Did Hollywood Sacrifice Safety for the Perfect Shot
Hollywood is closely watching a small courthouse in Georgia where jury selection gets underway in a manslaughter trial. Camera assistant Sarah Jones, 27, died during the shooting of an Allman Brothers biopic.
The verdict could mark a historic turning point for show business, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.
Richard and Elizabeth Jones have spent the past year trying to get Hollywood to pay attention to safety. They’ve also been mourning the death of their daughter. Jones was killed by a train while filming a dream sequence that involved a bed lain across train tracks in Doctortown, Georgia.
“They didn’t think a train was going to come, but a train came, they tried to get the bed off the tracks,” Deadline author David Robb said. “The train hit the bed, and the bed hit Sarah and knocked her into the train and she was killed.”
Robb is covering the case for the website.
“They were trying to steal a shot, which is very common in Hollywood. You come in, you get a shot, you don’t get the permit, you just, you come and you go and you’re out before anybody knows you were there,” Robb said.
In court, the film’s director Randall Miller said: “I almost got run over by a train myself … Okay? I did. I was the last one on the train track.”
Miller and three others face criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, something that Robb’s research indicates are incredibly rare in the United States.
“In the last 101 years there have been 52 fatal accidents on film and TV productions, resulting in more than 80 deaths and there have been two instances in which there were indictments, and no convictions,” he said
The last time criminal charges were filed in a Hollywood filming death was almost 30 years ago, when director John Landis and four others were charged with manslaughter in the deaths of three actors in a helicopter accident on the set of the film version of “The Twilight Zone.” They were later found not guilty.
Attorney Harland Braun defended Landis and said prosecutors must show a defendant willfully ignored a known danger in order to win a conviction.
“There was not a known danger because the accident was a fluke, with the helicopter,” Braun said.
Before that case, Robb had to go all the way back to 1929 to find another criminal charge. Two studio executives were indicted after ten people died in a fire at the Pathé Film Studios in New York. An appeals court later dismissed those charges.
“It’s an uphill battle for prosecutors to convict in movie accident cases,” Robb said.
“There has to be a known danger, that you say, ‘Okay, we don’t care about it, we’re going to go ahead anyway,’ and in many case, in movie sets, it’s an unknown danger, something that happens accidentally that hurts someone,” Braun said.
That’s no consolation Jones’ parents, who will be in court this week as a jury considers whether, for the sake of a movie, Hollywood filmmakers sacrificed safety and a young woman’s life.