EXCLUSIVE, UPDATED with video: Almost a year after the camera assistant was killed on a Midnight Rider railway shoot in Georgia, the parents of Sarah Jones are at the Sundance Film Festival today to further their goal of promoting the need for greater industry safety precautions and instructions. “Sarah was a vibrant and eager person who loved her work,” Elizabeth Jones said here. “She went all out to do her very, very best, and her life was cut short.”
Added Richard Jones on the legacy of his daughter’s death: “We want it go beyond talk and beyond concern. We want it to effect change, and we want to make the industry better. Never forget, never again. Never forget what happened to Sarah Jones when safety wasn’t at the forefront, and never again let it happen.”
The Joneses have come to one of the industry’s largest gatherings this week and will be participating in a panel today to talk about their daughter, her death and their foundation. They will be joined on the panel by Joyce Gilliard, a hairstylist on Midnight Rider who was injured in the same February 20, 2014, accident that killed Jones on a train trestle in rural Georgia. They also will be unveiling a new Safety for Sarah PSA featuring some high-profile Sundance alumni (watch it above).
“Part of our hope is to continue awareness, to continue education and that in 10 years that if someone hears ‘Sarah Jones’ they are going to know what happened and what we’ve done since, and what Sarah Jones was all about,” says Sarah’s mother. “Not for the sake of Sarah Jones but the sake of the industry.”
Midnight Rider director Randall Miller, his wife/producer Jody Savin, unit production manager and executive producer Jay Sedrish and assistant director Hillary Schwartz have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the accident on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic. It is scheduled to go to trial in early March in Georgia.
“In the case of Midnight Rider, there were obviously rules and laws that were broken,” said Richard Jones of the now-shuttered film. “On the civil side, there have been settlements reached with a number of the parties in our complaint,” he adds. “However, we cannot talk now to many of those conditions as they interplay with the criminal case and those will unfold as the criminal case develops.”
Right now, the Joneses are focused on getting the nonprofit formed in their daughter’s name last fall active on the issues of set safety. “A central purpose of the Sarah Jones Film Foundation is to keep that awareness in front of people,” Richard Jones said. “Thus we were are working with different groups and people to remind them of safety, and other vehicles to promote awareness. Hopefully, we can carry this forward with the momentum we have.”
Added Elizabeth: “This money is donated in good faith, and we have to be good stewards of the money that people have entrusted us with. That doesn’t mean just go out and throw money to some cause that may or may not help the industry. So we’re having to fine-tune and really study what needs to be done and how to do it most effectively.”
Among the initiatives the SJFF is looking into is creating a Safety Report site for crew to detail injuries and other incidents on set. The Joneses say they also are considering recommending a “time out” mechanism where, without fear of repercussions, production members can request a pause in production on a set so a safety concern can be addressed. Perhaps most noticeable to the general public, the foundation is weighing the creation of a safety stamp to go in the credits of a movie or TV show. Similar to the “No animals were harmed” tag on films, the stamp would reveal that a production took the time and effort to ensure the highest standards of safety. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” notes Elizabeth.
Regardless of what measures the Joneses eventually embrace, they tell me the guiding principles for the foundation remain solid. “First of all, it’s to promote safety, and secondly, to remember that Sarah loved what she did,” says her father.
The Joneses’ Safety for Sarah PSA is a nearly 3-minute spot that calls on “producers, productions, unions and crews, everyone” to “implement daily safety meetings” and “stop and care.” It directs viewers to PledgetoSarah.org. “It’s time to take a stand,” says David Lynch. “To make safety a top priority,” adds Jack Black. The PSA also features The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun, Jane The Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez, Paul Dano, Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch, The Following’s Valorie Curry as well as directors, grips, script supervisors and other behind-the-camera crew.
While the Joneses tell me they weren’t directly involved with making the new spot, it was “produced with our blessing,” says Elizabeth Jones. The new PSA is “certainly a good reminder of what happened and it’s another vehicle to effect change,” says Richard Jones.
“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else’s daughter or son, father or mother,” adds Richard. “Always remember Sarah,” says her mother. “Always remember Sarah.”