This is a really good opinion piece about the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on a film set recently. Many other crew members were also injured during the incident which, it appears, involved shooting on train tracks without permission to be there.
There is often a cavalier attitude towards safety and permission on film sets. It’s the same attitude that says it’s okay to work an 18 hour day and get up 7 hours later and do it all again. It’s the same attitude that says don’t worry about wearing that safety harness it’ll only take too long to get it on and off.
Often crew members who question safety situations are seen as uptight and dismissed out of hand, this is especially true for women who can be dismissed as ‘just being girls’ when they ask about safety harnesses and so on.
Having said that, there are also many very conscientious and lovely safety officers and on-set medics who do their jobs with grace and are firm but fair. And, sometimes, even when you take all the safety precautions you can, accidents happen anyway. Because film sets are dangerous. You work with electrical equipment, special effects, heavy machinery and explosives on a regular basis.
Shooting on train tracks without permission however, that’s a decision that would have come from the top down. And it speaks to a naive disregard for personal safety that is on the same spectrum as a lack of interest in diverse and healthy representation. Because after all, if your bottom line is money, then it doesn’t matter if the product you are making is misogynistic, or violent, or racist, or disrespectful, or made in downright dangerous conditions by already sleep-deprived and overworked crew members, it only matters if it makes it big at the box office.
Now I know also, that the film industry isn’t the only industry that pushes its workers to work unsafe hours in unsafe conditions, truckers driving through the night to make deadlines, factory workers working overtime to finish a shipment, lawyers and accountants working 80 hour weeks to get a promotion, not to mention all of the third world sweatshops where workers are little more than slaves earning barely enough to feed themselves, this attitude is a disorder throughout the corporate world and beyond.
I don’t really know what to do about it exactly. I could demand a boycott of all films where the hours and conditions were unsafe (that’s pretty much all of them), or I could create some kind of petition on change.org (I think there already is one if anyone cared to look).
Or I could talk about how films aren’t just money-making machines and that they’re actually an important part of the way we talk to each other, and talk about our identity, as a culture – and that that’s where the magic comes from. Because we crave that narrative as a way of connection and identification. We painted pictures on the walls of caves before we even wrote things down, that’s how much we craved it.
And I could say that perhaps film-makers’ disregard for safety speaks to a wider cultural malaise about a disregard for the well-being of others and how we value people’s lives.
But I think instead, for the moment it’s just important to acknowledge this tragedy. And to offer condolences to Sarah Jones’ family and friends and peers.
And to send sympathy for the other crew members who were hurt and must also be traumatized.
And maybe, now that the conversation has started (although it’s always been there, this has just amplified it a bit), maybe we can slowly move toward a change in attitude. A change in the belief that workers are disposable. And that film is ‘just entertainment’ and doesn’t have a responsibility to anything other than the bottom line. The attitude that for some reason, your life is worth less than the movie you are making. Because that’s just crazy talk. No movie is worth dying for.