For any teacher of moviemaking, one of the most vital concerns should always be safety. I know that it always has been for me — and for anyone working with adolescents it must take on the utmost importance. In class guidelines, the significance of clear rules and principles for safety must be firmly articulated in any agreement to which students and parents must sign. When developing the textbook Moving Images, I knew that I would need to discuss safety in my notes to instructors and in project guidelines, and I pointed out to the publisher that there must be a clear statement about safety in the front matter of the book.
In recent months, the importance of safety for all media creators has been at the forefront of discussions of industry standards and production practices and the legal implications of our work as moviemakers in the tragic death of assistant cameraperson Sarah Jones. Director Randall Miller was sentenced to a two-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Ms. Jones during a night shoot on the feature film Midnight Rider. As reporter Richard Verrier explains, “The crew was filming a scene – a dream sequence for a movie about the life of Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers. And actor William Hurt was lying on a bed that had been placed on a railway track … the crew had been assured that no trains would be coming down the track, that they had permission to film there from the landowner. And what happened was a CSX freight train came barreling down the tracks and hit the bed and shards from the bed struck and killed the camera assistant Sarah Jones… and injured several other workers.” This piece for the podcast The Frame provides further information and discussion of this tragic incident and its current implications for the industry. However, it should be pointed out that these are not new concerns: Among the most famous cases of loss of life during film production are the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the making of John Landis’s segment of Twilight Zone, the death of actor Brandon Lee on The Crow, and the death of a stunt crew member for the creation of chase sequences in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Related to all of this, I am reminded of the classic recurring line from Sgt. Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.” For ourselves, as well as for those with whom we are working and for whom we are responsible.