Filmmaking / Directing : William Hurt In His Own Words On What Happened On Set Of ‘Midnight Rider’ by Stage 32 Staff - Julie

Stage 32 Staff - Julie

William Hurt In His Own Words On What Happened On Set Of ‘Midnight Rider’

William Hurt In His Own Words On What Happened On Set Of ‘Midnight Rider’: http://deadline.com/2015/06/william-hurt-midnight-rider-details-sarah-jo... #SarahJones

William Hurt In His Own Words On What Happened On Set Of 'Midnight Rider'
William Hurt In His Own Words On What Happened On Set Of 'Midnight Rider'
William Hurt says he had an odd feeling when they got on the Doctortown train trestle on the first day of filming Midnight Rider but trusted first assistant director Hillary Schwartz when she said the…
Richard "RB" Botto

Great read. Thanks for sharing, Julie.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Thoughtful comments. Thanks.

JD Hartman

Sad, someone died because an AD didn't know their butt from a rat hole. The AD should have gone to jail as well. I saw this happen once before, thankfully the camera operator wasn't hurt, the Amtrak police arrived and shut it down.

Matt O'Sullivan

Well now... I can't imagine what would happen if any of my crew died on set. No film (and I love making them) is worth making if you're going to do it illegally. That AD got off easy. The worst part is... the trust in that AD is gone and she has to live with what happened for the rest of her life.

JD Hartman

Whatever it takes to get the shot....

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

As I understand it, the film crew requested but was denied access, on a legal basis, to where they were filming. So anyone who knew about that was legally culpable. Assuming for a moment that the AD did not know, then it becomes a tragedy from the AD's POV with which she will have to live for the rest of her life. If she knew, then she should have raised hell with those who were in charge and if she did not, then she's guilty.

Kenneth Knight

The First AD was responsible for safety? Isn't that like having the fox guard the hen house? What about having a real safety person on that or any set? Lets look at this from a safety viewpoint. Don't we need a safety person on any set? I am not talking about the set medic that gets told to sit in his car until he is needed. I am talking about a real safety person with training and experience and the authority to stop work, just like they do on construction, oilfield, and other sites. Nobody will do that because it would stop work and cost them thousands of dollars.

JD Hartman

D.E.M. said, "As I understand it, the film crew requested but was denied access, on a legal basis, to where they were filming." Is there any public account of the crew's statements? I'm thinking the Below the Line crew had no idea there was no permit and the Above the Line production team members knew and wanted it to stay that way.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

There were legal proceedings. I'm not sure if there were trials or simply negotiated plea deals but I think there could be material which is public record.

JD Hartman

K.K. said, "What about having a real safety person on that or any set? Lets look at this from a safety viewpoint." Like someone from the railroad? A flagman perhaps, someone that would be in contact by radio with the local tower or dispatch? No, that would cost money.

Kenneth Knight

Ideally the set medic would be the safety person if he had the appropriate training AND experience. JD is right. It would cost money and not many want to spend it. But then it costs more money to pay claims than pay a safety person. Calling people contractors and trying to skirt safety requirements won't fly with OSHA or law enforcement.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

I'm not arguing against having someone on the set who could keep an eye out for safety issues even if it cost money. But, at a distance from the event as I am, it appears to me that those in charge went out of their way to shut down their common sense and evade the nature of what they were doing. And that kind of attitude gets transmitted from the top down throughout the crew. Big mistake. William Hurt's comments seem to me to confirm that. Here's a guy who, as an actor and an intelligent man, is experienced in being on sets but who I doubt had any formal safety training. He spotted the fact that they were in a dangerous situation. I had experience in other professions analyzing accidents. The recurring themes were 'It's never the first mistake that leads to a bad result. It's the continuing cascade of mistakes, which often begins with the refusal to acknowledge the first mistake, which eventually results in disaster.' and 'If you're in charge, you set the tone and people follow your lead. Make sure everyone understands they're not going to be penalized for keeping an eye out.'

