“We’re in a post-Sarah Jones world,” said panelist Jim Economos, VP of Production Safety at Legendary Entertainment. “Her death is empowering crews to say something if they see something.”
Jones was killed when she was hit by a train on a railroad trestle in Georgia in February 2014. The film’s director, Randall Miller, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and was recently released after spending a year in jail. Two others were also convicted and received probation. “They tried to steal a shot,” Economos said. “That’s what happens when you cheat and try to cut corners.”
Tragic accidents have a way of focusing the industry’s attention to the hazards of filmmaking. Economos noted that 23 years ago, on the Sony lot where the PGA conference is being held, a rigger fell to his death because proper safety procedures weren’t being followed. In the wake of that accident, he said, “full protection” of rigging crews became required. “The business has evolved a lot. It’s 100-times safer than it was 23 years ago.”
Decker Watson, executive producer of Deadliest Catch, said that he learned about safety the hard way. Many years ago, as a young field producer working on a car race show in Baja, Mexico, he came upon a crash in which one of the racers had been seriously injured. “We had no satellite phones and after an hour-and-a-half, he bled to death.” Unbeknownst to anyone at the crash site, there was a hospital only 45 minutes away. “I could never get that out of my mind,” he said, noting that since then he does everything he can to prevent accidents and to be prepared for them if they occur.
That paid off a few years ago while producing Ice Road Truckers, when two trucks collided on an icy road in Alaska, injuring several men – one more seriously than the driver who’d been killed years earlier in Baja. “But no one died because we were prepared,” he said, noting that the injured men were medevacked to a hospital which had been put on alert to receive them.
Pre-planning is the key, said moderator Mark Shelton, producer-director of Shattered Sky, who ran down a long list of safety tips contained in a brochure that the PGA handed out to those attending the session. “You don’t have to know all the answers,” he said, “but you do have to know who to go to who does.”
Christie Mattull, managing director of HUB Entertainment Insurance brokers, noted that she just recently got a $400,000 insurance claim settled for an accident that happened on the last day of a film’s shoot. Producers, she said, need brokers to make sure that they get the right coverage for the risks involved. “Think of your broker as your friend,” she said. “We represent the client, not the insurer.”
Policies differ, and many producers mistakenly think they’re covered for all contingencies. For example, she said that drones, which have become increasingly popular as camera platforms, “are used regularly without the proper insurance.”