In an exclusive interview with Deadline, a crew member who suffered serious injuries on an earlier film by Midnight Rider director-producers Randall Miller and Jody Savin has called their “safety first” claims “a lie.”
Katie Dover, a costumer who was hurt on the set of Miller and Savin’s 2013 film CBGB during pre-production, says Miller and Savin’s recent statements regarding safety on their films don’t jibe with her experience.
Days ago, Midnight Rider director Miller and his wife-producer Savin — two of the three filmmakers charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones — went on the record stating that since they began in the business in 1990, “We have always emphasized the safety of the crew. In all those years we have never had a significant injury or accident of any kind.”
“That’s a lie,” said Dover, who is going on the record about the injury for the first time. “My injury was significant. I lost 6 months of work because of it.” After a table sliced the back of her hand open from little finger across to her forefinger, Dover underwent two surgeries, was in a cast and had to endure months of physical therapy. “I’d call that significant,” she said.
Dover has worked in the industry for over 30 years as costumer and designer on 75-80 films and TV projects. Some of those are the cult classic Dazed And Confused, the TV shows Revolution, Crossing Jordan, Criminal Minds, Cold Case and even the Jon Voight-Eric Roberts’ starrer Runaway Train.
When she was hurt during pre-production on period rock pic CBGB, there was no medic present. Other crew members confirm that the producers only hired on-set medics to be present during filming, but not in pre-production as they built and prepped sets. “Some of the lower-budget films don’t use medics [before and after production] but we always offer our services and offer to start immediately,” said CBGB set medic Floyd Justice. “We make ourselves available from construction through demolition. We told [UPM Jay Sedrish] we’d be here for construction. But they chose not to. I told Jay Sedrish, ‘I’m a cheap insurance policy, so it’d be in your best interest.’ ”
The same thing happened on Midnight Rider: Sources say producers opted not to bring in medics as they filmed their first day on the Doctortown train trestle, when a train collision resulted in the death of Jones and injury to several others, both physical and mental.
Dover was hired on to CBGB in the costume department, brought in by a friend. She said from the moment she arrived on the set of CBGB, she was told by a supervisor: ” ‘This is guerrilla filmmaking, so get used to it.’ They brought the clothes in from thrift stores. They didn’t even want to buy coat hangers for the clothes. It was that kind of show.”
The day she was injured, Dover was inside a 52-foot trailer which had yet to be leveled. A supervisor kicked something that sent a file cabinet with wheels rolling towards her, at the same time she was trying to manage a fold-down table. “My instinct was to grab it and as I did, the giant table fell on my hand, cutting it down to the tendon. It was a heavy oak table with a formica top. And when it fell, it had these heavy leather coats on it so it had the weight of them on it, too. It slammed on my hand and ripped the muscle away.”
That’s when a supervisor told her, “‘Go get a f***ing band-aid and get back to work,'” said Dover. “I was in shock. I went to the production office and asked, ‘Where’s the medic?’ There was no one there. The production manager was nowhere to be found either. I saw the production coordinator and he said, ‘Maybe we should go the hospital.’ I said OK. I was still in shock at that point. The emergency room doctor said you need a hand specialist. This is going to require surgery. He stitched the top up and put a bandage on it and referred me to a hand specialist.”
When Dover was hurt she said she informed the production that she had to have surgery and was told that she would be replaced. This was confirmed also by another member of the crew on CBGB. “I was called by the production that night and asked how soon I could be out of the hotel room,” said Dover. “I told them that I had to have surgery tomorrow and asked, ‘Can I spend the night in the hotel and leave the next day?’ They said yes, but no one took me. I took a taxi which I paid for myself. They didn’t care. People are just another prop to them. They aren’t human.”
Crew members on both CBGB and Midnight Rider say Miller and Savin’s Unclaimed Freight production company used the same playbook on the Gregg Allman biopic. No set medics were present on February 20, 2014 when Miller, Savin, Sedrish and the rest of the crew set up on the train tracks outside of Jesup, GA for what call sheets described as a “pre-shoot.” Actor William Hurt was among those present when the tragedy occurred.
Pinching pennies in safety happens often with lower-budget films, which are not required to have set medics or dedicated safety personnel on hand at all times, even though the union recommends it, says Justice. The veteran paramedic and set medic had been hired on to Midnight Rider the day before the train accident, but medics were told they weren’t needed for the trestle shoot. “It’s their choice and I don’t think the union really pushes it. Maybe in light of what happened here there will be a change in the way things are done. A movie’s not worth somebody’s life.”
Dover had surgery on her hand and then ended up having to get a second surgery after the wound became infected. She still has permanent nerve damage in her hand, and the injury took her savings, sidelining her for at least six months. She says she couldn’t use her right hand at all during that time. She filed and received workers’ comp, but it was a pittance compared to her normal full-time wage.
“You couldn’t pay me to work with those guys again. I’ve worked on no-budget horror films and even they took safety measures,” said Dover. She adds that when she did call her union rep, that person immediately started thinking about who production could hire in her place. She ended up being replaced. “I am going to be very vocal about this. They are cowboys. Sarah’s death affected me greatly. It was wrong and you cannot make it right.”
Deadline reached out to attorneys for Miller, Savin, and Sedrish for comment. Said Miller and Savin’s attorney Ed Garland of Garland, Samuel & Loeb: “Neither Randall nor Jody know anything about this and have no memory of this. However on checking on this it appears this person worked there for two weeks. We are very sorry she had an injury and are glad she got workers’ comp.” Lawyers for Sedrish declined to comment.