The Death Of Sarah Jones: Safety Concerns Raised Over ‘Midnight Rider’ Crew’s Previous Film In Georgia

Anita Busch contributed to this report. First in a series.

Sarah Jones death Midnight RiderLocal, state, and federal investigations are underway to determine who from the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider is responsible for the February 20 train collision on location in rural Georgia that left 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones dead and seven others injured. As the production community rallies around the tragedy and calls for stronger guidelines to ensure that similar accidents never happen again, a Deadline investigation that included interviews with people on the ground in and around Savannah has revealed several troubling factors preceding the afternoon when the crew of the movie, directed and produced by Randall Miller through his Unclaimed Freight Productions banner, placed a metal hospital bed on the live train tracks overlooking Southern Georgia’s Altamaha River. Was the “whatever it takes” spirit that’s fueled filmmaking for decades partly to blame for such an avoidable on-set tragedy?

Related: Safety On Set: Three Workers Speak Out

The city of Savannah, GA has been hungry to grow into a contender to rival competing industries in nearby Atlanta and Wilmington since generous incentives started boosting productions locally in 2009. After a busy 2012, however, film business slowed. Last year Paramount sequel SpongeBob SquarePants 2 was the lone feature to film in the city and became the center of a local firestorm when Jay Self, Savannah’s Film Commissioner of 18 years, was terminated after fighting with the studio over permit requests he said did not adequately protect the interests of local business owners and the City of Savannah.

Self publicly accused city officials of ordering him to approve permits for productions like SpongeBob SquarePants 2 in his termination hearing statement. He told me last month in Savannah that his bosses urged him to issue permits against his concerns when an L.A.-based director came to town to make a new movie in 2012. Self said his concerns went unheeded, and the same filmmaker in question prepared to bring his next feature production to Georgia. That filmmaker was Randall Miller.

Midnight Rider And The Accident Of February 20, 2014

Midnight Rider Doctortown trestleThe Allman biopic Midnight Rider was set to be Miller’s third feature in three years in the Savannah area. He and his L.A.-based Unclaimed Freight first brought production cash flowing into the city’s local economy in 2011 with the Jim Caveziel / Chiwetel Ejiofor-starrer Savannah. The following year he came back to film the NYC-set punk period piece CBGB. By the time he returned with Midnight Rider, Miller had developed a favored position within the local industry, despite his reputation for instilling a maverick sensibility on his sets and surrounding himself with a team of like-minded production crew.

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‘CBGB’ To Premiere On DirecTV Cinema

By | Thursday August 29, 2013 @ 2:27pm PDT

The story of the legendary NYC rock club that spawned bands like Blondie, the Ramones, and the Talking Heads will debut September 5 on the satcaster’s VOD platform. CBGB, starring Alan Rickman, Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Johnny Galecki and Bradley Whitford and many others, will air through October 2 on DirecTV Cinema. It opens October 11 in theaters. Here’s the release:

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Aug. 29, 2013 – DIRECTV CINEMA® is giving customers exclusive access to experience the birth of American punk rock music with the film CBGB, directed by Randall Miller and starring Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise), Malin Akerman (Watchmen), Ashley Greene (Twilight franchise) and Rupert Grint (Harry Potterfranchise). The film will premiere on DIRECTV CINEMA Thursday, Sept. 5 and air through Oct. 2, prior to its theatrical release on October 11, 2013.

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Hot Trailer: ‘CBGB’

By | Thursday August 8, 2013 @ 9:46pm PDT

The true story of the NYC rock club that spawned such acts as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie stars Alan Rickman as its colorful founder Hilly Kristal. CBGB also features a large ensemble that includes Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Johnny Galecki and Bradley Whitford. The … Read More »

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XLrator Media Acquires Punk Rock Pic ‘CBGB’

By | Thursday May 30, 2013 @ 8:23am PDT

Los Angeles, CA (May 30, 2013) – XLrator Media has acquired all U.S. distribution rights to the film “CBGB,” a rock ‘n roll true story of the legendary New York City club that launched dozens of top bands and is known globally as the home of American Punk Rock music. “CBGB” tells the tale of the famed venue and its iconoclastic founder Hilly Kristal, portrayed by Alan Rickman (Harry Potter series) and directed by Randall Miller (Bottle Shock). The release of the much-buzzed-about film is timed to take advantage of the huge CBGB Music Festival event this Fall and the current mainstream popularity of “PUNK” in the media, art and fashion. The announcement was made today by XLrator Media CEO Barry Gordon.

The film will be released theatrically to coincide with the fast-growing CBGB Music Festival, which takes New York City by storm October 9-13, 2013 with over 500 bands performing on 175 stages across the city including Times Square and Brooklyn’s Barkley Center.

“CBGB” features an all-star cast, including Malin Akerman (The Numbers Station), Ashley Greene (Twilight franchise), Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter franchise), Justin Bartha (The Hangover franchise), Joel David Moore (Avatar), Freddy Rodriguez (“Six Feet Under”), Donal Logue, Stana Katic (“Castle”), and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. With 16 on-camera musical performances, the film features over 60 classic songs by the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The Police and The Dead Boys, among others.

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Cannes: The Exchange To Sell Overseas On ‘CBGB’ Starring Alan Rickman

Brian O’Shea’s The Exchange has acquired international rights to CBGB, the feature about the infamous New York City underground music club. Randall Miller (Bottle Shock) is directing the film that stars Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal, the … Read More »

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Freddy Rodriguez Heads To ‘CBGB’

By | Tuesday June 19, 2012 @ 5:24pm PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Freddy Rodriguez has joined the cast of CBGB. The Six Feet Under star will take on one of the film’s leading roles, “Idaho,” an addict who hung around Hily Kristal’s infamous New York City club in the … Read More »

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‘Hangover’s Justin Bartha Joins ‘CBGB’

By | Tuesday June 12, 2012 @ 3:52pm PDT

EXCLUSIVE: Justin Bartha has joined the cast of CBGB. The Hangover star will play Stiv Bators, lead singer of the Dead Boys. CBGB was the club in New York’s Bowery district that saw the birth of punk with bands like … Read More »

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‘Big Bang’s Johnny Galecki To Do ‘CBGB’ Movie

By | Monday June 4, 2012 @ 2:21pm PDT

Johnny Galecki is going to CBGB, with The Big Bang Theory star playing band manager Terry Ork in the indie punk rock movie. The real CBGB, which stood for “Country, BlueGrass and Blues”, was the legendary New York … Read More »

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