This 8th anniversary of my daughter Sarah’s death brings with it yet another tragic death in the film industry. On October 21st of this past year, cinematographer Halyna Hutchens was fatally wounded in a shooting incident while working on the film ‘Rust’. Another senseless death brought on by negligent actions and a disregard for safety precautions.
This does not need to happen again. The film industry, thru the non-profit Contract Services, has developed many of the guidelines necessary for productions to manage a set safely through what is known as the Safety Bulletins.
If Safety Bulletin #1, “Recommendations for Safety with Firearms And Use of "Blank Ammunition", had been attached to the call sheet, discussed in safety meetings, and followed, Halyna Hutchins would likely still be alive.
If Safety Bulletin #28, “Guidelines for Railroad Safety”, had been attached to the call sheet, discussed in safety meetings, and followed, my daughter – Sarah Jones -- would still be alive.
What’s missing is enforcement. And consequences.
If safety protocols are ignored, there should be consequences so that the violator does not move on to yet another production only to put other crew members’ safety in jeopardy.
Those who are known to have ignored or willfully violated safety protocols perhaps should not be given the honor of being a member of their prospective Guilds. I’m sure there are additional appropriate consequences that can be implemented.
Crew members are dying and/or being horribly injured time after time. Tragedy is always just one bad decision away. When producers try to save money, they often hire unqualified crew in positions of authority who can affect set safety. With time and budget constraints, safety issues can be overlooked or even ignored.
To avert an on-set accident, crew members must sometimes stand up to a producer, demand change and explain to them why the decisions made by the production company will put their crew in grave danger.
Because of Sarah’s death, more crew members have felt secure enough to speak up, but as we have seen, much more needs to be done.
Above-the-line producers are hiring the production managers and UPMs, who, in turn, hire the 1st AD, Key Grip, Prop Master, Armorer and other critical department heads. Those department heads are expected to adhere to the established best practices and safety guidelines.
But what are the consequences if they do not? OSHA fines? Those are surprisingly low.
I challenge the Guilds, studios, networks, film and TV production companies to make safety the number one priority.
I propose that like-minded individuals join together in establishing a Safety Coalition to help the industry come up with a solution – a better way forward.
The Film and Television business comprises a remarkable group of crafts and skilled persons who can create the impossible. It’s now time for them to help create the possible.
Together, we can help ensure that no other family will be destroyed because of someone’s lack of care and/or disregard for set safety. Having consequences will help with the enforcement of the Safety Bulletins.
Father of Sarah Jones