Chris Palmer

The Midnight Rider accident is a tragic example of what gets people hurt or killed in our industry. Ignorance Some of the players in this tragedy thought they only needed permission from the owner of the surrounding property. Others knew they needed the permission of the railroad. The railroad owns the rail line and no one else. No one seemed to know (or care) that a representative of the railroad must be present during filming ops on railroad property. Clearly none of the production management, director or AD had experience with this. The dirt google result for 'filming on railroads' is the AMPTP railroad safety bulletin. That clearly spells out the requirements. Not Understanding the Risk The director claimed that 'there were only supposed to be two or three trains a day' and told the crew that if they heard a train coming they had 60 seconds to get off the track. I have been the safety consultant on many train shoots and know that is BS. First, you NEVER shoot on an active line. The main reason is that despite their size, it is difficult if not impossible to hear a train coming until it sounds its horn and it is extremely difficult to judge the speed of an approaching train. Attitude Realizing the limits of your knowledge is a sign of intelligence. They clearly did not know what they were doing. They should have brought in someone who did. A risk assessment from a qualified safety consultant would have clearly shown that they could not film on an active railroad line. That risk assessment would have cost them less than $250 and included the precautions they would need to follow to keep everyone safe once they did have the right location. Budget You know what having a real safety consultant costs? About the same as a SAG stunt performer or actor for the day. Defiance (get the shot no matter what) Production management knew that CSX had denied permission - And proceeded anyway. They were out of their depth - and proceeded anyway. They did not have a safety consultant, a safety program. A risk assessment, an emergency action plan, a paramedic, or even a real safety meeting (other than 'you have 60 seconds to get off the track) - and they proceeded anyway. No one, not the AD, the DP, or anyone else in authority - said 'stop, we shouldn't do this'. Safety is not only a right, it is a responsibility. The Twilight Zone accident created my job. Yet dozens of fatal accidents later, less than 5% of productions have any safety review or onsite safety. Midnight Rider shows just how far we as an industry still have to go. www.filmtvrisk.com filmtvrisk.blogspot.com

JD Hartman

Production simply ignores line items that cost, but don't perceptibly add value to the finished product. If the crew had quit, refused or walked off, imagine the suits that would have been filed against them for loss and damages.

Chris Palmer

JD, actually under federal law, retaliation for reporting safety concerns is prohibited and doing so exposes the employer to fines and employment lawsuits. Even an anonymous telephone call from anyone on the show to OSHA or the railroad would have halted the shoot. Sarah Jones would be alive, the injured crew members would be unhurt and Randall Miller would not be in jail.

JD Hartman

The law yes, the reality is another thing. Even having a suit filed against you is going to mean you have to high legal council to just wade through the BS and have it dismissed. I've been there, by the time we learned there was no permit from Amtrak, no safety flagman, it was too late. Anyone of us that "declined" at the time would have been a target for the Producer who in this case was a partner in a law firm. He had his legal secretary on set with him and thought nothing of drafting a threatening letter to any person or entity that interfered and thus cost him time and money. Whistle-blower and retaliation laws don't protect when there is a loaded gun being held to your temple. I'm sure you are not so naive that you believe blackballing isn't occurring in the film industry

CJ Walley

In response to concerns over crew feeling they can't report safety concerns without repercussion, this tragic event led to the creation of the Sarah Jones Set Safety App; http://deadline.com/2014/10/sarah-jones-set-safety-app-midnight-rider-84...

Chris Palmer

JD, appreciate your insights and I understand where you're coming from. I am far from naive and know that blackballing occurs. It's one reason why people should be aware of ways to report concerns anonymously through the studio safety hotlines, guilds or OSHA or to have a knowledgable person who can explain to production leadership just where their actions or inactions regarding safety may take them - to court or to jail. One last thought - it takes guts to stand up but in a dangerous situation it is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.

JD Hartman

Sure, great. You need to do that in advance and it only works if you are privy to the details beforehand. In my example, it only became clear when we arrived on location that there there was a safety issue. It took over an hour for Amtrak Police to show up and even during the shouting match between cops and the Producer, they were still rolling. The town Police turned up as well, guess which side they were on?

