Camera Operator After ‘Midnight Rider’: “Speak Loudly And Lead By Example”

Dave Chameides, an Emmy-winning A Camera/Steadicam operator, has been working in the film industry for the past 25 years and a member of Local 600 for the past 20.

In the wake of the Sarah Jones tragedy we’ve heard about the Director, the Producer, the UPM (unit production manager) and the 1st AD (assistant director). We’ve learned of their duplicity and the fact that the above the line “adults” had complete knowledge of the danger they placed their crew in. But in every article that I read I want to ask the same questions: Where was the operator? Where was the DP? Why have we heard nothing about their responsibility in this horrible crime?

As a camera operator with 25 years experience, I understand that it’s part of my job description to make sure that my crew and I remain safe. I’m not infallible and it’s not a job that is mine alone, but at the end of the day I know that if one of my brothers or sisters doesn’t make it home safely, I’m one of the people who dropped the ball.

And I can’t live with that.

More than a year has passed since that fateful day and I find myself thinking of Sarah Jones often. The weight of her death hangs on me, not because I knew her but because I see her on set every day.

She’s the third hammer on the grip crew.

She’s the utility on the sound crew.

She’s the set PA.

And of course, Sarah is the loader, the second, and the first on our camera crew.

On every set I see her because on every set I see young filmmakers hungry to prove themselves, to make their mark, to climb the ladder and live this crazy dream that we all seem so enamored with. And on every set I know that all the Sarahs look to me and others for guidance, safe in the knowledge that if we are not concerned about a particular issue than it must be OK.

But it’s not always OK.

So today I have a request. If you are an experienced industry professional, let your co-workers know that you will point out any safety issues you are aware of. Let them know it’s up to all of us to watch out for each other but that you’ll gladly speak up if they are afraid to. Let them know that set safety is portal to portal, because crew members will lose a life falling asleep at the wheel much more often than they will from of a falling piece of equipment. Let them know that what’s most important in our business is that every member of the crew arrives home safely at the end of every day.

With the advent of new media and inexpensive equipment now readily available, crews are getting younger and younger, and I often work with department heads who are fairly new to the business. While it’s everyone’s job to address safety concerns, these individuals may not have the confidence to speak up yet, so it falls on us, the veterans, to do that for them and lead by example. We had role models who watched out for us when our careers were just starting out and now it’s our turn to step up, regardless of where we fall on the call sheet. The simple fact that we have years in the trenches gives us the power and the responsibility to speak loudly, speak clearly, and show others that safety comes first and unsafe set practices will not be tolerated.

No one spoke up for Sarah Jones or any of her crew. Someone should have. Starting today, make sure someone does.

For Sarah.

For all the Sarahs.

For all of us.

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