Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Cinematic Immunity is working hard to get ahead of schedule and populate this site with great material!  NAB is right around the corner and we are preparing for a show on the road.  I will be on the NAB show floor next week looking at new technologies and tools that are available for film makers and craft workers and all you artists out there.

We have picked up momentum and have signed on some great guests for our podcast.  Stay tuned in as we go forth into the topic of on set safety and the death of Sarah Jones.

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Labor and Worker Safety in America

Since the dawn of civilization, governments and private organization have needed workers to complete large and small scale tasks to accomplish a greater task or more lucrative investment for the organization.  With that, skilled laborers have been necessary to accomplish tasks that cannot be handled by unskilled laborers.  Dating back 1000 years, trade guilds were formed to exchange ideas among groups of all kind and advance a greater commonality.  As they grew into popularity, they became aware that they had strength in numbers.

In the last 100 years, the world has become smaller and technology is advancing at an extremely fast pace.  As it gets more efficient, it is always the case that societies will increase it's use of that technology to generate more work and supply for our ever expanding populations and markets.

Trade guilds of the past have become the labor unions of today.  The most important part of a union today is it's ability to collectively negotiate.  This way, standards can be set regarding wages, safety, health care, fair treatment and retirement.  At the same time, it provides a structure so that the employer knows what to expect from the collective of individual workers in which it hires. 

In America, all workers are protected by the regulations that are set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This organization monitors and engages safety in the workplace, including regulations for much of the equipment and practices that are used by productions nationwide.  But we will discuss OSHA another time.  Meanwhile, 55 of the country's largest unions belong the AFL-CIO or American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. You can see that list here. . Probably the largest union NOT in the AFL-CIO is the teamsters union, whom withdrew their membership in 2005 to negotiate separately.   The union I belong to is The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and it has been my union for the last 12 years.  They have been working very hard collectively to bargain for those standards I mentioned earlier. 

As businesses recovered from the height of the American labor union's power (circa 1979 with nearly 21 million workers), the landscape changed for the American worker.  A generation from today, the old addage of the mob influence has yielded to the collective image of low and middle income class workers negotiating for protection and prosperity for their members and their families. Some might paint a different picture and not all unions are the same.  For instance, teacher's unions collectively bargain for completely different measures than farmworkers unions.  It takes all kinds to make the machine go.

If you are interested in further reading or listening on this check out these links below.

Stuff you Should Know

Washington Post

Being Young in Showbiz

As film school has become the model for the education of most entry level employees in the entertainment industry, the rate in which the industry will take on newcomers is incredible.  Technology advances have promoted the need for more content and more workers.  As the industry expands, the traditional processes have had to make room for new ways to capture art, documentation and commercial products.  The passion that generally comes from the young workers that commit themselves to their careers in the entertainment business is nearly unrivaled by any other industry that is organized by a union or guild in the world and many of those young workers go to great lengths to make the cut for their next job. 

Once upon a Time

There was a time when a movie could go to almost any place in America, get their job done mostly quietly and be on their way.  Leaving behind an investment into the local economy of thousands or even millions of dollars spent on hotels, food, local businesses and so forth.  As the entertainment business has grown, the budget for the average production has consistently been lowered and it can be more of a hassle for a community to host a production. 

No matter the budget size, can you imagine or remember what it's like to be in your prime and experiencing the adventure of the job you always wanted?  Maybe you were not working on the biggest or the coolest thing in town but no matter what you never had a real problem with getting up and going to work. In the craft of movie making, I feel like many of our audience have found themselves in a dangerous situation while working.  Many of us also trust in those which we count on to do their jobs effectively and sometimes with extreme precission and/or every last detail planned.  Our commanders, in essence.

In February, a crew setup a dream sequence on a trestle bridge near the Altamaha River in Georgia for the Gregg Allman biopic, "Midnight Rider".  The production had been permitted to shoot on the property.  What was not cleared on some level, was the train tracks that were on this large permitted acreage far away from urban life.  I will quote from Richard Verrier's article in LA Times, which can be found here.


The plan called for Hurt to lie on the bed in a dream sequence for the film "Midnight Rider," in which he plays rock singer Gregg Allman. Two trains had already crossed the bridge that day, and the crew was told no more were scheduled, hairstylist Joyce Gilliard recalled.

Then a train came barreling toward them.

"We all ran for our lives," Gilliard said. "All I could think of was my family getting that call..."

Crew members scrambled to get themselves and their gear to the side, but couldn't get the bed off the tracks. The locomotive smashed into it. Sarah Jones, a 27-year-old camera assistant, was killed, struck by metal shards from the bed and by the train itself, according to witnesses and a police report. Six other crew members on the bridge were injured.


This is the story that is changing the scope of the relationship between workers, middle management, and employers in showbiz right now.  Because for every one tragic accident like this that happens, there are 100 close calls that no one hears about.  After a well received online petition went out following miss Jones' death,  Sarah Jones was given a name key  tag during the Oscars "In Memoriam" segment that are usually reserved for the deaths of the academy's finest.  This "In Memoriam" and some the Oscars guests and presenters wore black ribbons as a sign of the memorial as her death had happened just over a week before the Oscars were taking place in Hollywood.

Beyond that,  employees are protecting themselves by asking questions, putting pressure on their assistant directors to make sure that all safety precautions have been taken and that risk possibility has been absolutely minimized.  In essence they are their own shop stewards. Sometimes it can be the Wild West trying to get a movie made with not enough resources.  When you find yourself working for someone or a group of people that may be flying by the seat of their pants, remember, no one is looking out for your safety better than you. 

Sometimes, one may have to assess risk the same way he or she would trust a parachute, scuba tank or airplane.  Sometimes you have to trust that other people are doing their jobs.  But when you are see something that you don't think is safe, speak out.  You might just save someone's life.  The fact Sarah Jones death has not gone under the radar by any stretch is in fact, the Light at the End of the Tunnel.


That is thie week's Cinematic Immunity blog. Sarah Jones' tragedy has been with me since I heard the story because it could have been any one of us.  Be careful out there.  It's not saving lives and it's not worth dying.

for more information on Sarah Jones or Slates for Sarah. Click those blue links.

Check us out next week as we get ready for our podcast launch, talk more bout the premiere of "Wheels" at the Newport Beach Film Festival, report from NAB and announce our first episode!

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