Filmmaking / Directing : Sarah Jones by Michael Bruce Adams

Michael Bruce Adams

Sarah Jones The Value of a Life. I'm writing a project right now that is very close to my heart and, tragically, involves a major theme that is currently very topical: how we take care of each other. The death of Sarah Jones, a second assistant camera person who was killed while working on the feature film "Midnight Rider", has affected me in a way that is unexpected… I find myself, very tangentially, shouldering some of the responsibility. I became part of the camera department at a time in my life when I was old enough to know what I wanted and strive for excellence, and also young enough to feel bulletproof. I got off on being a part of the nucleus of the film set; part of the group of people, usually camera folk, dolly grips and performers, in the center of it all. When the assistant director called 'roll camera', and everybody else was properly ensconced in a safe zone, we were always where the guns were firing, inside the speeding vehicle, on the skid of a spinning helicopter… in the path of a careening train. When I look back now, I count myself as extremely lucky to have been crewed with incredible camera teams, assistant directors and key grips who were not afraid to tell me when I was taking an unnecessary chance, who were not afraid to stand up and tell me no when I was too full of bravado to make the right decision on my own. These people made the above situations safe. Strong assistant directors, excellent key grips, camera teams with integrity. Without them, I really have to wonder where I would be now… and if I would be. As my camera career progressed and I began training new camera people, I gained a reputation for being a hard-ass, committed to excellence but a bit of a prick. People used to joke behind my back about me being too gung-ho (and however else you may want to describe that). I used to see that as a badge of honor. But now I have to wonder if I wasn't just simply being a bully. I wonder if my actions inspired new camera people to do things they knew weren't safe just to impress me. Because that's how easy it is to skew the perception. I know I've been on both sides of intimidation, both sides of bullying, and regardless of my motivation of trying to create excellence on my camera crews, it's pretty easy to lose sight of the big picture when you're applying pressure or trying to stand up to it. A film set can be one of the most intense professional experiences around. Personalities range from passionate to megalomaniacal, and those personalities are unleashed and prodded during productions to behave in the extreme… to push creativity to new levels. It's easy to get swept up in the moment, to throw caution to the wind, to go after that unattainable shot… to be bulldozed by the atmosphere, the personalities and the adrenalin. Near the end of my camera career, I'd like to think I mellowed and became more responsible, but really what happened is my frontal lobes finished developing and that part of the brain that deals with consequence began firing with insistence, calling me a moron, telling me to wake up. I became the protector; I began to stand up in the face of unsafe and dangerous. I played that role as long as I could, but eventually I found it too much, that shift in perception; I could no longer do the job and sleep at night. A few more dangerous situations later I was ready to retire. I used to tell people that a certain demanding DOP drove me to quit, but I know the day I realized I was no longer bulletproof… I was done. What used to be my balance on a film set… those folks who would bare calmer heads and speak up for safety… kept getting their calmer heads lopped off. That's a tough lesson to learn: being punished for doing what's right. So I wonder, in Sarah's situation, if our entire community isn't a little bit responsible. When an entire crew of people, from the director and producer on down, make that many wrong decisions… we can't possibly be training our new filmmakers properly. Everybody who steps onto a film set is going to go through a bunch of learning curves; skill based, social, political, etc. And while they're doing that, they're going to develop as human beings, transition from youth to maturity… relative to where they are in life… and make decisions based on that transition. I guess I see now that in my film career I have lived two lives; the first one, one I learned with, fucked up with, battled back with and became aware with, and the second one… that's the one I lived and kept learning with after. I know deeply, tragically, unforgettably that we evolve in a community and during that time we desperately need the one life to stand up and protect the other. Because I know something only a few on films sets will ever admit to… I know that the protector in me, the guy that became aware after many years on film sets would never have let Sarah go out onto those tracks… just as I know that the first young man in me would have been right out there on the tracks beside her. I don't know what happened to Sarah the day she died, I wasn't there. And I can only speculate when I say this, but I can't help thinking that she might be still alive if those filmmakers had been brought into the community proactively and professionally. Maybe then somebody would have had the sense and the courage to say, "hold on, this isn't safe." I'm alive because I was brought into the film community by people who cared. I hope that's what I learned. I hope I was able to pass some of that on. I hope I was able to stand up on occasion and help avoid some mistakes. I hope that ideal, for Sarah's sake, won't be lost to memory. I began my film career almost 20 years ago as a screenwriter and I have the very good fortune of writing full time for the last seven years. I love it, I'm good at it and I think I've got a good imagination… … but I know in my deepest that I could never conjure up a more unnecessary tragedy than the passing of Sarah Jones.

"Slates For Sarah" Is Hollywood's Heartwarming Response To Crew Member's Fatal On-Set Accident
"Slates For Sarah" Is Hollywood's Heartwarming Response To Crew Member's Fatal On-Set Accident
Sarah Jones was working on a film set last Thursday when she was struck and killed by a train. Her family and friends created Slates for Sarah to honor her life, and it's truly awesome. Her friends an…
Christi Goldman Chambers

Very sad and tragic for this young lady, Sarah Jones, and their entire crew. They were filming the Gregg Allmon biopic. CSX won't allow them back out onto the track now. This happened in my area, so thoughts and prayers go out to all those families who were affected.

Eve Wignall

I am also that older head on set,and its easy to be accussed of moaning when you see scary things,its as if each filmset needs an independent overseer to put the brakes on when necessary,as at the moment film crews still have a misguided judgement on their place in the world.We are here to entertain,thats all,and the market forces and the millions involved have made it a dangerous playground.

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