Thursday, July 10, 2014


So, there I was, blinking hard and trying not to respond from reflex.

I could have told this person that he was, with all due respect, unintelligent.

It would have been easy to dismiss him with a simple "because it's your job".

It's quite rare that a cinematographer suggests that you are "wasting his time" with a safety briefing at the start of a film shoot.

But there I was.

He looked at me, expectantly. The other crew watched on.

I smiled, using the time to internally restrain my desire for sarcasm.

"Well", I said, "I want you to get on with the job as much as you do. But, just because we are on a tight budget and schedule, doesn't mean we can't do it right. Agreed?"

Lame, I know. But it was the best I could think of at short notice.

Quite by accident, however, he had taken my generality to mean that he was suggesting we cut corners. His concern instantly shifted, from wanting to play with the camera, to being perceived as a professional.

We didn't have another issue all day.

It's funny how often ego and pride can affect our judgement. In this case, his ego helped me quiet his petulance, because the last thing he wanted was to be seen as 'unprofessional'.

Unfortunately ego doesn't always help.

You may have heard about the recent death of a camera assistant, Sarah Jones, on a film set in Georgia, U.S.A.

Poor Sarah was hit by a train. She was filming a scene on an old rail bridge, over a river, that trapped the crew as the train approached. Several crew were injured. Sarah didn't make it.

While the full facts are still being determined, certain points are becoming clear. There was not a formal plan to manage all the factors involved in shooting on live train tracks. There was not a supervisor hired to monitor crew safety on the tracks and ensure that all elements, of a very risky shoot, were under control.

And, possibly worst of all, the production doesn't appear to have had permission to be filming on the train tracks at all.

There has been a lot said in the post-analysis of this horrible tragedy. Pundits have commented on process, unions, regulations, laws, regulatory authorities, lawsuits, and so on, and so on.

But to me, this comes down to an issue of ego. What kind of ego does it take to put your film crew in mortal jeopardy?

There is a lot of bravado amongst filmmakers. The idea of 'letting nothing hold you back' is often celebrated in indie/low budget filmmaking circles.

The challenge with this arrogance, is that it often ignores simple truth. A film that doesn't find an audience was unsuccessful 'because people in this country don't respect these kind of films'. Or that actor rejected their script 'because she is doing nothing but bland Hollywood sequels these days'.

Or, the crew are complaining about safety 'because they have all been spoiled and don't know how to make real indie films, where you take some risks'.

Of course, all of these responses ignore the facts. Arrogance, pure unadulterated ego, lead this person to overlook that their film was terribly made, so no-one saw it, or that their script is horrible, thus the actress rejected it.

But you can't ignore a dead crew member.

So, Sarah Jones has left us with two legacies.

First, if something is unsafe, if a corner is being cut, speak up. No-one benefits when valid concerns are silenced.

And second, ego should never be left unchecked.

There was a way that this scene could have been shot where everyone left intact. But the arrogance of the Producer/Director told him that he knew better.

Challenge this arrogance at all costs. Whether you see it in others, or see it in yourself.

Lives may depend on it.

R.I.P. Sarah Jones

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