Safety First Everywhere

Sarah Jones's legacy on the 6th anniversary of her death

February 19, 2020
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Want to start your workday off on the right footing? Make the first shot of the day a “Jonesey.”

When a first assistant director calls a “Jonesey,” he or she reminds crew members about the importance of observing safety on set at all times. The term honors the legacy of Sarah Jones, the Local 600 camera assistant who needlessly lost her life on the set of Midnight Rider on February 20, 2014.

“The Jonesey has been one of the initiatives our foundation has been trying to push,” said Richard Jones, Sarah’s father and the administrator of the Sarah Jones Film Foundation (SJFF). “We would like to see all of the shoots call for that shot on the 20th. We’d like for all the productions to do it every day, but particularly to emphasize the anniversary.”

Richard and Elizabeth Jones

Sarah Jones was struck and killed by a freight train in Wayne County, GA during the filming of a dream sequence on the tracks. Several other crew members suffered injuries. The film was eventually abandoned and director Randall Miller served jail time after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Fines were also levied against the production company, and the Jones family reached a financial settlement with CSX Transportation, the operator of the railway.

In the six years since Sarah’s death, Richard and Elizabeth Jones and their foundation have made it their mission to galvanize the film community around issues of safety to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. The “Jonesey” is just one way that crew members can boost awareness. Placing the “Safety for Sarah,” “Safety on Set” stickers and “We are Sarah Jones” slogan on slates and on the Slates for Sarah Facebook page are other ways to keep the message alive.

 

 

The foundation sponsors the Sarah Jones Film Student Safety Grant Program, which gives funds to film students to take appropriate safety measures on their projects. Richard Jones stresses that such provisions as security officers, fire department representatives and safety equipment are workplace necessities, not luxuries.

Jones has traveled the country and spoken to many of these grant recipients at such universities as Columbia University School of the Arts, University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

“I think it’s impactful,” said Jones, who recently spoke at Ryerson University in Toronto.  “We want to plant that seed deep inside so that that one day in the future, if they run up on a situation, they’ll remember this is what happened to Sarah and hopefully it will give them the strength to say, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s look a look at this and not do something that we will regret.’”

The foundation also raises money and awareness through its annual Sarah Jones Field Day and Walk for Safety, which is held the first Sunday in October. The event takes place in Atlanta, and there have been calls to hold similar events in other major cities as well.

Jones has also been spreading the foundation’s messages about the importance of workplace safety to industries outside film and television. He recently addressed 1,000 people in San Diego about the need to protect workers in the utilities industry.

“We have been extremely well-received,” he said, “and I have been asked to speak at other similar things outside the industry as well.

In addition, although it is not formally associated with the Sarah Jones Film Foundation, an annual internship/professional opportunity bears Sarah Jones’s name and helps ensure her legacy. Local 600, Sim Camera, Warner Brothers TV and the Mayor’s Office of the City of Atlanta created the Sarah Jones Opportunity which gives one student each year a 14-week paid internship at Sim Atlanta and the chance to eventually join the union.

The Midnight Rider tragedy helped shine a spotlight on workplace safety throughout the motion picture and television industry, and Local 600 led the call for action, research and change. In the ensuing years, the local has contributed to the creation of several safety bulletins created by the Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee. The guild’s safety page contains an ever-expanding list of resources and the ICG Safety App has become the model for the industry. The guild has also recently instituted the Take the Room (or Ride) campaign that raises awareness about long hours on the job, another huge safety concern in the industry. Jones says that the foundation appreciates Local 600’s support “more than words can say.”

As for Sarah Jones’s ongoing legacy, Jones put it aptly in a letter he wrote in recognition of the 6th anniversary of his daughter’s death.

“I still marvel,” he wrote, “at how a 27-year-old camera assistant could possibly change the culture of an entire industry.”

Safety Links:

ICG Safety App
ICG Safety Page
Safety Bulletins
Slates for Sarah Jones Facebook Page
Sarah Jones Film Foundation (SJFF)
Take the Room (or Ride) 

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