Parents of film worker killed on set spread safety message
Richard and Elizabeth Jones stood on a crowded film set, looking out on a sea of actors and workers ready to shoot a scene. Every one of them reminded them of their daughter Sarah, who died two years ago on a Georgia railroad track shooting a film scene.
The past two years have turned the South Carolina couple into advocates for the safety of set workers. In a city in which crews move at a frenetic pace to stay on schedule and get the perfect shot, the Joneses have gotten some of them to slow down and reflect.
That was the case Thursday when the Joneses visited an indie film shoot in an industrial building near downtown Los Angeles and led the crew in a moment of silence to remember their daughter, a camera assistant who was killed on Feb. 20, 2014, during an unauthorized shoot on the train tracks.
For two weeks, the pair has been crisscrossing Hollywood, meeting with everyone from executives to set workers to urge a safety-first mentality during film and television production. They were accompanied Thursday by a reporter for The Associated Press and a filmmaker planning a documentary on their daughter and her impact on film safety.
Before addressing the crew, the pair met with Mark Pellington, a veteran television and film director. "All of us are in deep, deep respect for Sarah," Pellington told them before taking the couple to the set -- a room transformed to look like a smoky radio station office with walls plastered with bumper stickers.
Richard Jones, wearing a pin that says "We are Sarah Jones," asked to say a few words.
His speech was brief, and his message simple -- remember who his daughter was and how she died.
"No movie or TV short is worth a life," he said. "Please look out for each other."
Everyone in the room bowed their heads and a space that just moments before was bustling with activity fell silent. Richard Jones held his wife's hand until the moment was over and the room burst into applause.
There was no rushing the couple off the set. Pellington hugged and kissed the Joneses before calling for the slate -- a clapboard used to identify scenes -- to be dedicated to Sarah Jones. (Since her death, more than 31,000 film slates have been dedicated to her, Richard Jones said.) Then people approached the couple, some offering condolences, others thanks, and a few recounting their own near-misses on shoots.
Away from the cameras, one woman's conversation with the Joneses brought the three of them to tears.
"It truly amazes us -- they relate to what happened to Sarah in different ways," Richard Jones said. "It's as if Sarah has established a personal relationship with thousands of people she's never met."
For Elizabeth Jones, the crew inevitably reminds her of her daughter. "I look at every person, every one of them could be Sarah Jones," she said.
The couple said they hope their efforts and the work of their nonprofit, The Sarah Jones Film Foundation, will help create a safety-first mentality on sets. Part of their effort includes getting films that employ good safety practices to include a logo, "Safety for Sarah, at the end of the credits. The logo was included on "Furious 7," a film Sarah Jones worked on, as well as some TV series.
They are also working with filmmaker Eric S. Smith on a documentary about their daughter that can be used in film schools to instruct students on safe practices.
"We tell stories that involve a lot of different elements of danger," Smith said, noting that it is impossible to prevent all set accidents. "What we want to address is carelessness and negligence.
Sarah Jones was killed on the first day of filming for "Midnight Rider" when a train plowed into Miller's crew on a railroad bridge over the Altamaha River, about 60 miles southwest of Savannah. Evidence showed the film crew climbed onto the bridge after being denied permission by the railroad.
The film's director, Randall Miller, is serving a two-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and trespassing.
The Joneses said they never expected to be vocal safety advocates, but they feel their voices are needed.
"Since Sarah's gone, this is what we need to do," Richard Jones said. "It's more about the people in the industry who are living. We want to keep them living."
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