EXCLUSIVE: Two years after the death of Sarah Jones and the injury to several other crew members on the set of Midnight Rider, a new social media campaign has already begun, a new safety initiative is being launched, two documentaries are in the works and survivors from the Feb. 20, 2014 incident are still dealing with PTSD. Miller — the first filmmaker to be incarcerated in 100 years for an on-set death — is in Wayne County jail awaiting word on whether he will be released on March 9th. While he waits, his lawyers continue to dispute the OSHA decision that slapped Miller’s production entity Film Allman with a fine for a willful safety violation.
While Sarah Jones’ parents have launched two new campaigns, not one — but two — documentaries have popped up, one from an Australian man who wrote in support of Randall Miller’s early release from jail on both social media and on the petition sent to the court last year. The other is being done in conjunction with the Jones family (see below for details on both).
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“The events that afternoon on the train trestle in Southeast Georgia not only claimed the life of Sarah Jones but also physically injured and emotionally devastated many others on that production,” notes the copy on the second wave of the new social media campaign I Am Sarah Jones.
Joyce Gilliard, Midnight Rider’s hairstylist, required reconstructive arm surgery and it took her about a year and a half before she could return to her regular work schedule. She shared with Deadline the photo of her injury taken several months after her surgery two years ago.
“This month is always a difficult one for me and the others who were injured physically and mentally. We try to stay busy, just so we can keep our minds occupied,” Gilliard said in correspondence with Deadline. “Our minds are held in captivity with the horrific images, sounds and pain from the tragedy that occurred on Feb. 20, 2014. We encounter triggers daily that make us emotional and sometimes cry. We still suffer with sleepless nights. We may be happy one day and depressed the next. We are still healing. The tragedy changed our lives forever. Our hopes are that we all learn from the tragedy by being vigilant to ensure that we all look out for each other, stay safe at work and never be afraid to speak up.”
To that point, the social media campaign, talks about the damage that still lingers from that day when a train crashed through the set of Midnight Rider going about 60 mph after Miller and his supervising crew criminally trespassed and led their employees onto live railroad tracks to steal a shot.
“Others still struggle to talk about the incident and navigate an emotional rollercoaster of traumatic memories. The local Savannah, Georgia, film community saw a severe cutback in production in the area during the months proceeding the tragedy, definitively affecting the professional and personal lives of a great many people unaffiliated with the movie,” it states. “The event scarred the hearts of hundreds of people who knew Sarah and thousands of people across our industry who did not — because people understand that an innocent life was lost in such a horrific way. And everyone realizes it could have been them, at any given time on any given production.”
One of the survivors still recovering is Karen Keyes who was on the set that day as the key set costumer. In a letter she shared to family and friends several months after (and now to the public for the first time via Deadline), she writes that she first met Sarah Jones when Jones was an intern on a TV series in Charleston. Keyes said she was taken by Jones’ positive demeanor, confidence and also respect for the camera department. Jones then later helped Karen and her sister make a short film which fulfilled a lifetime dream of theirs.
“Though time has passed, my heart is still heavy and thoughts remain with the families affected. Thinking particularly of my friend, it goes without saying, I miss Sarah Jones … as this day finds us, I consider myself the last person on Earth to receive a hug from Sarah. I believe God had me wait, and wait and wait to get that hug before stepping on the trestle …” Read her full letter here.
On the two year mark, the Jones family are asking for productions to pause for a moment of silence on their sets. The Jones spent this week in Los Angeles meeting with producers, crew, executives and labor unions. On Wednesday, they stood with the cast and crew of Criminal Minds to observe a minute of silence in memory of their daughter. Last night, they did the same on an indie film set.
“There is still a culture that exists within the industry and we have a lot of work to do and we’re steadfast in doing the work,” Sarah Jones’ mother Elizabeth Jones told Deadline.
“We’ve had people approach us and tell us what they themselves have had to endure on sets,” she said. “Our intent is to change the sometimes reckless and cavalier attitude towards safety in the industry. We are constantly encouraged by the warm reception we receive everywhere we go. No matter who we are speaking to, you can see it in their eyes that they can relate to this and are very effected by Sarah’s death. Two years later, we still have people crying on our shoulders.”
This year, they are launching a Safety for Sarah End Credits program which asks producers to sign a letter of intent both acknowledging and committing to an on-set environment that “supports the highest creative expression of the project while respecting the safety of every participant.”
Those who have signed on so far include Warner Bros., The Vampire Diaries production, the CW’s Containment and The Originals. The first one to commit to a safe working environment was the Fast & Furious 7 production team but, at the time, the Safety for Sarah End Credits campaign did not exist.
“We’ve been getting very positive responses from below-the-line people, above-the-line people, executives and unions. This issue is not fading away. It’s actually building in momentum. It’s a bigger movement than it was a year ago or even one week after the incident,” Sarah Jones’ father Richard Jones told Deadline. “I was approached by a crew member on a set who told me that a director he knew who was rather reckless before this happened got the message after Sarah died, and now he is a different person. It’s making a real difference out there and it is changing the industry.”
The I Am Sarah Jones Faces social media campaign uses black and white photography with those in producing capacities, set medics, production coordinators, stuntmen, and camera operators (to name a few) participating. The campaign is produced to be a series of social media viral images and videos.
Several below-the-line crew members told Deadline this week that they will be posting on the Safety for Sarah Facebook page today and tomorrow in memory of the young camera assistant.
At least two documentaries are also underway. One is by Aussie author David Rollins who wrote comments of support for Randall Miller on social media and also signed the petition created by Miller’s sister asking the GA court for mercy and grant the filmmaker early release from jail. (Miller’s sister also lives in Sydney, Australia). Rollins told Deadline in correspondence that he is interested in how the story unfolded on social media and through the press.
The other documentary has been mounted by Eric S. Smith (a filmmaker/director) in association with production company Threeopolis. Theirs will tell the story from the perspective of Sarah’s parents and concentrate on safety issues. Smith’s documentary has the blessing of Mr. and Mrs. Jones.
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