EXCLUSIVE: Jay Sedrish, the executive producer/unit production manager of Midnight Rider who pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones and the injury of several others, has resurfaced as a teacher at Columbia College of Hollywood. He’s teaching a course on how to be a unit production manager and assistant director, the latter of which is among those responsible for set safety.
Sedrish was one of the supervising crew who knew prior to filming that they had no permission to shoot on a live train track but went anyway. He and others in charge took their employees to shoot on those tracks in rural Georgia without knowledge of the train schedule, without a safety meeting or on-set medic, and it was Sedrish who decided not to include a train safety bulletin on the call sheet — only a few of the many safety violations cited either by state prosecutors and/or OSHA.
Sedrish is teaching a course each Thursday at the Tarzana-based school, and students taking the course told Deadline that he has not disclosed his involvement with Midnight Rider. Sedrish taught his fourth class of the course last week.
“When the time comes, I’m sure he’ll be very upfront with his students,” said Alan Gansberg, the dean of the college. “If he hasn’t told the students yet, it doesn’t mean he’s not going to tell the students about it. I don’t know if anyone expected him to step in front of the students and tell them right away. He’s not being secretive about it.” He is also one of only a few teachers not listed in the faculty or guest lecturers on the college’s website, but Gansberg said that is only because he is new to the school.
Sedrish originally responded to the school’s advertisement looking for an instructor to teach a course in accounting. Because of his experience in production accounting, he applied. The college administrators and Sedrish instead decided he would teach the UPM/Assistant Director class.
“Of course, when he applied and I saw the name, I knew that I recognized the name from some place,” said Gansberg. “He was very upfront about it. We chatted about it. In fact, we had a long conversation about it and I thought — as did the president — that he could have a lot of insights on production, had credentials, and knew his stuff. We did not discuss at all whether he was going to stand in front of his students the first day and say this is what I did. There was no plan about that one way or the other.”
Gansberg confirmed that Sedrish will be teaching safety on the set as part of the course. “Safety on the set is part of that class,” the dean acknowledged. “I think that people often redeem themselves by speaking on teaching in areas where errors were made.”
Sedrish was sentenced to 10 years probation, during which time he can not work as a director or assistant director, or serve in any capacity overseeing the safety of others in film production, although he can work in production accounting or as a producer. He also was slapped with a $10,000 fine. He served no jail time. Teaching doesn’t violate the special conditions of his sentence, according to prosecutors in Georgia.
On its website, the college states: “Our teachers are working professionals in the industry. They’ve won awards including Emmys, Golden Globes and Academy Awards. They are among the best in the industry.”
According to an admissions employee at the school, any teacher working at the college must be “actively working within the industry or they are not qualified to teach here.” Gansberg, however, said that the administration employee misspoke: “We seek to have professionals in the entertainment industry. Some of those people are retired. They don’t have to be active. In order to teach screenwriting or directing, they have to be in their (prospective) guilds. We are more impressed by credentials.”
Sedrish is still a member of the DGA so that qualifies him to teach Assistant Director duties at the college.
OSHA also ruled against he and other supervising crew members, finding that that they put their crew in danger while filming Midnight Rider. Others in charge included director Randall Miller and first AD Hillary Schwartz who were also found guilty of criminal trespass and felony involuntary manslaughter in what was the first time in history that filmmakers were convicted of such a serious crime.
Miller is in jail. Schwartz received no jail time and also got 10 years’ probation. Both Miller and Schwartz also remain members of the DGA.