Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Who Is Responsible for the Death of Sarah Jones?

[Photography by: Randy Thompson]

[Photography by: Randy Thompson]

Have you been following the accounts of the tragic death of camera assistant Sarah Jones? If not, read this Hollywood Reporter article, which details for the first time how the incident unfolded using descriptions from other crew members who witnessed it. Warning: reading this article will make you queasy with disgust and anger. It did me. And like many in the film industry and beyond, I keep wondering how in the hell did this happen? And who is responsible? Is it the Director? Producer? Unit Production Manager? Assistant Director? Location Manager? All of the above?

There are two schools of thought on who is ultimately responsible for a film. The first is that the director is responsible because he (or she) is the film version of the Ship Captain, War General, Leader of the Free World, i.e. the person with whom the buck stops. At the beginning of most movies there is title that says, “A (director’s name) Film.” And if a film bombs, usually the director gets the brunt of the blame.

The other school of thought is that the producer is ultimately responsible for a film. After all, it’s the producer who accepts the Academy Award for Best Picture, the producer who finds the money, and the producer who can hire and fire the director, the actors and just about anyone else. If the film is a studio movie, the only one who can fire the producer is the studio. If the film is an independent, most likely, no one can fire the producer.

But a film is the director’s vision. The director controls a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, and visualizes the script while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision [Wikipedia]This means once a film is put into production every creative decision comes from the director. He consults with the department heads, but the director has the final creative word.  

Then again, the producer (or studio) has the final financial word.  A Unit Production Manager is usually hired by a film producer or television producer and is responsible for managing the production and regulating the costs of delivering the expected film or television show on budget at the end of principal photography [Wikipedia].

Let’s look at it from another angle. Before that fateful day two weeks ago when the crew of Midnight Rider assembled to shoot a dream sequence, this is what probably happened in the days leading up:

– The location manager scouted more than one train tracks and took pictures of each to show the director.

– The director chose the tracks that run over a 110-year-old bridge over the Altamaha River, in Wayne County, Georgia. At this point, if not before, the location manager would have informed him, “These are live train tracks.” To which, the director probably replied, “I want to shoot there. Figure it out.”

– The location manager attempted to get a location permit for those tracks. The permit was denied (most likely because it’s a live train track).

– The location manager informed the director that the permit was denied.

– The director, in consultation with the producer(s), assistant director and/or cinematographer, decided only those tracks would do and suggested, “Let’s shoot there anyway, guerilla-style.” (According to Hollywood Reporter article, he’s done this before.)

– The producer then approved this decision to shoot on a live train track without a permit.

– The crew was informed the morning of the shoot where they’d be filming that day, and what they should do in event a train came hurtling towards them, i.e. “run for your life.”

On top of that, these additional things DID NOT happen:

– The producer didn’t ask for a schedule of the trains that use those tracks, or calculate how often they come through.

– The producer didn’t inform the train company there would be a film crew on the tracks that day.

– The producer didn’t insist a production assistant was stationed a few miles away to keep a look out for approaching trains (which might have given the crew more than 60 seconds to get out-of-the-way).

– The producer didn’t give the crew a choice of whether or not to participate in this risky scheme.

– The producer didn’t hire a set medic or railway safety personnel (the latter, probably because he knew they had no permit). 

The bottom line is they never should have been there in the first place. The fact that they went ahead anyway and took no extra precautions is what really gets me. It’s unthinkable and unforgivable because it could have been avoided. If only someone had said, “No film or director’s vision is worth putting people’s lives at risk. These are not the only train tracks in Georgia. Let’s shoot somewhere else.” (I know for a fact that every producer I’ve ever worked with would have absolutely said this to me.)

Time will tell who is ultimately held accountable for this tragic fiasco. The director Randall Miller is also listed as producer, along with 11 other producers, co-producers and executive producers. 

Meanwhile, a bright, energetic, hard-working young lady is dead — and for what? 

RIP Sarah Jones.


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A State of Conflict

I haven’t blogged in a week because I’ve been unsure how to write about what’s been on my mind, namely the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy. I don’t usually post about politics and current events, but I really can’t move forward without addressing this event which has affected my country and me personally on a deep level. Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, and that’s okay. All I ask is that comments remain respectful.

What I find so upsetting about this tragedy is that a man shot a teenager and the teenager died… and it could have been so easily avoided. The man could have not jumped to conclusions about the teenager’s purpose in the neighborhood, conclusions which turned out to be wrong and lead to the teenager’s death. The man could have stayed in his car and waited for the police to arrive. The man could have identified himself to the teenager immediately. The teenager could have continued walking home and ignored the man. The teenager and the man could have confronted each other in a more diplomatic way.

The law in Florida says the man had the right to defend himself if he thought his life was in danger. And the teenager? All he knew was a man was following him in a car. In his eyes, the man could have been a murderer, a sex offender, a pervert, or just an asshole.

How many times had this young, Black teen been looked at suspiciously in his life? How many times had he passed a White woman and felt the tension and fear in her body language? How many times had he been followed in a store? Could that night have been the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Instead of ignoring this “crazy ass cracker” or running home, he decided to confront him. Would he have done so if he knew the man was carrying a loaded weapon?

When I was discussing this with an elderly Black man the other day, he countered that the teenager should have known better than confronting the man. “Where were his parents?” “Why hadn’t they taught him how to act?”

What he meant was that every Black man in America has been conditioned to act a certain way when confronted with a person of authority, especially a White person of authority. Even if you’re not a Black male, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the cops, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a right way and a wrong way to behave, and the wrong way can get you physically harmed.

But the teenager was not a man. He was only a few weeks into his 17th year. Should we expect him to have known how to “behave?” Should he have been chaperoned while walking to the store for some candy?

My feeling is that when there is an altercation between a teenager and a grown man, the onus is on the grown man to behave responsibly, especially if he’s carrying a loaded weapon. Why would a grown man who is not a police officer get out of his car to search for (what he perceives as) a potentially dangerous criminal alone on a dark and rainy night? What if the potential criminal (in the man’s eyes) had had a weapon too? The man knew he was dealing with a teenager, and he knew the teenager had seen him. Did he expect to pursue him  and NOT be confronted?

The case upsets me on so many levels, I find myself going in circles in my mind about what could/should have happened that night, how this death could have been avoided, what would that teenager have become had he lived, what the parents must be feeling, what do other parents tell their children now, and how something like this could be avoided in the future. I think the answer to the latter lies in PERCEPTION… as in, how do we perceive each other?

Would you perceive a Black male wearing a hoodie walking slowly through your neighborhood as a threat?

Would you perceive a Hispanic man following you slowly in a car through your neighborhood as a threat?

If so, what would you do about it? How would you handle the situation?

There’s a reason why this 1973 photo taken by Joe Crachiola of five children playing in a Detroit suburb has gone viral. It captures a spirit of innocence and acceptance that so many of us yearn for. If you’ve ever watched children at play, you know that they have no concept of these matters. They have no life experience upon which to build assumptions. They relate to each other on a core basic level.

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

photo credit: Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

Is it only possible when we’re young? Or can we see each other as human beings, not labels, races, genders, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.? Can we not jump to conclusions about each other and instead base our reactions on the individuals before us? Can we see each other as HUMAN BEINGS first?

I believe we can, and we must.