among Sarah’s family. “They were filming a dream sequence, but it became our nightmare … do not have a reason for another father to stand up here and give this talk. No one’s daughter and no one’s son should ever die again making a film. Never.” He then pointed to one person after another in the crowd and said, “You are Sarah Jones.”
The crowd was moved to tears as her father spoke. Hundreds of candles burned across a sea of people who wore shirts that carried the message, “Never forget. Never Again,” and “We Are All Sarah Jones” which Rob Mendel from the DGA (on ADs/UPM council) handed out on safety vests with the words printed on the back of them. Others wore stickers that read “Safety for Sarah.”
Hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder holding candles, many in tears. “We are here to stand in solidarity as sisters and brothers to demand the safety of all workers in their workplace,” said Steven Poster (ASC), president of the International Cinematographers Guild. “We must never ever forget this tragedy … the death of Sarah Jones will stand for something and will hold its place of honor in our industry for years to come. There is much to be discovered about this tragedy but we don’t need to have the facts to know one basic truth: No movie, no TV show and no job opportunity is worth the sacrifice of a human life.”
For those in attendance, set safety was utmost on their minds. “I’m here to show my support of Sarah Jones because her life matters,” said boom operator Tanya Peel who has worked for 16 years in the industry. Added Jennifer Caldwell, a SAG-AFTRA member, “Safety is so important in our industry and it is vital that people speak up when they don’t feel safe. I’ve had to do it myself and sometimes there is a lot pressure not to, but it is vital.”
Jones was tragically killed February 20 on the set of director Randall Miller‘s Midnight Rider, a film based on the life of singer Gregg Allman, when she was caught on the tracks and killed by a train as the production crew was filming a dream sequence. The picture was to be distributed in the states by Open Road Pictures. Production has since been shut down until further notice. An investigation into her death and the injuries of others is ongoing.
Jones’ death has spawned a flurry of commentary and calls to action regarding film safety across Hollywood. She has become the symbol of what has become an international movement in production communities. Several black ribbons were seen during Sunday’s Oscars ceremony including by Best Sound Editing winner Glenn Freemantle of Gravity. She was mentioned during the Oscarcast following the In Memoriam segments in a graphic pointing viewers to the Academy’s website. And ‘Slates for Sarah’ – a movement involving production companies all over the world writing her names on movie and tv slates and taking pictures of it and posting on the Slates for Sarah Facebook page — is continuing to grow.
Billy A. Fox, a location manager and scout for 31 years who has worked on about 27 films including I’ll Remember April and Reservoir Dogs as well as 1,000 TV spots and music videos, said that people on the set either need to “do it right or say we’re not doing it.” He said there was no reason whatsoever to have anyone die on a set and he himself has left a set when he felt that safety was being compromised. Added Sharon Day, from the Local 892 Costume Designers Guild who held a banner with her friend Betty Madden, “We’re standing up for Sarah and are here to honor her and Sarah’s parents and begging for job site safety. Everyone says she was a light. She was a beautiful spirit and everyone loved her. This tragedy is a wake-up call and we’re not going to take this lightly.”
She will be honored again Saturday by the Society of Camera Operators at the Skirball Cultural Center as they hold their Lifetime Achievement awards.