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Safety On Set: Three Workers Speak Out

By and | Tuesday April 8, 2014 @ 9:57am PDT

David Robb contributed to this story. Second in a series.

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

There seems to be a fear among crew members in the industry about refusing to take part when they feel something is unsafe on a set, or speaking out after an accident lest they will be seen as a problem and lose future work, ostracized from the industry they love. But that is not always the case. It has been done in the past and a few courageous individuals are doing it today in hopes of getting the conversation started in the film and TV industries for the sake of all of their brethren. Legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler, longtime location manager/scout Billy Fox and assistant location manager Brianne Brozey (in Local 399) who was injured on a set in March 2011 are willing to shine a light now on a very real problem in the industry.

NoahsArkIn 1928, motion picture pioneer Hal Mohr set the standard for safety in Hollywood when he refused to take part in a stunt he deemed too dangerous. Mohr, who would go on to win two Oscars, was the head cameraman on Noah’s Ark that day, and when shown how the flood scene would be shot, he objected on grounds that hundreds of extras’ lives would be put at risk. When he was overruled by studio executives, he walked off the picture in protest. As he had feared, when 15,000 tons of water were released on the specially built set, three extras were drowned and dozens more were seriously injured. One of the extras who survived that day would go on to become a Hollywood legend: John Wayne.

152_Hal-MohrThe accident Mohr had warned about — at the time the worst in the history of the young movie business — would lead to the implementation of the industry’s first stunt safety regulations, according to the book Stunt: The Story Of The Great Movie Stunt Men by John O. Baxter. Incidentally, Mohr is noteworthy as well for being the only person to win an Oscar despite never being nominated in a competitive category; he won by write-in vote for A Midsummer’s Night Dream in 1936. He was the first cinematographer to win an Oscar for both black-and-white and color photography.

Billy FoxLocation manager Billy Fox, who has worked in the business for 31 years, has witnessed numerous close calls in dangerous situations that have arisen from eager filmmakers and producers pushing the boundaries of safety to get a shot. He says sometimes even the location manager raising safety concerns on a shoot is seen as an enemy in the production’s ranks. “It’s ‘Whose team are you on?’ ” said Fox. On one feature in 1990, a planned train explosion that made Fox wary was beefed up for a bigger effect, resulting in downed power lines that blacked out a nearby town and cost the film millions in insurance costs. On another indie, he battled with the film’s director, unit production manager, and 1st assistant director over a car stunt he felt was unsafe and pulled his name from the film’s permit the morning of the shoot. “At 10:38 AM my pager went crazy. The second unit camera crew had been driven over, sustaining broken bones and a crushed pelvis,” he said. Read More »

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Sarah Jones Remembered, Safety Concerns Raised At 1st Location Managers Guild of America Awards

By | Saturday March 29, 2014 @ 10:36pm PDT

Sarah Jones Midnight Rider“I’m wearing this for Sarah Jones – with honor,” said Criminal Minds co-exec producer Harry Bring, patting the memorial ribbon on his lapel while presenting at the first inaugural Location Managers Guild of America (LMGA) Awards Saturday night. Bring took a moment before handing out the LMGA awards for television work to pay tribute to the camera assistant who was killed by a train Feb. 20 during filming on Midnight Rider. (See winners of the first LMGA Awards here.)

“I hired Sarah on her first job when she was an intern, still going to college. The accident is deep in our hearts and will set safety as the most important thing on sets for years to come,” he said to applause from the audience of location professionals inside the Writers Guild Of America theater. Jones started her career interning on Army Wives, which Bring exec produced.

Related: Anger, Impassioned Pleas For Safety At Tribute For Sarah Jones

lmgaBring praised the LMGA members for the vital work they do on set, a sentiment echoed in a taped message from Nebraska director and Eva Monley Award recipient Alexander Payne who noted that he prefers to shoot on locations rather than sets on all of his film and relies on his location pros as key creative collaborators: “Choice of location – Nebraska, Hawaii, California wine country – is as germane to a film as the story itself.” Read More »

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Director Alexander Payne, DP Haskell Wexler, Location Scout Scott Dewees To Be Feted By Location Managers Guild

By | Wednesday March 5, 2014 @ 4:56pm PST

AlexanderPayneNebraska director Alexander Payne, DP Haskell Wexler and location scout Scott Dewees will be honored by the Location Managers Guild of America on March 29th at the Writers Guild Theater. This is the first year of the awards show. Payne will receive the Eva Monley Award, named after the location scout who worked finding the perfect settings in Africa for such legendary directors as John Huston, Otto Preminger and David Lean and whose credits included Lawrence of Arabia, The African Queen, Exodus and The Man Who Would Be King. haskell wexlerWexler will receive the Humanitarian Award. Wexler’s well-known credits are fro Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Bound for Glory, the 1976 Oscar winning best picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (with Bill Butler), Blaze and Matewan. The Lifetime Achievement Award will be given to commercial location scout Scott Dewees. Other awards will be given out to location professionals as well and to outstanding film commissions, and to producers, studios and production companies for exceptional locations in features and TV programs.

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Oscar-Winning DP Haskell Wexler Backs Sarah Jones In Memoriam Campaign, Calls For Safer Sets In Open Letter

By | Wednesday February 26, 2014 @ 5:13pm PST

haskell wexlerEXCLUSIVE: Two time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC today threw his support behind the mounting movement calling for accountability in the on-set death of Midnight Rider crew member Sarah Jones. In a letter sent to fellow members of IATSE Local 600 and obtained by Deadline, Wexler supports efforts to include Jones’s name to Sunday’s Oscars In Memoriam tribute and called her death in Thursday’s train incident an act of “criminal negligence.” Wexler co-founded a group called 12on/12off which advocates a rehaul of current standards that allow for excessively long work hours and questionably safe working conditions on film and TV sets across the industry. In 2006 he directed the documentary Who Needs Sleep? about the dangers crews face in situations in which such health concerns are not prioritized. Read Wexler’s letter:

Related: ‘Midnight Rider’ Suspends Filming Following Train Death

Dear Fellow Workers,

I am part of a group asking that Sarah Jones’ name be included in the Academy’s “In Memoriam” section of the Awards telecast this Sunday. Sarah and the three injured crew members were not victims of an “accident” but of criminal negligence. Something that would not have happened if proper safety rules were in place.

Here is a copy of an ad rejected by our Union magazine, ICG. I was told that the magazine is on, “high alert” on this subject of workplace safety, especially if it comes from me! In this case, the subject comes from the IATSE. They say the magazine doesn’t want to deal with this “political football” even though it is an official IATSE resolution.


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