CJ Walley

Location scout Nick Carr (Scouting NY blogger) reflected on his own similar situation where himself and other crew members were thinking "Should we be doing this?"; http://www.scoutingny.com/why-director-randall-millers-statement-on-sara...

JD Hartman

C.P. said, "I am far from naive and know that blackballing occurs." I hope you understand that I wasn't implying that you were. Production sometimes gets people in a headlock that they can't break free of. People that have enough industry experience to behave professionally, get all in your face and make you feel like your the bad guy for calling attention to an unsafe condition. "If I find out which one of you tried to screw up my shoot by calling Amtrak.....", and so on. I once saw a Grip get read the riot act because he replaced himself with the Key Grip's blessing for one day, so he could attend his brothers wedding.

Chris Palmer

JD, no problem. I know how vindictive some people in this business can be against their crew and department heads. It's a tough situation where anyone has to think they may be jeopardizing future work by doing the right thing. Those who get it can lead by example while we try to educate (or someday eradicate) those who just don't care about the safety of their people. Be safe and be well!

JD Hartman

Side question on safety. If there is such a standard, in NYC, how much weight will a fire escape hold if properly maintained? Weekend shoot, old former factory/light manufacturing building in Brooklyn. Myself, DP, camera op, sound guy, Producer, Director, AD, etc., my gut feeling, one too many, I stepped back inside.

Laurie Ashbourne

Chris, interesting you bring up Twilight Zone, do you feel it is in the same category as this tragedy? I'm certainly glad that it created a solution via your business, and I'm sure the parties involved in TZ are as well. We had John Landis as a guest speaker for lunch years ago, probably a full 10 years after the incident and when it came up he was still devastated by it, it was clearly the most horrific moment of his life, and there is no doubt he would do anything to avoid anything like that ever happening again. For this case however it feels more like brazen ignorance that was completely avoidable which makes it all the more tragic.

Chris Palmer

Laurie, Yes, they are in the same category. Having extensively studied the TZ accident including reviewing the raw footage of the accident from each camera, the causes were not simple ignorance. Mr. Landis claimed that he was not responsible for the crash and that the fault lay with the pilot. Get a copy of Outrageous Conduct - Disaster at twilight zone. It is a detailed review of the criminal trial evidence and investigation. Below is information from the book: The pyrotechnic effects as planned were misrepresented to the pilot. During the first take of what ultimately killed Vic Morrow and the two small children (children who were working illegally, without a permit, and whose families were paid in cash to conceal their presence from the labor commission, an alleged conspiracy to hide the presence of the children from the studio teacher and the fire safety officer), the effects were far larger than what had been described to the pilot and what the pilot agreed would be safe. The pilot went to Landis and expressed to him that the effects had nearly brought down the aircraft. Landis assured him it was a mistake and assured the pilot that it would be reduced and be well away from the aircraft for the next take. The effects that brought the aircraft down were not smaller and debris and heat cause a loss of part of the rail rotor and the crash of the aircraft onto the three actors below, decapitating Vic Morrow and Myca Din Lee and crushing the young girl to death. Crew members on the hillside felt the heat of the first take and complained that they felt unsafe. Crew members say that Landis ordered the aircraft lower and lower bringing the aircraft closer to the pyro charges. As a production safety expert, my opinion is that it was incredibly irresponsible to place performers under an aircraft amid pyro effects and under no circumstances should minors be in such a scene. I encourage people to read the book and draw their conclusions.

Chris Palmer

JD, excellent question. You made a wise choice to step off and lighten the load. NYC does have building standards regarding fire escapes (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dob/downloads/rules/1_RCNY_15-10.pdf but they specify construction requirements, not load capacity. Age and condition affect load capacity with fire escapes, balconies, roofs, etc. A call to building & safety department can sometimes get you an answer if you can get to the inspector who is responsible for the building. Alternative is to get an opinion from an engineer. All good steps during the location scout. My rule of thumb for being on roofs or other structures - essential personnel only for load and making it easier to get everyone out safely in an emergency.

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